Article thumbnail

Joyce's deplurabel muttertongues: Re-examining the multilingualism of Finnegans Wake

By Boriana Alexandrova


The multilingualism of Finnegans Wake has been widely regarded as a feature that makes the text difficult and perplexing, and even inessential to some readers and translators who have chosen to iron it out of their plot summaries and translations. Because the work has a reputation for impenetrability and inaccessibility that at times borders on discursive incoherence, its political value has chiefly been related to its rebellion against linguistic order—specifically the structural, historical, and ideological rule of the British Empire’s primary language, English—rather than its capacity for literary pleasure, inclusivity, and illumination. This project critically complicates established assessments of Joycean multilingualism and develops innovative transdisciplinary approaches to the Wake’s multilingual design in an effort to do scholarly, creative, as well as ethical, justice to the text itself as well as its variously diverse global readership. Chapters 1 and 2 explore the stylistic particularities of the Wake’s multilingual design from the perspective of linguistics and second-language acquisition. These chapters engage with the poetic materiality of Wakese and explore the role of readers’ diverse and variable accents, creative choices, multilingual repertoires, and overall cultural, subjective, and bodily singularities in the text’s capacity to generate multiple semantic and narrative layers. Chapter 1 tests the various material aspects of Wakean multilingualism, including but not limited to phonology, considering the various creative effects of embodied readerly engagement with it. It demonstrates that multilingualism is not only a tool for productive linguistic estrangement but also enables a peculiarly intimate access into the language of Joyce’s text. Chapter 2 focuses more specifically on the Wake’s multivalent stylistic uses of inter- and intralingual phonologies, beginning with an exploration of the soundscapes, phonotactics, and cultural signifiers of different languages, such as Russian, Swahili, German, and Irish English, and moving onto the book’s internal, fictionalised multilingual system of sound-symbolism, materialised through phonological patterning and the “phonological signatures” of archetypal characters such as ALP and Issy. While the first two chapters explore how the multilingual text operates across different reading spaces and bodies, chapter 3 looks at how translators engage with it in their capacity as readers and (re)writers. I discuss how Wakean multilingualism challenges assimilative and corrective methods of translation and how the act of linguistic transfer inevitably triggers a cultural and material transformation as well. My case studies in this chapter are the two most important Russian translations of the Wake, which are virtually unknown in Anglophone Joyce scholarship. I place the Russian translations in a Western scholarly context, assessing their translatorial methodologies in relation to other important projects of Wake translation and exploring how they handle its multilingual design, considering the particular effects of transposing the text not only from an Anglophone to a Russophone linguistic and cultural space but also from Roman into Cyrillic script. Finally, in chapter 4, I argue that the Wake’s multilingualism, as a performative literary manifestation and invitation to difference, variability, and changeability, makes it an intrinsically ethical text: its political value simultaneously honours its Irish postcolonial heritage and has a global historical and multicultural reach. The chapter engages with concepts from feminist, queer, and disability theorists towards the development of new theoretical approaches to the political and ethical value of Wakean multilingualism in a contemporary global context

Publisher: University of York
Year: 2016
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.