The real metaphysical problem today is the word. The epoch when the writer photographed the life about him with the mechanics of words redolent of the daguerreotype, is happily drawing to its close. The new artist of the word has recognized the autonomy of language and, aware of the twentieth century current towards universality, attempts to hammer out a verbal vision that destroys time and space.
When the beginnings of this new age are seen in perspective, it will be found that the disintegration of Words, and their subsequent reconstruction on other planes constitute some of the most important acts of our epoch. For in considering the vast panorama of the written word today, one is struck with the sensation of its endless and monotonous repetitiousness. Words in modern literature are still being set side by side in the same banal and journalistic fashion as in preceding decades, and the inadequacy of worn-out verbal patterns for our more sensitized nervous systems seems to have struck only a small minority. The discovery of the subconscious by medical pioneers as a new Field for magical explorations and comprehensions should have made it apparent that the instrument of language in its archaic condition could no-longer be used. Modern life with its changed mythos and transmuted concepts of beauty makes it imperative that words be given new compositions and relationships.
James Joyce, in his new work published serially in transition, has given a body blow to the traditionalists. As he subverts the orthodox meaning of words, the upholders of the norm are seized by panic, and all those who regard the English language as a static thing, sacrosanct in its position, and dogmatically defended by a crumbling hierarchy of philologists and pedagogues, are afraid. Epithets such as “the book is a nightmare,” “disgusting, distorted rubbish,” “a red—nosed comedian,” “senile decay of the intellect,” “utterly bad,” etc., have been poured on the author and his work.
In a recent essay in the Criterion entitled “Style and the Limitations of Speech,” Mr. Sean O’Faolain attempts to, dispose of the Joycian onslaught by examining the nature of language and its limitations, and he arrives at the remarkable stand-pat conclusion of the “immobility of English.” Mr.O’Faolain states among other things: “There are real limitations to the eloquence of words. These are mainly two, despite the overteeming richness of what we do possess, our vocabulary is not of our manufacture and it is limited: and meanwhile, liberty to invent, and add to, and replace, is absolutely denied us -—- denied us, as it would seem, for all time. “Mr. O’Faolain, basing his conclusions on a dessicated philosophy of historicism, rejects Mr. Joyce’s language as “a—historic,” and chides him for running counter to certain eternal laws of nature.
Again, in a review of Anna Livia Plurabelle (Irish Statesman, Dublin) after examining a phrase beginning with: “She was just a young thin pale soft shy slim slip of a thing etc.,” and after indicating that Mr. .Joyce’s system had collapsed, because he (the reader) was unable to penetrate the meaning of certain neologisms, Mr. O’Faolain concludes that this language is “almost music” and serves no useful purpose. The sentence he quotes, (from page 21 of A, L. P. contains the word “silvamoonlake” which he analyses. This mental exercise ends in the recognition of silva as being in relation to silver and sylva, moon as being moon, and lake as being lake. That is already something, although lake should also be understood to have some relation to a lacteal, or milky, image (cf. P. 24 A. L. P. the Petrarca Laura allusion, “By that Vale Vowclose’s lucydlac, etc. “). He stumbles against the neologism “forstfellfoss.” This means nothing to him. Now the word “foss,” which puzzles him more than “forst” and “fell,” — although the real meaning of “forst” has also escaped him, it being indicative of tree —— is rather well known to students of geography. It is a geographical and topographical term which my Baedeker readily reveals to me. Under the heading of World`s Biggest Waterfalls, I discover, not only Niagara Falls (170 m high) but Feigumfoss in Norway (656 m. high). l also find other falls in Norway bearing the generic ending of foss: Esplansfoss, Grandefoss, Hoenefoss, Stalheimsfoss, and many others. It has been a custom for some time to admit to English citizenship such geographical and topographical terms as: pampa,(ice) berg, spa, fjord, campagne, steppe, veldt, lock, savannah, geyser, maelstrom, laude, canyon, etc. Mr. O’Faolain will probably object that he is not supposed to know Scandinavian in order to understand a work of English literature. But it is equally apt to say that a knowledge of Latin and Greek, and a light smattering of other languages, is no longer sufficient in an age that is rapidly coming to a complete internationalization of the spirit.
Let it be understood once and for all that we can no longer accept the ideas of a past epoch. We are not interested in romantic “passé-ism,” nor in infantile parallelisms.
