Among the Finnegans
(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in its allephbed! Can you rede (sine We and Thou had it out already) its world? — Finnegan’s Wake
Thus jests jovial Joyce, Marshall McLuhan’s manmuse. In The Gutenberg Galaxy McLuhan justly celebrates the mythic masterpiece as Joyce’s command that all the Finnegans wake. The novel undercuts form to provide “individual pass-keys to the collective consciousness,” and thus presages the advent of a new tribalism and our liberation from “visually-oriented self-consciousness” — a promise to be met in the age of the electron: “the electric puts the mythic or collective dimension of human experience fully into the conscious wake-a-day world.”
And yet one might be excused for fearing that the current electric moment is at risk of becoming a reflection of the public that McLuhan associates with Pope’s Dunciad: “Since readers are as vain as authors, they crave to view their own conglomerate visage and, therefore, demand the dullest wits to exert themselves in ever greater degree as the collective audience increases.” “Social media” seem designed not to promote new modes of thought but rather to transform the dullest and rudest behaviors into commodities: the “status update” as a way of ditching your boyfriend in the cheapest possible manner, or the transformation of self-humiliation and pasquinade (public abuse too low to qualify as satire) into a permanent record. The result is to render the medium invisible to and unconscious of itself, and to promote increasing unconsciousness among its users. My students universally protest that they do not blog — they “have nothing to say” — but they do, without knowing it, while the “social” sites convince them that this what the medium is for: an eternal and instantaneous yellow pages of inanity. Here corporations really are people, or might as well be, and people might as well be corporations, all advertising themselves without distinction: the true self-consuming artifact.
So: we had better wake now, and take over the web. At least this is one group of Finnegans who are trying.