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Encyclopedic Discourse Author(s): Hilary A. Clark Source: SubStance, Vol. 21, No. 1, Issue 67 (1992),

Encyclopedic Discourse Author(s): Hilary A. Clark Source: SubStance, Vol. 21, No. 1, Issue 67 (1992), pp. 95-110 Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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Encyclopedic Discourse

Hilary A. Clark

The EncyclopedicImpulse





veryunreadability, thesensethatone willneverhave thetimenorthe staminato read and digest all itscontents.It is not only itssize that

intimidates-the multiple volumes, their weight, thetissue-thin pages and

densecolumnsof print and illustrations. Rather, it is thenatureofthe

encyclopedicenterprise itself-theaudacious project of encompassing all thatcanbeknownwithinthecoversofa bookorbooks-that challenges

imagination andwill. Overthe centuries, this totalizingproject hasfascinatedcertainwriters

who have continuedthe


theoldBritannicainitssuccessive editions, thenewBritannica


and Propaedia), thevolumesofthe Encyclopidie

Pldiade intheirleather bindings. Partoftheallureis the encyclopedia's

encyclopedist'sgathering,compiling and

categorizing withintheirownforms(thenovel, the essay, the poem). The


incriticism:the Bible, Dante'sDivina Commedia, Cervantes'sDon Quixote,

Joyce'sUlysses and Pound's Cantoshave all been describedas en-

cyclopedic.'NorthropFrye, in hisown "encyclopedia" of literary forms


in"thematic"literature.The encyclopedicimpulse toward"a total body of

vision," a continuous, unifiedform summingup the knowledge ofa cul-

tureata particularpoint in history,develops,according to Frye, outofan


equal but opposite impulse

("episodic") forms(55-56). Frye tracesthis impulse overhisfivefictional

modes, from myth to irony,showing thatthe urge towrite(or

"total body" extendsfromtheHomeric epics andsacred scriptures tothe

Waste Land, theCantosand

In France, withinthe project ofsemioticsand post-Saussureanexplora- tionsofdiscourseand textuality, theworksofRoland Barthes, Philippe

Sollers,MichelFoucaultand VincentDescombesevincea fascinationwith

"encyclopedic" hasbecome fairlycommonplace

modes, the Anatomyof Criticism, seesan



compile) a

Finnegans Wake.



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Hilary A. Clark

the encyclopedia as foregrounding the nature of textsand discursive

processes.Writing about theworkof Sollers, Barthes develops theidea of encyclopedic desire:thatsincethe Renaissance, writing the encyclopedia has beenan expression ofa desiretocollectand organize all thatcanbe known.

In the presentcentury, however, the encyclopedicenterprise has become increasingly self-conscious; the naive optimism of thefirst encyclop6distes has been replacedby a tendency to writeself-conscious "encyclopedies de

langage." BarthescharacterizesSollers'snovelH (Seuil,1973)as beingjust

such a book, "une Comedie de Phrases, un desir de Renaissance"(82). Great Renaissance texts like Gargantua and Pantagruel are no longer

writable; contemporaryencyclopedic textsare writtenout ofa desirefora former optimism and freedom, in memory ofan imagined formerfullness. Sollers himself, in his theoretical writings (whichare continuouswith

his fictions)has explored how the notionof writing can problematize


emphasizes that"theessential questiontoday is no longer thatofthewriter

and ofthework

on process, distinctionsbetween literarygenres break down; texts ap-

proach theconditionofa book encompassing all genres. This encyclopedic

textual practice is an experience ofdifferenceand multiplicity: the writing

space is "no


unity,totality and

the experience oftextuallimits.He

but thatof writing and of reading" (95). In this emphasis

longer unifiedand horizontal, but vertically divisible," sub-

. an incessant

to "an atomic disintegration and dissemination


rise to a new optimism, a sense of new possibilities for recreating, not

merelyreflecting, theworld. In contrastto this notionof

limits, Foucault's notionof discourseand the archivein

savoir(1969) and L'Ordredu discours(1971) bears more on problems of

order, categorization and constraintsto discursivity. The encyclopedia is a formthatseeks to expand itsboundariesever widerto incorporate new knowledge as thecenturies pass. However, itis also by definitiona practice

that "encircles," encompasses, delimits knowledge. It seeks orderin the chaos of things to be known and said; it categorizes and divides while

amassing, excludes while including.


" (79). An encyclopedicplay of language as desire gives

writing as a process pressingagainst

L'Archdologie du

In L'Archdologie due savoirFoucault

thatthese operations characterizewhathe callsthe"archive":

L'archive, c'estd'abordlaloidece


tude amorphe

posent lesunesaveclesautresselondes

quipeut etredit


ce qui fait

toutesceschosesditesnes'amassent pas indefinimentdansunemulti-

mais qu'elles se groupent en figuresdistinctes, se com-



SubStance #67,1992

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Encyclopedic Discourse


Foucault's"archive"is anothertermforthe encyclopedia-thatpractice


thecontrolofthis potentially disorderedmassas an

body of knowledge. The encyclopedia orarchiveofa particularepoch, like

the canon, is

ticulartime. In an articleentitled"Variationson

Book," VincentDescombes points outthe encyclopedia'stemporal limita-

tions. Despite theuniversal gesture to control, to "go around[a] subject, so as

tobe equal tothat subject (to

point ofviewthathad initially beendecided)

sarily comes up

known.Descombesconsidersthe practice of publishingencyclopedicsup-

plements as an indicationofan inability of complete itselfthatisbuiltinto

the encyclopedicenterprise. Thisis



boththe multiplicity

of things tobeknownand said,and


thelaw ofwhatcanbe said, knownand taught atthat par-

the Subject ofthe Encyclopaedic

sayeverything, allthatmustbesaidfromthe

" (54),

this gesture neces-

against the inability tototalizeorincludeall thatcanbe

eternal, but

duetothefactthat knowledge is not

quickly becomes obsolete, changing withthe

A trans-historical literary mode, an

opening ontoinfinite signification,

knowledge-these aresomeof


suggested else-

a setof invisible, institutionalconstraintson

the ways the encyclopedia hasbeen imagined. I

where2thatthe encyclopedic textis marked by several important

paradoxes: in

the project shadowed byincompletion and obsolescence; andin seeking to render knowledgeobjectively, thewritermustmakedo witha project

marked by

categories ofa particular cultureata particular time.

seeking tototalizeandeternalize knowledge, thewriterfinds

ideological blind spots, witha knowledgeorganizedby the

The Encyclopedia as Discourse

I wouldliketoconsiderthe followingquestions: Howcandiscoursebe

"encyclopedic"? Howdoweunderstandthe encyclopedia? How


said tobe

doesthe encyclopediarepresent itsown knowledge? These questions are

interrelated, as

To understandhow discoursecan be encyclopedic, we might turn

things aroundand considerhow the encyclopedia is discursive, howit surveys("dis-courir"--runs over and around)theentire"course"of

human knowledge. To

thenoun"discourse"has synonyms in "dissertation," "treatise"and"ser-

discourse upon a subject istocoverit


mon" (Oxford Concise Dictionary). Discourse is rhetorical, processual: a


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Hilary A.Clark

spoken or writtendiscourseis a communication, a purposefulactivity,

language directedtowardan aimof persuasion oreducation.As Foucault

emphasizes, itis languagecharged withdesireand power, thedesireto speak andthe power tomoveandinfluenceanaudience:

lediscours-la psychanalyse

nousl'amontre -, ce

n'est passimplement

ce qui manifeste(oucache)ledesir;c'estaussice

[et] ce pourquoi,


qui est 1'objet dudesir

parquoi onlutte,le pouvoir dontonchercheA


Foucault points outthatthislinkwithdesireand power, with repressed processes, makesthecontrolof discourse sociallynecessary. The en- cyclopedia isoneofthesemodesofcontrol.Inthecontextofdesireandthe

willto power, the practice becomesan interested, ideological one; weareno longerlooking ata neutral, objective summaof unchangingknowledge.3

Thusthe encyclopedia is nota

fixed form, Plato'smirror turning and

reflectingsuper-objectively theworldof things tobe known;rather, itis a

rhetorical processresponsive to

a processcaught, at points, ina bookorbooks.Inthe encyclopedia, weare looking ata specialtype ofdiscourse.Like any discourse, itselectsfroma range ofmaterialona subject and arranges itsselectionsinordertoinform

or persuade. Yetit is special in thatit selectsfromtheentiredomainof

human knowledge,arranging itsselections according to specific orders-


senting itsowndiscursive process in tropes suchas the mirror, the tree, the

labyrinth, the circle, andthenetwork.

changing contexts, interestsand audiences,

encyclopedic-that have developedhistorically, and repre-

Encyclopedic discourse foregrounds and problematizes itsowndis-

cursive operations in a self-figuring turn(thatdoes not,however, neces-

sarilyescape theblind spots ofthedominant ideology). Itdoesnotassume

its discursivenatureas a

characterizing "classic

distinguished between"thoseformswhich

tendtoeffacetheirown textuality, theirexistenceas discourse, andthose

realism," Catherine Belsey has



which explicitly drawattentiontoit" (51). Encyclopedic discourseis re-

latedtothelatter forms; itis anti-realistic, drawing attentiontoits prin-

ciples ofselectionand arrangement. Ina sense, encyclopedic discourseisa


not,however, the mise-en-abyme ofin-


ward specularity,

representationgenerates an excess, opening outwardontothefreedomof

infinite speculation on knowledge. This dynamicspeculation createsnew

knowledge; Wilda Andersonhas likenedthe process,

in Diderot's

Encyclopidie, toan "open-ended conversation" producing "a creativeand

text;rather, itsself-


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Encyclopedic Discourse


self-transforming discourse" (918,928). Anderson argues that any en-

cyclopedic discoursecanbe seenas one

in which "knowledge is

"gigantic coherent conversation,"


only the pretext tounleash


." (926).

EncyclopedicFigures: the Mirror, the Tree, theCircle

I wouldliketolookmore closely atthemain tropesby which, overthe

centuries, encyclopedists havecharacterizedtheretrievaland

of knowledge, thenatureofthe long-term cultural memory withinwhich

they work.


"Une encyclop6die n'est pas


faits," notes Raymond

Queneau in his "Presentation de l'Encyclopedie de la Pldiade"(94).The

idea that prior to organization,knowledge is a

mentsand odd facts, hauntsthe

and temporal limitations,andduetothelimitationsofhuman comprehen-



cyclopedicenterprise as

knowledge is merelyheapedup, it cannotbe communicated, cannotbe

used. Thismass of data,then, likenoisein information theory, is the

groundagainst which complex ordersand informationbecome percep- tible.

dishevelled heap of frag-

encyclopedicenterprise. Due to spatial

memory,knowledge mustbe organized ifitis tobe storedand

ordering of

knowledge is as muchat thecenteroftheen-

knowledge. If

is the discovery or retrievalof

One can

representorganizedknowledge either statically or dynami-

cally. Thestatic figure of "themirror"is implicit in thetitlesofcertain

medieval encyclopedias; the Speculummajus ofVincentdeBeauvais figures itselfas "a mirrorof knowledge," the Imago mundiofHonoriusInclususas


mirror-imageimplies thatthereis

coveredin humanaffairsand nature, and thatthebookcan reflect this


FromtheRenaissance onward, thisstaticnotionofthe encyclopedia givesway to themore dynamic idea thatlikethehuman mind, theen-

cyclopedia is ina self-consciousanddirectrelationtothe world, andmust

approach and interpret a

induction, referredto in theNovum Organum as "the

nature," isinthis spirit,redirecting science alongempirical linesandseek-

ing tofreethemindofits obstacleto a directand

"image" or "picture" of knowledge.4Figuring the encyclopedia as

already an orderor system tobe dis-

unchanging and originates fromGod.

subtleand elusivenature.Bacon'smethodof

interpretation of

"Idols"-preconceived, staticideasthatforman

dynamicinterpretation of nature(9). Bacon's

SubStance #67,1992

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Hilary A.Clark

methodis at thebase ofthe Encyclopddie ofDiderotand d'Alembert.In

calling fora new science, a new

"Kingdom of Heaven" (37), Baconis


response tothecallnowdiffers. "The subtility ofnatureis far beyond thatofsenseoroftheunder-

standing," writesBacon (112);thereisstilla divineorderin nature, butitis


Intheinterestsof objectivity,

be respectful ofnature'sdifferencesandattentivetohisownbiases.Atthis

point, the encyclopedicproject becomesself-consciousand

encyclopedists describetheirmethodsand assumptions in prefaces, dis-

coursesand articleson


and Diderot'sarticle

predicament of knowledge and encyclopedicproduction ina humanworld marked by time. Following theRenaissancenotionof the "Treeof

