Speaking Words

Do words speak or do they open a window to the world that stays outside them? This way of treating words as marks that point to something outside them is common. Language is thought to be transparent. But is that really so? Do we have to read words as if they are unwritten to get to the reality that stands beyond them? Do words order our world? Words are not just representing or picturing reality. They construct our reality. They literally speak to us.

One can certainly find speaking words in the work of James Joyce. It has been said that James’ words/ writings produce a change in the relationship between the reader and the text. Understanding this dimension of words is important to understand the act of reading. Several scholars invite us to read James Joyce’s works as practices of writing. This attention focuses on the material effects of language and the possibilities of transformation that it can trigger in the readers.

Joyce’s writings militate against our commonsense thinking that reading is passive consumption of meaning. James effects the constant displacement of language and does not allow any passive consumption of meaning. The construction of text subverts the consumerist position of the reader and challenges him/her to embrace an active, constructive and productive role. This means Joyce generates a shift in the politics of reading.

One of the ways to journey with the work of Joyce is to critically notice the relation of the body to language/(of the body in language) through time. This means we have to turn to the practices of the writings of Joyce. His practices of writing have produced texts that make it very difficult for the readers to read them. The plight of the readers of Joyce is the same as his character, professor Jones, from Finnegans Wake, who cannot decipher a letter because he mistakes its constitution. This is why we have to attend to what the text does than what it says. This means reading is not one-way traffic. It is a two-way road.

To come to the effects and affects produced by the words, we have to abandon the representational theory of language. Represent converts text into the content. Reading a text, therefore, means mining its content. What the text is saying, therefore, becomes primary and what it does is often forgotten. Representation is logocentric and fixes the role of a reader into a consumer of the meaning of a text. Joyce disrupts the privileged position enjoyed by the reader of his texts.

Joyce uses techniques of psychoanalysis to do make his words do the speaking. Being a talking cure, psychoanalysis is intimately related to language. Unconscious is thought to be an inevitable result of the bodies entry into language. Joyce’s use of psychoanalysis allows us to understand the limits of the experience through language and not mere representations of psychic conflicts in his texts. Thus, it is not concerned whether the character’s language represents or misrepresents experience but rather it is concerned where what one can experience is dependent on what position the ‘ I’ of the character can take up in language. This also means that the inability of a patient to utter a repressed desire is not a question of vocabulary but of discourse. Hence, the cure is in the discovery of a new position for the ‘ I ‘ opened by new discourses.

Thus, what language does to us/(to the I) can be deciphered by looking at the variable positions for the reading self that are offered by the texts. The reader is used to a singular, unrivalled frozen position as a decoder of meaning. The text of Joyce does not position the reader in a comfortable Cartesian position, which seem to say, ‘ I read therefore I am’. The text interrogates this position and opens the shifts that the reader is offered as it unfolds. This is perhaps why readers find it difficult to deal with the work of Joyce. The reader, therefore, reads from a position where he/ she is not. The reader reads from a disrupted reading position. All this is brought into effect by the use of language. Thus, reading is not passive consumption of meaning but the active organization of signifiers.

The text is made of many languages or discourses and offers several discursive positions to the readers. Hence, remains open for several readings. Meaning is threatened with dissolution into the play of language in the work of Joyce. Reality refuses to shine through the window of the words. The task of words is not to mirror reality. Words do not explain the world. They transform the world. We can come to these workings of words if we accept that there is a gap between what is said and the act of saying it. We have, therefore, the challenge to take the materiality of language seriously.

In the classical Joyce’s way, we have to yes to the speaking/ yessing of the words. There is no appeal to reality. Joyce’s texts are psychotic where desire dominates the ego and the ego produces discourses that ignore reality (delusion). Thus reading Joyce’s text like the Dubliners is not about an entity named Dublin that stands outside the text, on the contrary, it is a question of the reader producing Dublin through his/her interaction with the discourses of the text. There is no single fixed message inscribed in the code. There are several Dublins in the texts and it is the reader who has the challenge to construct them. If we take, for instance, a text like ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’, we find that the text refuses to do more than report spatial positions or give information relevant to what is happening moment by moment and leaves the dialogue between various occupants of the committee room in a vacuum of sense to be filled by the reader.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao