2017 Abstracts Stage 2

“Where Flash Becomes Word and Silents Selfloud”: the Language of Finnegans Wake

Leo Kyle, 2017, Stage 2

The obscure, polysemic, multi-lingual, syntactically nonstandard style of writing in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake has polarised critics even since before the time of the book’s full release. The ongoing debates surrounding the work raise philosophical questions about the limits of language and the nature of art and literature. This essay explores possible philosophical justifications for using such a style, and enquires whether it might offer unique artistic possibilities, unavailable to clearer, more conventional styles.

Beginning from Heidegger’s theory of art, the essay explores the distinction between the Heideggerian concepts of “world” and “earth”, arguing that the book inverts the standard function of language as embodying a socio-historical “world”, instead turning it into a force which represents the “ungraspable”, impenetrable, nature of “earth”.

The essay then examines the Wake with reference to Blanchot’s work on literature, finding that the techniques of emphasising the physicality of language, as well as fragmenting a work into pieces whose only relation is difference – which Blanchot claims constitute are essential for a literary work to represent things in their “free, silent existence” – are utilised in extreme ways and to unique ends in the Wake.

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