The most cursory glance at the evolution of English, or other languages, shows that speech is not static. It is in a constant state of becoming. Whether the organic evolution of speech is due to external conditions the people themselves, bring about, or whether it is due to the forward-straining, vision of a single mind, will always remain a moot question. I imagine there is an element of both working simultaneously at this process. Renan once accused Saint Paul of ” audaciously violating, if not the genius of the Greek language, at least the logic of human language. ” The reason for Saint-Paul’s heresy lies in the fact, — as pointed out by the Rev. Marcel Jousse — that he tried to follow the laws of spoken human language. There is no logical reason why the transmutation of language in our day should not be as legitimate as it was throughout the ages. While painting, for instance, has proceeded to rid itself of the descriptive, has done away with the classical perspective, has tried more and more to attain the purity of abstract idealism, and thus led us to a world of wondrous new spaces, should the art of the word remain static? It is not true that words have undergone radical changes throughout the centuries? Should James Joyce, whose love of words and whose mastery of them has been demonstrated in huge creations, be denied the right (which the people themselves hold) to create a vocabulary which is not only a deformation, but an amalgamation of all the languages in the so-called English-speaking world? The English language, after all, has been an amalgamation from the very beginning of its existence. Why should the unilingual Englishman feel worried, when in the British Isles alone, there are Eve languages still in common use: Manx, English, Irish, Gaelic and Welsh I With what right can the ” unilingual” Englishman demand that the well of the English language remain undefiled? It is a very muddy well, at best.
But, says Mr. O’Faolain “a word is a fragment of history that we have agreed to accept as a symbol for a limited number of its own experiences and ours, and the writer works with these experiences and our knowledge of them; as a result, words become in his hands most pliable, roguish and suggestive things. ” To illustrate his point he chooses the word “gentleman.” This example seems to me inept. If he wishes to show that words do not change, then “gentleman” does not show it. But to show that they do change, let us take “title,” for example. The Latin word is “titulus” which is the cross on top of the letter “t.” INRI was a “titulus” for the cross of Christ. There is even a feastday of that name in the Roman Catholic Church. To the lawyer a “title” represents the authenticity of a document representing an heir’s succession. When an American society girl marries a duke or a marquis, she is marrying a “title.” Then “title” also indicates the descriptive term for a work of literature. For Gene Tunney, the word “title” represents the honor he received, after Mr. Jack Dempsey had seen the starry firmament. Etc., etc.
While Mr. Joyce, beginning with Ulysses, and now in his still unnamed work, has been occupied in exploding the antique logic of words, analogous experiments have been made in other countries. ln France, Germany and Italy, the undermining process has been going on for the past fifteen years. In order to give language a more modern elasticity, to give words a more compressed meaning through disassociation from their accustomed connections, and to liberate the imagination with primitivistic conceptions of verbs and nouns, a few scattered poets deliberately undertook to disintegrate their own speech.
Léon-Paul Fargue, one of the great French poets of our age, has created astonishing neologisms in his prose poems. Although retaining much of the purity of French, he has slashed syllables, transposed them from one word to another, built new words from root vocables and thus introduced an element entirely unknown before into French literature. The large place he leaves to the dream as a means for verbal decomposition adds piquancy to his work. When, in Tumulte, he says: ” Enclochez-vous dans l’alvéole”, no dictionary will give you the meaning of enclocher. Nor is the English translation, “enbell yourselves,” anything but a neologism. He says: “Te voila, zoizonin,” which might be translated by “lilbirdie,” but which is a pure invention of his own. Consider also the phrase: ” Anatole, tanaos et thanatos, anthropofrime,” etc. Or: “un vieux bec de gaz couronné, noir paponcle,” which was translated in transition by; “an old crowned gas lamp, black papuncle.”
The revolution of the surrealists, who destroyed completely the old relationships between words and thought, remains of immense significance. A different association of words on planes of the spirit makes it possible for these poets to if create a universe of beauty the existence of which was never suspected before. Michel Leiris in his experimental Glossaires departs radically from academic ideas and presents us with a vocabulary of iconoclastic proportions. M. Leiris stated at one time: ” A monstruous aberration makes men believe that language is born to facilitate their mutual relations With usefulness as an aim, they prepare dictionaries, in which words are catalogued and given a well-defined meaning (so they think) based on custom and etymology. Now, -etymology is a perfectly vain science that gives no information whatsoever about the veritable meaning of a word, i.e. the particular significance, the personal significance which everybody must give it, according to the pleasure of his spirit. As for custom, it is unnecessary to say that it is the lowest criterion one might apply. ” André Breton, demoralizing the old psychic processes by the destruction of logic, has discovered a world of magic in the study of the dream via the Freudian explorations, and he has insisted on expressing those interior currents with new words or word associations.
