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Myth-oh!-logies of Re-turning” with Professor Mark C.E. Peterson”

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    Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and past President of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, is our guest this week in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss his latest contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series, “Myth-oh!-logies of Re-turning: or Finnegan’s awake again” (click on title to read).

    I’ll get the conversation started, but please feel free to jump in and engage Professor Peterson with your comments, questions, observations and insights, which is what will make this a true “conversation of a higher order.”

    Mark – what a delightful romp through the Wake you’ve provided!

    And I’ve learned something I did not know about Santa Lucia Day marking a turning point in the year for the setting sun. (“Turning” does seem to be the theme of the season: the word Yule is descended from the Old English geol, apparently derived from the Indo-European base qwelo, meaning “go round” and the source of “cycle” and “wheel” — another way of denoting the turn of the year.)

    I’d like to open with a focus on puns in general. (I’m sure the conversation will return to Joyce soon enough – how can it not? Indeed, every image in Finnegans Wake seems to have at least half a dozen meanings, like dream – also no surprise, considering Joyce takes us deep into the dream of one Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, aka HCE – or Here Comes Every Body).

    I love the pun for its patterns that step outside and break past directed thought, past rigid definitions and linear sentences, evoking instead a rhythm of associations, good and bad, and everything in between. Mythologically, I think of Hermes as patron of the pun. Wherever one thing is also another, whether symbolic ritual or trivial pun, Hermes hides in the ambiguity, cloaked in paradox.

    Could just be a perceptual bias, but I’ve noticed over the years that individuals who have the greatest difficulty “getting” puns are often the most literal minded, and also (surprise!) have trouble accepting Jung’s symbolic approach to psyche and dream or embracing Campbell’s mythopoeiac perspective.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Joyce, considered one of the greatest writers in the English language, reveled in puns, as have so many brilliant authors (what would Shakespeare be without the pun?). Yet the pun has been called “the lowest form of humor,” which I just don’t get, considering the pun (along with its cousin, the riddle) strikes me as the most benign form of humor.

    In all other forms of comedy, someone gets hurt.

    Slapstick elicits laughs by portraying physical pain (as do cartoons – how often can Wile E. Coyote, that celluloid Trickster, be blown to kingdom come?); satire and sarcasm can be biting, painful; jokes involve various levels of humiliation and insult, from the blatant (“your mama is so fat that…,” or “did you hear about the [insert ethnic minority/blonde/martian or other descriptive epithet here] who was so stupid/greedy/lazy/cheap that …?,” or “how many of [them] does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”), to the very subtle.

    Even self-deprecating humor has a barb: the target is just oneself.

    Yet a pun generally doesn’t elicit laughter so much as groans, even among aficionados; I do that too – seems the default setting, almost a reflexive response.

    I’m curious what  is at work here. Any thoughts on why puns get no respect?

    (Please note – though an inveterate punster, I resisted my natural impulse and refrained from inflicting my sense of humor on readers; rest assured that approach holds for this post alone – I’ll be back to standard operating procedure soon enough)


    Thanks Stephen so much!  Nice to be back again.

    So many ideas crowd in at once!  :^)

    I particularly like your observation that Hermes hides inside ambiguity.  He’s the trickster: the kind of tricks that make you laugh when they happen to someone else and make you groan or cry (!) when they happen to you.

    I’m always drawn back to Campbell’s observations that mythology puts us into the mode of the comical – the surprise realization that we weren’t as smart as we thought we were or that we didn’t see things as clearly as we thought we did.   So maybe that’s at play here.

    People always say things like, “say what you mean.” but I think we all know you can never say or write exactly what it is you mean. The words themselves never contain everything we need them to convey and we can never assume that the person reading those words understands those words in the same way.

    I think puns remind us of this fact and we’re left to chuckle or groan depending on the degree to which we had forgotten it. 🙂

    If I can go back to Plato’s Cave Allegory for just a second, the people casting the shadows (the shadows everyone else takes to be reality) are the political and economic elite, the shadowcasters in every political order.  As has always been the case, it is the function of comedy, the court jester of our culture, is to call attention to the fact that the shadows are merely that, shadows.

    As a rule we forget that the shadows we’re exposed to, in media, in popular culture, and even in the masks we wear in public, these are all just shadows of underlying, deeper truths. Comedy punctures this assumption and that’s why it hurts. We discover we’ve taken shadows more seriously than they deserve.

