Monday, February 2, 2015

Happy Groundhog Day

James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" posited a cyclic theory of history. I.e.: we live in a dream that endlessly circles back on itself and bites its own tail. Ironically, Joyce's birthday was February 2. Groundhog Day.

While we're on the subject, most literary critics aren't science fiction writers. With FW, they get into the weeds, get lost in the maze, all dazzled by the formal structure and elaborate, overworked multilingual bibble-babble. The one thing they don't do is take the damn thing seriously. On its own terms. As a theory of history.

Seeing as how I am a science fiction writer, I'm happy to spell it out.

The theory is --

The human race, originally, was a single collective mind -- i.e. Finnegan. Each individual mind is networked to the whole via -- what else? -- telepathy. OK, like the Borg. Each individual got marching orders from the collective intelligence in the form of the voice of God -- as Julian Jaynes pointed out. But it's not the right brain talking to the left brain. It's the whole system talking to its parts. There's an intelligence on the other side of the voice. Someone is speaking. 

This worked great until the emergence of cities and civilization. Things got complicated -- to the point it crashed the system. All the individual minds got cut off -- became suddenly disconnected, alone. This explains our traumatic memory of the Fall, of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues. And the need to invent Authority Figures in the sky telling us what to do.

Finnegan is now dreaming. History is his dream. It only seems to be going forward, but it's really the same schtick going round and round. Like Hollywood, Finnegan's only got a few stock formulas. His dream keeps repeating these basic stories, but mixes them up so they appear new. ("Die Hard" today, "Cliffhanger" tomorrow.) These vignettes are staged by a small cast of actors -- the fragments of Finnegan's mind. (We only think there are billions of people. In reality, there's the King, the Warrior, the Lover, the Joker, etc.) History's basically like a rotating rep company. A small troupe doing a handful of plays.

The show goes on, until human civilization gets so complex and interconnected that the process of fragmentation starts to reverse. Finnegan -- the collective mind behind the dream -- starts waking up again. Like the dreaming Red King in Alice in Wonderland, that's curtains for the rest of us. So, we keep trying to put him back to sleep. But the show's almost over.

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