Knowledge," as developedby RamonLullsand

hisownTree branching fromthethreehumanfacultiesof

agination and Reason,

knowledge canbe figured as "unarbre genealogique ou encyclopedique"

(xxiv).That is,

higher levelsof

static figure ofhierarchical order; thetree figuresuggests thatwhilethe

numberofsub-and sub-sub-branches might be indefinite, this prolifera-

tionis ultimatelygrounded and controlled by thecentral branches, the

unchanging humanfaculties. D'Alembertalsoaddressesthe dynamicprocess of knowing, andhere

points outthe possibility oflossof control,ignorance, and

Thisinverseof encyclopedicknowledge isseenas a labyrinth. TheTreeof

Knowledge, in itsminute divisions, canbecome-ina


labyrinth. Ina chapter entitled "Dictionary vs. Encyclopedia" (Semioticsand

the PhilosophyofLanguage), UmbertoEco

chical (Porphyrian) treecanbecomea maze, a seriesofchoicesbetween

alternate paths (81). Eco notesthatd'Alembertcalls the

metaphor ofthetreeinto question as he

and "the

voluted, open-ended--of human knowing. Asd'Alembertwrites:

"kingdom of man" resembling the

responding to thesame call to

encyclopedists.However, the

thatmoved the medieval

longersimplygiven,easily reflected. Rather, natureneeds interpreting.

the encyclopedist,

likethe scientist, mustnow


the encyclopedia. The Encyclop6die ofDiderotand

particularlyself-figuring: d'Alembert'sDiscours prdliminaire

"Encyclopedie" in the Encyclopidie address the

particularlyby Baconin

Memory, Im-

d'Alembert develops the idea thathuman

everything knowncanbe classed according to higher and generality. The "Great Tree"of encyclopedicmemory is a


simple turn along


betweenorderand disorder, betweeninformationandnoise-a

points outthatan ordered, hierar-


develops the figures of"the map"

labyrinth,"figuressuggesting theactual shape-untidy, con-


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Encyclopedic Discourse



chemintortueux Maisce


encyclop6dique dans lequel

encyclop6dique denosconnaissances consisteAlesrassemblerdansle

pluspetitespacepossible, & A placer,pour

dessusdecevaste labyrinthe dansun point devuefortelv6 d'oii


sur ces objets;distinguer les branches generales des connaissances

humaines; & entrevoirmeme quelquefois les

prochent. C'estune esphce de Mappemondequi

cipauxpays, leur position & leur dependance mutuelle

particulibres ferontles

systemeg6ndral desSciences& desArtsestun espkce de labyrinthe, de

d6sordre tout philosophiquequ'il estde




l'Ame,defigurerait, ou plut6tan6antiraitentierement un

on voudraitle representer


ainsi dire, le

Philosophe au


objets deses speculations,

& les operationsqu'ilpeut faire

routes secrktes qui les rap-



[Des cartes


diff6rentsarticlesde I'Encyclopedie,

l'arbre ou

systhmefigure enferala Mappemonde. (xxv-xxvi, spellingmodernized)6

The encyclopedist must impose orderon the labyrinth at his feet, distin-

guishing in its tangles and dead-ends, branchesof

hierarchy, a figure, a map

d'Alembert recognizes thatin day-to-dayknowing, each personproceeds

as ifin a maze, blindly,learningby

trop connaitrela route qu'il doittenir" (xxv). Thereis thusin d'Alembert's

text a tensionbetween labyrinth and tree: the disordered labyrinth of knowledge as a process threatensto "annihilate"theorderedtree by which

the encyclopedist would represent (fixand visualize) knowledge as a product. This is a tensionbetweenorderand disorder:noise (the great,

unorganized heap of proto-information)accompanies the totalizing enterprise,just as in memory,forgetting and loss shadow the enterprise of retaining and retrieving the past.