    I’m looking forward to a lot of dangerous puns in here over the next week!



      Thank you for the interesting MythBlast !

      Tim again finished again time again for Tim Finnegan !!! And so the new year begins with the  Finnish  of the old. Time. We all were born must die alone… The River of time runs …  “A lone a last a loved a long” … “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Howth? You might ask? By streams of consciousness and dreamscape narrative that babble on in towers of mind caught  lullabied by the din of dying Spenglerian civilization. Tis it a Christening, a baptism of Christ, a birth, a burial, a wake ? Or what ? A seasonal solar, mineral, vegetable, animal,  musing ? So long as there are humans so long as there are nature’s cycles the Time shall always return to Finnish again an epoch and start anew with what brook of truth … “Verum esse ipsum factum” … has flowed to us anew a song that babbles as old as time … Here Christ Exists (HCE) in hysterical splendor laughing with the Saints in need of a hystericalectomy !

      Tim is Finn , time is finished , history is finished , history is hysterical . When prehistory is historic. When posthistory is posthumously humorous. When metahistory is/was established the end of time was/is breached, conceived. The spirit , the soul , the body , knew its worth simultaneous congruent love. The narrative of the many has converged at the One’s rainbow end in some metaphysical metaphor of refracted Light separated into the kundalini of the Cosmos. Find rest at the Wake. Rest awoke in the stillness of hysteria … We have finished again … Thus spake the encore … “hinc ad horam” … ReJoyce !



      Love this! And puns are fun!

      Promise not to go Non-suezzsensical here!

      What a beautiful ritual of light…St. Lucia! Learned a few years back a little more about her thanks to working on an around the world youth Christmas show with a friend. That’s really lovely!

      Speaking of Luci and puns and alliteration…when I read Joyce words referenced in your essay such as Lit-airily…I cannot help but think of John Lennon. Ok so that’s the Lucy ref

      Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

      However, I am not just thinking in terms of music lyrics, but the two books of “word play” and puns, which Lennon penned. In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. 

        And yes, I am well aware he took inspiration from Lewis Carrol. So one can go all into jabberwacky land with that.

      But maybe Joyce influenced too.

      I can feel a familiarity in the style just from the few Joyce lines given.
      Even though the Lennon puns have an aserbic flavor…still it was and is fascinating to me.
      And I attempted several wordplay stories/sentences of my own. A little less aserbic. And it was delightfooly wanderful to do so!
      Of course it can be confusing too…but I agree…it’s lovely to be able to laugh and not let the seriousness or heavy storm clouds blinker the eyes in despair.

      Maybe that lightness of laughter itself brings clarity?
      So wood like to think you verity mulch far dis inspir-sational pun-tastic essay on James the Joyous!


      Timegan, Time-again.  Hopefully hystery is only getting started to balance off 4000 years of his-story.  We can but hope!

      I think that “re-Joyce” may get the gold star at the end of this thread!


      Hey Bug!  Nice to see you.

      Yeah, laughter lightens and seems to bring clarity with it… my working hypothesis here is that being ready to laugh at ourselves implies a willingness to recognize the limitations of what we thought we knew — the recognition that we thought we understood things firmly when we didn’t… and that comes out of Plato’s Cave, for me… the idea that comedy calls attention to the fact that the shadows we’re watching (and often taking for reality) are really just shadows.


      “Lighten up” plays a big roll in Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume and, in what is my FAVORITE joke of Hegel’s (yes, his books are filled with subtle puns and word plays, believe it or not :),  Hegel notes that the opposite of gravity is …. drumroll …


      More and more I’m thinking about certitude as a kind of drug that makes us feel secure.  This certainty (as absolute certainty I mean) is a delusion… but wonderment shakes us loose from it.  And then we laugh — or cry sometimes. :^)


      Ah yes illusions…pardon my slip back into “pepper land”: “Nothing is Real,” 

      “It’s all in the mind y’know.”

      But yes, yes, yea to wonder!

      The door or window, which opens to the infinite. (Point beyond/transcend?)

      Brings one back home, but with “different eyes.” Moon to Earth and all.

      I think that is the message and memory my Mother left most with me in relation to study of the stars. (Wonder!)

      She was an Astronomer and artist and some of her paintings reflect the wonder of the experience of beholding the stars.
      For her even more important than the lectures was sharing the human experience of seeing those nebulas through a telescope or other objects with the naked eye.
      As for Levity (love the Hegel pun!)

