Protean Mutations: James Joyce’s Ulysses



All of the fiction that we have examined so far uses languages primarily as a means of representing a polylingual reality. Even in Rhys’s fiction, where processes of translational mimesis are intrinsic to her modernist style, that stylisation nonetheless finds its basis in the specific cultural and linguistic reality that is represented. A translational style, in Rhys, corresponds to a ‘translational’ reality as experienced by the colonial migrant in Europe. James Joyce, on the other hand, though writing from the vantage point of his chosen exile from Ireland, produces work that is multilingual to a degree that is completely out of proportion with the (not especially cosmopolitan) Dublin that forms the consistent focus of his work. In that sense, Joyce’s texts fit Sternberg’s definition of ‘gratuitous’ multilingualism (although, to the extent that Joyce’s work is about language itself and linguistic plurality in the broader sense, its polyglot play is not gratuitous).1 Degrees of defamiliarisation in Joyce are directly linked to degrees of multilingualism: the largely monolingual style of ‘scrupulous meanness’ in Dubliners is characterised by a certain mimetic clarity; the much stranger styles of Portrait are matched by a certain degree of multilingualism; the ‘cracked looking glass’ (U 1.146) of Ulysses, with its astonishing range of different forms of defamiliarisation, is a highly multilingual text; and Finnegans Wake, the extreme culmination of Joycean defamiliarisation, is a novel of Babelian excess, containing between seventy and eighty different languages.2


Foreign Language Semantic Ambiguity Stylistic Diversity Foreign Word Indefinite Article 
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© Juliette Taylor-Batty 2013

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