Nuvoletta: Vico and Joyce   Leave a comment

I didn’t mention the fantastic demise of the whimsical Nuvoletta yesterday. “Nuvoletta in her lightdress” is introduced on page 157. But, sadly her “sfumastelliacinous hair” and “mignons arms” are ignored by the Mooske, and Gripes – “a dubliboused Catalick” (157; 158). So, Nuvoletta “climb[s] over the bannistars” two pages after she is introduced, acting “as though her heart was brook” (159).

I was tempted to wonder if there is a personification of Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova (New Science) in Nuvo-letta? Her name contains allusions to the New Science’s theme of philology. And after Nuvoletta’s demise her muddied name becomes the Missiliffi, the river of Finnegans Wake.

Joyce certainly drew on Vico in his writings. Donald Phillip Verene explains how:

“Joyce was especially interested in Vico’s notion that “memory is the same as imagination” (la memoria e la stessa che la fantasia) and with Vico’s notion of the cycle of the three ages of history [the ages of the gods; heros, and humans]”

Verene goes on to propose that Joyce even uses the Scienza Nuova “as the grid for Finnegans Wake”.

I can’t as yet comment on that last assertion. But I agree that both Joyce and Vico are invested in a Geistwissenschaften (scholarly knowledge of the spirit) that relates to, but is distinct from the Naturewissenshaften (scholarly knowledge of Nature). This link defines these two terms and explains how they apply to Vico’s work:

For his part, Joyce states his own position vis-à-vis the Geistwissenschaften in his essay “The Study of Language” (1899):

“The statement the study of language is to be despised since it is imaginary and does not deal with facts nor deals in a precise way with ideas, is absurd… [Since it is the] study of our own” (13; 15).(James Joyce. Occasional, Critical and Political Writing (OCPW). OUP: Oxford, 2000).

The study of our own: Vico says, “We dwell in the disclosure of time.” I discovered this quote, and was thereby introduced to Vico’s oeuvre, through Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests: The shadow of Civilisation.

Towards the end of this text, Pogue Harrison re-situates dwelling, not in the disclosure of time, but rather “in the logos”. He goes on to define “logos” etymologically, as “that which binds, gathers, relates” (200)*. I find this definition of dwelling to be helpful. Since at every moment in Finnegans Wake, I am conscious of my attempts to situate Joyce’s encyclopaedic project of gathering all logos within a sense our own: some imaginary that includes the obliviousness of the Mooske and Gripes and how this transforms Nuvoletta into the Missiliffi, flowing through Finnegans Wake.

* Sorry, I’ve just recalled that Heidegger is standing behind Pogue Harrison’s statement. “He considers the fundamental sense of this word also marked off by the German word “lesen ,” most common in the sense of “to read,” but originally and for Heidegger more basically “to collect, to gather.””


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