"encyclopedia"literally means "circleof learning,"going

knowledge,points in a




thatcan be used to findone's


error: "l'esprits'engage

The term

back to a complete courseofinstructionin ancientGreece(later parodied by Rabelais in Gargantua's course of education, and by Flaubertin the autodidacticeffortsofBouvardand Pecuchet).The figure ofthecircleas an

organizingprinciple for knowledge has persistedrightup to theFifteenth Editionof the Encylopaedia Britannica. EchoingQueneau, MortimerAdler statesin the Prefaceto the Propaedia that"an encyclopaedia should not

merely be a 'storehouseof facts,' butshouldalso be a 'systematicsurvey of all departments of knowledge"' (5). The encyclopedia cannotbe simply a place, then, but must also be a set of operations (thenotionof a system covering both place and practice). The circleis the figureby which the

editorsof the Britannicaconceive

"powerfulmetaphor" because it is "a

circumferenceis a beginning, noneis a middle, noneis an end

go across thecirclefromany pointto any other"(6). The editor suggests

systematicknowledge; Adler calls it a

figure in which no point on


one can


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Hilary A.Clark

thatinthis model, segments lieside by side, andso noareaof

canbe privileged over any other; thecircleisthusa non-hierarchical figure.

Or one area only is

Propaedia, as thehubofa

overand above


each segment ofthecircleis

(sub-areas breaking offas smallerbranchesina movement, nowhierarchi-

cal, from higher to lowerlevelsof

generality). Itseemsthat knowledge,

seenas a

however, onceonedescendsintoeachofthese segments, intothethicketof human knowledge inallits tangles and turnings, onemust proceed hierar- chically ifoneisto grasp thematerialatall.

whole, canbe figured as a circledividedinto equal segments;


privileged-a centralarea (diagrammed, in the

wheel)whichisthe study of

knowledge as such,


knowledge of specificsubjects. Thismeta-areais

Knowledge"-and indeed, as the Propaediaproceeds,

figuredseparately as a branchona great tree

The Structuring ofHuman Knowledge

Recently, theissuesofhuman knowledge,memory, or encyclopedic competence havebeenaddressedin thefieldsof cognitive scienceand

Artificial Intelligence.Programs have been developed to

ligent"computers, and thisworkhas fedbackinto

developing and


they are attempts to explain howhuman knowledge is structured, accessed

and used in everyday tasksand situations.7In fact, the models of

knowledge or

cally continuouswiththetreeand

AI researchon programmingintelligentcomputers has led to numerous

representations ofhuman knowledge as structuredin networks; in The

SocietyofMind, Marvin Minskydevelops a modelof memory as a network


d'Alembert's labyrinth of knowledge inthe Discours;however, a network

is hierarchicaland ordered, whereasa

"rhizomatic" typeexploredby Eco afterDeleuzeand Guattari)8is non-


somewherebetweenthetreeof knowledge andthe labyrinth: likethe tree,

itis hierarchical, linking itemto class, species to

labyrinth, itis


cognitive studies,

enriching modelsofhuman memory andthemind.These

survey of encyclopedicself-figuring, because

memory thathave emerged from cognitive sciencearebasi-

labyrinthfigures ofthe encyclop6distes.

orderly search operations. Such computerintelligence networksrecall

labyrinth(particularly the

proliferating. In

fact, the figure ofthenetworkseemstolie

genus;however, likethe

seemingly unlimitedinits paths andconnections.

The figure of

thenetworkis also implied in the notions, basicto

cognitivescience, of scripts, framesand schemata: theseall referto the


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Encyclopedic Discourse


same processwhereby onemakessenseofnew

discourse, bydrawing on

and oftextconventions. Knowledge oftheworldis structuredin fixed

representations, and thereby availablefor ready

Brownand George Yule put it, scripts, framesandschemataare"alterna-

tive metaphors forthe description ofhow

ganised inhuman memory, andalsohowitis activatedinthe process of discourse understanding" (238).In a sense, these"alternative metaphors"

arethe encyclopedicfigures wehavebeen surveying, butnow operating in


discourseand dispose it towardcontinual reactivation, so

structures operate atthe cognitive levelto represent individual knowledge

in typical formand thereby allowthe subject to understandnewsitua-

tions-to interpretnature, in

probably label as

socially constructed, by whichweunderstandtheworld).9

situations,including new

"stereotyped"knowledge oftheworldsituations

retrieval.As Gillian

knowledge oftheworldis or-

encyclopedic orders organize human knowledge in


Bacon's terms (although Bacon would

theMarket"those pre-existingstereotypes,


In Semioticsandthe PhilosophyofLanguage, Eco introducestheideaof

encyclopediccompetence as a labyrinth,"virtuallyinfinite" and "struc- tured according toa network ofinterpretants;" the encyclopedia, he says, isa "rhizome-aninconceivable globality" (83). Such competence alsofunc- tionslikea code: just as language formsthecode against whichindividual