Miss Gertrude Stein attempts to find a mysticism of the word by the process of thought thinking itself. She does not deform the word as such, but gives it new sensations by giving it its mathematical power. Of late she has been trying to develop a new sense of grammar.
Verbal neologisms were first attempted in Germany by – August Stramm. Here is one of his poems:
Durch schmiege Nacht
Schweigt unser Schritt dahin
Die Haende bangen blass um krampfes Grauen
Der Schein stick! scharf in Schatten unser Haupt
Hoch flimmt der Stern
Die Pappel haengt herauf
Hebt die Erde nach
Die schlafe Erde armt den nackten Himmel
Du schaust und schauerst
Deine Lippen duensten
Der Himmel kuesst
Uns gebaert der Kuss!
While Stramm limited himself to the problem of re-recreating nouns as verbs and adjectives, Hans Arp, who is really a Frenchman, played havoc with the lyric mind by inventing word combinations set against a fantastic ideology.
Certain others went so far as to reproduce gestures only by word symbols. These, however, remained mostly sound paroxysms. Very little can be said also for the futuristic theory of “words in liberty.” It did not solve the problem since it ignored the psychic contents of poetry. Because a work of art is primarily a vision expressed through rhythm, Marinetti’s idea, insisting on movement as the sole criterion of expression, remains abortive.
James Joyce has independently found his solution. The texture of his neologies is based on a huge synthesis. There it is a logic of his own back of every innovation. The root of his evolution can be traced to Ulysses. There, already, Mr. Joyce contemplated the disintegration of words. In the interior monologue words became disjointed from their traditional arrangements, and new possibilities for timbre and associations were discovered. In developing his medium, to the fullest, Mr. Joyce is after all doing only what Shakespeare has done in his later plays, such as The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline, where the playwright obviously embarked on new word sensations before reaching that haven of peacefulness mirrored in the final benediction speech from the latter play which closes the strife of tongues in Ulysses. Let us consider, for example, the following quotations from Cymbeline, selected at random throughout the play.
Sec. Gent. You speak him far
First Gent. I do extend him, sir, within himself;
Crush him together, rather than unfold
His measure duly.
Imo. Thou shouldst have made him
As little as a crow, or less, ere left
To after—eye him. l
Pis. Madam, so I did.
Imo. I would have broke mine eye—strings; crack’d them, but
To look upon him; till the diminution
Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle.
Imo. What is the matter, trow?
Iach. The cloyed will,
That satiate yet unsatisfied desire, that tub
Both fill’d and running, ravening first the lamb,
Longs after for the garbage.
’Tis still a dream; or else such stuff as madmen
Tongue, and brain not: ………..
For beauty that made barren the swell’d boast
Of him that best could speak; for feature, laming
The shrine of Venus, or straight—pight Minerva,
Postures beyond brief nature; for condition,
A shop of all the qualities that man
Loves woman for; besides, that-hook of wiving,
Fairness which strikes the eye,
Post. ………… Then began
a stop i’ the chaser, a retire; anon
A rout, confusion—thick: forthwith they fly
Chickens, the way which they stoop’d eagles; slaves,
The strides they victors made: and now our cowards,
Like fragments in hard voyages, became
The life o’ the need: …….
In connection with this last quotation, it is interesting to compare the effect of haste and confusion of the battle with A a similar passage from Work in Progress, the description of the Battle of Waterloo in the opening pages.
“This is lipoleums in the rowdy howses. This is the Willingdone, by the splinters of Cork, order fire. Tonnerre! (Bullsear ! Play !) This is camelry, this is floodens, this is panickburns. This is Willingdone cry. Brum ! Brum ! Cumbrum ! This is jinnies cry. Underwetter ! Ghoat strip Finnlambs! This is jinnies rinning away dowan a bunkersheels. With a trip on a trip on a trip on a trip so airy, etc.”
Then there are the coinages of words to be found in Cymbeline such as, “cravens”, ” after—eye “, ” imperceiverant”, “straight-pight”, ” chaffless”, “Whoreson”,”under—peep”, “wrying”, etc.