      She told me stories of her call to adventure in the astronomical realm. And the professor who brought inspiration to it…and there were definitely stories of Levity and Laughter there! *chuckle* But perhaps it kept the wonder and clarity alive.

      With the “puncture-ality of pain” “fretfullness” of “fear” and the “right-suchness” cer-taint-ty of rage.

      Oh dear! That is off the page!!

      And Oh! the gratuitous, gravitation of it through-all!

      One longs for Levity indeed! A way around to wonder and the possible once more! Unfettered and unbound by the certitude of shadows.

      A litany of laughter lightens the load, to walk the road.
      Yet with compassion in tow…for must confess, the drum of Duress is difficult to impress, wounded by its sorrowed  heaviness and is approached best with gentleness.

      But must agree that to Re-Joyce brings a wonder of healing levity! (And clarity)

      Laughter takes the tenseness away.

      Reminds of the mess, left in the wake of tension and stress.

      So here is to the wonder of the infinite possible! And here is to Re-joyce!

      Thank you Mark! 🙏










        Hello 1mark1,

        Yes !

        Timegan , Time-again   ,  can we spit that out spatially as a word ? As in the beginning?? Spit writ fallen buried on a page to be woken when spoken a Wake that reverberates oscillates from center stage.

        Though I do think it 6000 years of His-Story if we use the good Bishop Usher’s chronology to delegate the beginning of history and time to the invention of written language . October 23, 4004 BC. . The date the Tree of Knowledge took root … Before that all was prehistory. It is written in the wind and the Wake that moves upon the deep. But that’s all hystory NOW !!! We have the 13.8 Billion year Big Bang ex nihilo narrative. Th God of the gaps !!! Slipping through the Symplegades one Arced second ship at a time .

        And Lucy that Ginger of Commodius Light that genetic Eve named by the Leakey’s in honor of a Beatle’s song playing on the radio when she was aWakened in the great Rift Valley . Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. The name sutra suits her. A Diamond Sutra. Delivered by a beatle a Scarab ! What would Jung think ??? She came in through the bathroom window A rap rap rapping like a Raven of Odin !!! A Blackbird singing in the dead of night , Here Comes The Sun for the winter solstice on some EastCoast pier in paradise …

        Goo goo g’joob !!!

        Robert R Reister



        Wow, a nice week of some crazy punning our way to the rejoycement … and without putting our feet in our m(ou)yths.  Thanks everyone for jumping into the mus-ation!




        I have a confession: though I have been reading Finnegans Wake for decades now, and will be reading it (I hope) for decades more, I have never completed it in Campbell fashion from cover to cover, and doubt I ever will.

        Before I discovered Joseph Campbell’s work, I was turned on to Finnegans Wake as a result of reading Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy, a delightful, delirious, fictional romp through the conspiracy theory mythscape that lampoons just about everyone (Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, for example, appear as author-philosopher Atlanta Hope, author of Telemachus Sneezed, with its catchphrase “Who is John Guilt?”).

        The Wake became part of my psychedelic ritual many many decades ago: a joy to read during the comedown period after mushrooms or an intense LSD experience (had several dozen of those; Ram Dass and Timothy Leary are the only people I’ve met whom I knew had ingested more acid in a single sitting). On those leisurely morning-afters, it would take forever to get through a single passage as each image would open out and unfold in manifold directions at once – layer upon layer of associations, personal and collective. I found the pun imagery, visual as well as verbal, enchanting and intoxicating.

        At that point in time I was in the process of realizing the incredible resonance between dream consciousness and the psychedelic state. Much the same as writing down dreams, I took to recording as much as I could remember the morning after a psychedelic experience – and, as with dreams, I discovered the more I practiced this technique, the more I was able to recall. Hence Stanislav Grof’s work (The Undiscovered Self, The Holotropic Mind, etc.), documenting insights from observing and/or participating in thousands of legal LSD experiences, struck such a chord when I read it – and Grof’s work, as Campbell has noted, provided independent scientific confirmation of the existence of mythological archetypes humming along in the unconscious psyche.

        Can’t say I had the same reaction to Ulysses. I attempted to read that book a couple of times back in the same period, but it did not capture me the way the Finnegan did. In fact, I found it excruciating and snooze-inducing; it took Campbell to open the door to an appreciation of that work.

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