Language for the Sake of Language


This style of writing is the manner in which a writer chooses syntactical structures, diction, and figures of thought, the object of which is to keep the reader focused on words. This writing style is perhaps best exampled by a representative bevy of modern Irish writers including, Sean O’Casey, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, J.M. Synge, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Lady Gregory, and Samuel Beckett. I’ll use writing from two of the group, Yeats and Joyce, to argue my thesis.

The definition of the Yeats word, gluggerabunthaun: Yeats restrained tone in his use of the word, gluggerabunthaun, [his coinage (?) or does it have an Anglo-Saxon etymology (?)] suggests to me a meaning, more or less, of an empty-rattling-ass. Gazing into the entrails of this word, Yeats usage suggests to me that he divined “rattle-ass.” Or, is my feats of interpretation something that makes Theobald’s “babbled of green fields” seem obvious. Don’t be alarmed, I don’t regard my definition of the word as resting on any final authority other than my own sense of what fits.

James Joyce is without question the twentieth century writer most closely associated with language itself, as opposed to the objects or concepts to which language refers. Unlike André Breton’s writing, in which one senses language being used as a vehicle for liberation, Joyce’s writing is an outrageous indulgence in language itself. The book Finneqans Wake is so unlike anything that had come before that it’s difficult to determine whether it’s a celebration of language, an assassination of language, or both. In Finneqans Wake, language has calcified completely; whatever it may be referring to is only present for the purpose of supporting more language. The endless word play keeps the reader focused on words, letters, and sentences: language as object. Forget about transparent prose. Finnegans Wake is as opaque as it gets. The question must be asked: what was Joyce trying to do? What was the point of using words like “certelleneteutoslavzendlatinsoundscript”? Many people have asked these questions, and many books have been written attempting to answer them.

I’ll give one further example of my thesis by citing the internal and external conversation in the chapter entitled “Proteus. Dedalus is walking on the beach contemplating reality. The internal and external conversations are amplified by the quickened cadence of time suggested by Joyce’s sentence structure in a stream of consciousness style, as he experiences the sounds and sights of the beach. Joyce writes, “Paris rawly walkink, crude sunlight on her lemon streets. Moist pith of farls of bread, the froggreen wormwood, her matin incense, court the air”; this combination of time, sound, movement, and sight take the reader in to a moment of Dedalus’s experience, allowing them to become part of his existence through understanding his perception of the world at a particular moment.

For students of modern literature, Irish author James Joyce’s enigmatic novel “Ulysses” represents either the most difficult and hard-to-follow book ever written, or the richest and perhaps most important English language work of the 20th century.


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