Needless to say, had Shakespeare employed precisely the same innovations as Mr. Joyce, the quarrel would have long since died down, Mr. Joyce’s course to-day would be plain sailing and his role that of the imitator rather than the innovator. In all the examples cited, however, there is an easily recognizable analogy in the very personal, almost obscure intention of the artist, which makes no concessions to communication other than a tantalizing invitation to the reader to seek and continue to seek, if he would know the complete thought behind earth phrase; and in Joyce’s work there are at least bits of recognizable drift—wood floating on the surface of the stream, which is not the case in the Shakespeare quotations, where the reader’s cue lies deep and well hidden under the word flow.
James Joyce gives his words odors and sounds that the conventional standard does not know. In his super—temporal and super-spatial composition, language is being born anew before our eyes. Each chapter has an internal rhythm differentiated in proportion to the contents. The words are compressed into stark, blasting accents. They have the tempo of the Liffey itself flowing to the sea. Everything that the world of appearance shows, everything that the automatic life shows, interests him in relation to the huge philosophic and linguistic pattern he has undertaken. The human element across his words becomes the passive agent of some strange and inescapable destiny.
Those who have heard Mr. Joyce read aloud from Work in Progress know the immense rhythmic beauty of his technique. It has a musical flow that flatters the ear, that has the organic structure of works of nature that transmits painstakingly every vowel and consonant formed by his ear. Reading aloud the following excerpt may give an idea of this:
“Shall we follow each others a steplonger whiles our liege is taking his refreshment? There grew up beside you amid our orisons of the speediest in Novena Lodge, Novara Avenue, in fltwaspriduum—am—Bummel oaf, outofwork, one removed from an unwashed savage, on his keeping and in yours, that other, Immaculatus, that pure one, he who was well known to celestine circles before he sped aloft, a chum of the angels, a youth they so tickerly wanted as gamefellow that they asked his mother for little earps brupper to let him tome Tintertarten, pease, and hing his scooter ’long and ’tend they were all real brothers in the big justright home where Dodd lives, that mother smothered model, that goodlooker with not a Haw whose spiritual toilettes were the talk of half the town, and him you laid low with one hand one fine May in the Meddle of your Might, your bosom foe (not one did you slay, no, but a continent!), to find out how his innard, worked !”
The English language, because of its universality, seems particularly fitted for a re-birth along the lines envisaged by Mr. Joyce. His word formations and deformations spring from more than a dozen foreign languages. Taking as his physical background the languages spoken in the British Empire, past and present (Afrikaans-Dutch: South—Africa; French: Canada; etc.) he has created a language of a certain bewilderment, to be sure, but of a new richness and power for those who are willing to enter into the spirit of it. Even modern American, so fertile in astonishing anarchic properties, has been used by him. The spontaneous flux of his style is aided by his idea to disregard the norms of orthodox syntax. Using the pun, Mr. Joyce has succeeded in giving us numerous felicitous tournures in spite of the jeers of the professors. Did not the New Testament itself use puns, in order to put over an idea? “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petrum aedificabo ecclesiam meam,” which is used in the first book, provides certainly a sufficiently good precedent.
For it is the condition between waking and sleeping as well as sleep itself which James Joyce is presenting to us in his monumental work. Here for the first time in any literature, the attempt is successfully made to describe that huge world of dreams, that a-logical sequence of events remembered or inhibited, that universe of demoniacal humor and magic which has seemed impenetrable so far. (To be sure, Gerhardt Hauptmann in Hannele’s Himmelfarht attempted to present a dream-state, but it remained bound in the old literary conceptions as far as the actual expression was concerned). The dynamics of the sleep—mind is here presented with an imagination that has whirled together all the past, present and future, as well as every space related to human and inorganic evolution.
But in developing this theme, Joyce realized that the elements of sleep have never been properly described as far as the real night language is concerned. Obviously we do not use the same words while asleep as those we employ when awake. If you make the experiment of transcribing the narrative events of your dream, you will forever be confronted with this difficulty. Every writer who has tried to communicate his dreams to us has stumbled against the inadequacy of his presentational or verbal medium. For the broken images of the dream floating through a distorted film and the actual mechanics of words that occur in the movement need a radically new attitude.
James Joyce has given us this solution, and his language corresponds to this need. Listen to “Father Viking Sleeps,” the physiological description of sleep in Work in Progress:
“Liverpoor? Sot a bit of it ! His braynes coolt parritch, his pelt nassy, his heart’s adrone, his bluidstreams acrawl,his puff but a piff, his extremeties extremely so Humph is in his doge. Wrds weigh no more to him than raindrips to Rothfernhim. Which we all like. Rain. When we sleep. Drops. But wait until our sleeping. Drain. Sdops”