speech actsare realized, so

bling individual knowledge acts.Bothare"institutionalcodes"

as a

and scripts" (184).The emphasishere, as

is on

we knowofthe world, andwecannotknow beyond it. Eco has linkedArtificial Intelligence and the encyclopedia. A computer'sknowledge (and byanalogy, human knowledge) is structured as a setof encyclopedic lists.Thelistseemstobe thenetworkseenfroma

particularperspective; itincludesall the qualities which, taken together, definea subject orcharacterizea situation.InEco's"OnTruth.A Fiction"

(in Meaning andMental Representations), a talkingcomputer describesits


the whole list, that"Global EncyclopedicCompetence" or "Global

Memory" whichmakesof every mind(humanor artificial)-and every encyclopedia-a "workin progress"only (44).To answer questions and understand expressions, the computer mustdrawona system ofinstruc- tionswhich"do not necessarily refertoanexternalstateofaffairs. They

the encyclopedia alsoliststheconditionsena-


setofinstructions comprehending,among others, "systems of frames

inFoucault'snotionofthe archive,

the fixed, "constrictive"natureof encyclopediccompetence; itis all

knowledge as comprisingpartialencyclopedic lists; itcan only infer


instructionsabout how to process other expressions.They are


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Hilary A. Clark

sentencesaboutthe organization ofan encyclopedia." Thus the computer,

"only a semioticmachine"(51-54).This sys-

likethe encyclopedia itself, is

tem of knowledge

always already a

puter, can speculate on itsown competence, but ultimately ithas no access to the "hardware"behindall its "software," theworld beyond thenetof

discursive operations.

discourse.The encyclopedic text, likeEco's talking com-

competence has no directaccess to the world; it is

Recycling in the "Encyclopedic" Text

Implicit inour survey of encyclopedicfigures has beentheissueofthe line betweenorderand disorder, informationand noise.The ordereden- cyclopedic treecan turnintothe labyrinth, and vice-versa.We have seen

how d'Alembertenvisions the encyclopedist as philosopherstanding above the labyrinth,seeing thewhole formed by the tangle of parts, and therebyconstructing orderin thechaosof knowing.Conversely, Eco notes how thetreebecomesa labyrinth:

The project ofan encyclopediccompetence is governedby

metaphysics or by

utopia ofa

reducethe labyrinth toa

the labyrinth. (Semiotics,80)



a metaphor (oran allegory): theideaof labyrinth. The

Porphyrian tree represented themostinfluential attempt to

bidimensionaltree.Butthetree againgenerated

Eco's point on the bidimensionality ofthetreeindicatesthatan important

quality ofthe labyrinth is its multidimensionality, its ability to formconnec-

tionsin any directionand henceto expand towardan infinite-and poten-

tially chaotic-semiosis. In a similar manner, thecircleof

ment"or heap. The pressure of things tobe knowncan breakthe circle; at times, all the encyclopedias withtheirvariouseditionsand supplements do seem toforma disordered heap. Nonetheless, we continueto represent,

can becomean "entasse-


to fix and order knowledge,doing the encyclopedic work to organize disorder, counter entropy, and make complex informationavailable. The key tothisturntowardorderliesin rhetoric, inthefirsttwo stages

of composition: selectionand arrangement.According to Diderot, thereare twomaintasksinthesciencesof knowledge:"augmenter la massedes con-

naissances par des decouvertes," and "rapprocher les decouvertes et "

ordonnerentreelles afin que plus d'hommessoient &claires

(46). That

is, the task of the encyclopedia is to compose knowledge-to inventor discovermaterialand thenorder it, arrange it, just as one discourseson



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Encyclopedic Discourse


anytopic. The only differenceisthatthe encyclopedia retrievesand shapes knowledge as a whole, whereasotherformsofdiscoursedraw upon and shapespecific branchesof knowledge. The encyclopediapotentially acces-

sesthe veryframes, scripts, schemata by

the problem of ordinary discourse-thatof

"restrictingknowledge to

standing textsandnewsituations(Brownand Yule,244).(In encyclopedic discourse,nonetheless, ideologymay influencewhatis includedand ex-

cluded.) Eco characterizesthe

encyclopedia as being memory," "thesumofa collective history" ("OnTruth"53).Asa memory-

system, it

knowledge. In doingso,however, itmust ultimately come up against the


example, that Finnegans Wakeis encyclopedic, we arenot simplypointing outthatitcontainsa great deal ofinformationand coversa numberof

different departments of knowledge. We are not simplysaying thatan encyclopedic text physically lookslikea reference work, with sub-headings


(although someofthese encyclopedic "markers" may indeedbe present).

