The Play of Language in Ulysses
To say that reading Ulysses is a pleasure seems rather a trite statement, but it is worthwhile pondering the meaning of ‘pleasure’. The French critic Barthes distinguishes two kinds of reading experience, termed plaisir and jouissance. Plaisir is the reassuring pleasure that comes from familiarity; jouissance the ecstatic pleasure that comes from the struggle to make sense of the unfamiliar. Transferred to textual rhetoric and its effects, we can associate plaisir with schemes of repetition, and jouissance with the ‘deviances’ and defamiliarisations of metaphor and other tropes, along with violations of syntax. Reading Joyce’s work can be seen as a progression from plaisir to jouissance, from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake: as schemes of word-repetition give way to the extremes of linguistic deviation, creativity and polysemy.
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