Rather, any text(fictionalornot)thatwe wouldcall encyclopedic must

speculate on itsowndiscursive processes of

andonthelimitationsofthese processes,given thefactoftimeand


weeding out material, of

only therelevantdetails"neededin under-

a "collectivecultural

ordering ofhuman

mustreflect upon itsown selectionand

totalizingproject. Thuswhenwe say, for

definitions, diagrams,lists, alphabetical ordersand cross-referencing

discovery and arrangement,


Encyclopedic discourseis builtoutofolder discourses; noelementin

itis trulyoriginal. In composing theGrande Encyclopddie, Diderot points

out, "ilne s'agissaitque de revoir, corriger,augmenter

[Le] travailde

creation qui est toujours celui qu'on redoute, disparaissait


." (65).

Likewise, this century'sencyclopedic fictions byJoyce, Pound, Sollersand Pynchon are "anti-creative," withthewriter returning to theroleof

medieval scribe, endlessly (likeBouvardand

ing the already-known, the popular as wellas theesoteric.

Pecuchet) reading and copy-

Joyce's taskin composingFinnegans Wake(andtosomeextentin Ulys-


narrativesand chunks of

"recycling" involves continuallyworking elaborations, revisions

ses) involves

knowledge.10Joyce workslikethe encyclopedist: hismethodof "interpola-


and supplements intothe text, while retaining hisearlierdrafts alongside

thenewermaterial.In linewithDiderot'snotionthatthe


workrevisesand correctsthe already-known,Joyce is concernedwith

"revising"knowledge-discourses(seeing them anew, placing theminnew


"augmenting"them,working them up intomore complex


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Hilary A.Clark


or anyone elsehaswrittenwillbewasted.His

a highly rhetoricalone(and opposed toRomantic/individualistic notions


orators,Joyce "invents" byrediscovering the commonplace,arrangesby

reshuffling a fewwell-worn topoi-in the Wake, themesand configurations

suchas the conflicting twins, thefirstfather& mother, themisdemeanour

inPhoenixPark-into continually newand surprising combinations.

Likean encyclopedia, theWakeis ambitious, its neologismsreaching fornew syntheses, fortotalizationandinfiniteconnection.Nonetheless, it alsoreflectsonitsown limitations, itssecond-handnature, figuring itselfas

a Hen's letter,pecked-over and mouldy,dug

(110).It speculates on itsownnatureas

itsown topics andthoseofothertexts.Fromthe garbage-heap ofculture

emerges the Letter, this text, seemingly withoutan

hallhagal wrotethedurn

"grotesquely distortedmacromass"(111)isthe"entassementde faits"that

Queneau warnsus about, the disorderlyheap cyclopedic work.ThenarrativeoftheWakeisan

outofthe midden, seeone's way clear("tonarrate" deriving fromtheLatin

narrare, "tosee").The attempts to interpret theHen's

I,v as a

and misalignments"(120),figure thewriter'sandthereader's attempt to

organize a

"onestable somebody" (107), a configuration foreveraccessibleand the same.

"recycles"knowledge so that nothing thathe

"ecological" methodis also

composition as

requiringoriginality andnewmaterial).Liketheearliest

up froma "fatalmidden"

discourse endlesslycompos(t)ing

author("who in

thinganyhow?") (107-8). Joyce's middenor

of memory beforetheen- attempt towrite one's way

Letter, describedin

[with]errors,omissions, repetitions,

text "cayennepepper[ed]


disorganized cultural fragments,composing theminto


striking, as

reading the "strange exotic serpentine"

arethereader'sdifficultiesin reading the


Wake(a task

workof composing cultureis

thatwoulddo the memory-work, the repetitions andelaborationsofthe

narrative, and by thereader'sconfusionandneedtorereadthe very lan-

guage (neologistic and obscure)thatshouldbe thevehicleof new en-

cyclopedicsyntheses. The

text(FritzSenn's term)figures, ina particularlycompellingway,

linebetweenorderand disorder, informationand noise,

destabilizesour reading ofthe encyclopedia. InL'Universde I'Encyclopidie,


encyclopedicpoetics "se definit toujours (15).Finnegans Wake figures the produc-

tionofnew knowledge in thereader'shesitation, ateach point, between

commeuncertainirrealisme "

requiring"penelopeanpatience") (123). The encyclopedic

continually belied by the verytechniques

experience of reading the"dislocutions" ofthe


that potentially


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Encyclopedic Discourse



tionfarmore overtly thandoesthe encyclopedia, inwhichthe

tweenorderand disorder, theworkofselectionand arrangement,

allowedto emerge forexaminationatcertain permittedpoints.


andsenseor recollection;

andit figures this produc-

edge be-



Flaubert'sBouvardet Pecuchet is another example of fictionalen-

cyclopedic discourse.Yetthistextis

same way that Finnegans Wakeis.

tematicnatureof encyclopedicknowledge, thefactthattheautodidactscan

pass fromonebranchof knowledge toanotherwithout pause, eachbranch


spiritualism to divination, theology to comparativereligion. Likethe Wake,

speculate on the shape that knowledge

Bouvard encourages thereaderto

takes. However, Joyce's textatteststothestrainof encyclopedic workinits

very form,itshesitationbetween obscurity and clarification,

obviously not encyclopedic in the

Flaubert'stext foregrounds the sys-







remembering. Bouvard,however,suggests this difficulty inthe pessimistic

presentation ofthe possibility andeventhe desirability of totalization, the




assortmentofbizarre objects. (Thetwoautodidacts finally sickenofit.)

Flaubert's novelreflectson the encyclopedic dilemmaof incompletion; however, owing toitsrealistformitcannot go furtherandenactthisdilem- mainits very form.

workof recycling second-hand knowledge fromotherbooksand

configurations. The

futility ofthis enterprise is embodiedin

Pecuchet's museum-unsystematic,shabby, stuffedwithan


Our survey of encyclopedicfigures hastracedthe waysby whichwe attempt to represent (fixandholdata distance)the problematicprocess of knowing intime.Toourinitial question-"How candiscoursebesaidtobe encyclopedic?"-wemight now answer, as suggested at pointsthroughout this essay, thatdiscoursebecomes encyclopedic whenittakesas its subject

the process of knowing and the body ofhuman knowledge,seeking to represent this body as an organized whole. Encyclopedic discourse specu-

latesonitsowndiscursive processes of retrieving,rearranging and refigur-

ing individual knowledge-discourses

authorsread by Bouvardand Pecuchet, for example, orthechunksofVico


of discourse, yet itis specialprecisely initsnatureas discourse par excel-

(these "ready-mades"being


Finnegans Wake).The encyclopedia isa special kind


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Hilary A. Clark

lence, reflecting on the veryprocesses ofdiscursive production basic to all textsbut normally occulted. The encyclopedia, then, both comprehends and exceedsotherdiscour- ses; its work is continuouswithour normalintellectual operations,yet

exceedsthemin theturnof self-figuration. Itis herethatthedifficultiesin

readingencyclopedic discoursearise:we easily put down a textsuch as

FinnegansWake, just as we leave those dusty volumes of

unread, because suchdiscourse represents the veryprocessesby whichwe read, the very structuresof backgroundknowledge or long-termmemory by whichwe makesenseofwhatwe read. Perhaps thisis a case of "infor-

mation overload"; perhaps it's like trying toreadourselves reading. How-

ever we characterizethe problem, it is

inability to completelyprocess the encyclopedia. Eco's talkingcomputer thatwe met earliercharacterizesthisblock as its inability to access and

explain itsown "hardware," to step out ofits"software"(its


lists and

("On Truth"51). Encyclopedic discourseis precisely thatwhichaims at limits beyond

our normal knowledgecapacities;yet its knowledgeprocesses are always already our own. It is both beyond us and of us. Proceeding, then, in an attitudeof both humility and skepticism, we may pick up the neglected book, crack open those dusty volumes, and try toread again.

discursive operations) and thereby "read" and program itself


definitely a readingproblem, an

Universityof Saskatchewan


1. EdwardMendelsondescribesa genre of encyclopedic narrativeinhis"En-

Pynchon," MLN91