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James Joyce’s Silences, Jolanta Wawrzycka, Serenella Zanotti (eds.)

Michael McAteer
p. 141-144
Référence(s) :

James Joyce’s Silences, Jolanta Wawrzycka, Serenella Zanotti (eds.), London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018, 255 p.

Texte intégral

1The topic of silence has long been recognised as an essential feature of the work of Samuel Beckett but much less so of James Joyce. The great achievement of this new volume of essays, edited by Jolanta Wawrzycka and Serenella Zanotti, is its success in illustrating to readers of Joyce just how pervasive and complex are the ways in which silence appears in Joyce’s work and its reception. James Joyce’s Silences offers not only the prospect of further appraisals of silence in Joyce’s œuvre, but equally new assessments of its relation to Beckettian silence. It is a volume that also opens the path to new considerations of the legacy of Joyce’s silences in post-War literature, particularly for such important Irish novelists as Edna O’Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, John McGahern and John Banville.

2The volume gets off to a flying start with a riveting discussion by Fritz Senn on varieties of Joycean silence, attention directed primarily to Ulysses. Senn is especially interested in the silence that appears at moments of social awkwardness in Ulysses and the effective ways through which Joyce conveys silence as anxiety. Most intriguing is Senn’s brief but illuminating comments on the intervention of the milkwoman during the morning conversation between Dedalus, Mulligan and Haines in the opening “Telemachus” episode of Ulysses. In an observation relating both to Joyce’s own practices of translation discussed later in the volume by Tim Conley and Serenella Zanotti, Senn describes a treble level of silence in this instance, one that orbits around a misunderstanding of what language is being spoken: English, Irish or French.

3Senn’s array of insights paves the way for a range of engaging readings of Joyce’s silences in the essays that follow. Moving in poststructuralist fashion towards a textual reading of silence, Laura Pelaschiar makes the astonishing claim that in its revised 1914 version, “The Sisters” – more than any other Joycean text – anticipates Finnegans Wake in its denial of any final semantic closure. The argument is intriguing but would require analysis of the distilled presence of the story in Finnegans Wake. Pelaschiar draws a very telling distinction between what she terms “verbal impotence” and deliberate evasion in Dubliners. Her idea of “Araby” as a story weighted with a silence that is acoustic rather than textual is a seductive one, though such acoustic achievement can only derive from the story’s syntactical arrangement. In their assertion that silence facilitates the creation of sound and language, Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli and Ira Torresi also turn to “The Sisters”, laying further emphasis upon the importance of ellipsis to the narrative. Inadvertently perhaps, Bollettieri Bosinelli and Torresi bring to the surface what may well be the most emphatic anticipation in Joyce’s writing of Beckett’s syntactical strategies for silence in his post-War drama. This is a passage from the seventeenth scene of Joyce’s Epiphanies, not published in his lifetime. The staccato quality of the dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Joyce in the passage is achieved through rampant ellipses. While obviously an autobiographical recollection of the death of Joyce’s younger brother Georgie, it reads very much like a passage of dialogue between characters in Beckett’s Endgame. Bollettieri Bosinelli and Torresi’s essay is followed by Laurent Milesi’s reflection on the relation between silence and origins in Finnegans Wake. He considers the topic of silence in Finnegans Wake not just as that of a void existing at such a place of origin as the disputed origin of the River Nile, addressed in Joyce’s last work. He also alludes to Joyce’s recognition of language itself being indistinguishable from this void. In this way, Milesi’s chapter points towards the possibility of considering Joyce’s “nil(e)” in terms of Heidegger’s notion of silence as a primary ontological condition of language.

4Opening Part II, “The Aesthetics of Silence”, John McCourt raises a pertinent question for all literary representations of silence: just how long, exactly, does the silence indicated by ellipsis last? Once again “The Sisters” is taken up as a key text for understanding Joycean silence. McCourt notes the ellipses that break up Eliza’s disclosure concerning the priest having broken the chalice at Church (a broken text as a broken chalice). They indicate silences, the precise lengths of which are unknown. This follows McCourt’s observation of the ways in which particular moments are prolonged in A Portrait by the literary effectiveness through which Joyce conveys their silence. Teresa Caneda Cabrera draws on the postcolonial criticism of Seamus Deane, Kevin Whelan, Anne Fogarty, Declan Kiberd and Vincent Cheng to probe the historical legacies that inform silence in “The Dead”, attending to the significance of the Irish Famine of the 1840s and the gradual decline of Irish as a living vernacular through the course of the 19th century. Caneda Cabrera’s reflections on the relation between silence and strangeness in this context is illuminating, situating Kiberd and Fogarty’s consciousness of Irish exile and degradation in relation to the primordial estrangement that Julia Kristeva observes within selfhood in her 1991 work, Strangers to Ourselves. Sam Slote moves in a different direction through an original take on Molly Bloom’s persistent repetition of the word “yes” in the “Penelope” episode of Ulysses. Slote proposes that “yes” functions almost like a punctuation mark throughout the monologue, noting how its persistent usage regulates the pace of Molly’s thoughts, devoid as their representation is of any conventional punctuation. On a point of relevance to the whole issue of translation and silence that is dealt with in Part IV of the volume, Slote’s reading is weakened by his mistaken claim that the term used in the Irish-language translation of Ulysses lacks any semantic meaning (p. 109). As a convergence of both words in the phrase “is ea” (it is), the word “seadh” is automatically recognised by Irish speakers as “yes”. Still, his is an intriguing reflection on how “yes” may function as a punctuation mark rather than a word in Molly’s monologue. Morris Beja’s concluding piece for Part II is appropriately brief (for a volume on silence) and takes us back to the unfinished business of the silences left by Joyce’s unfinished sentences in Ulysses to which Caneda Cabrera refers earlier, drawing on Kiberd.

5The essays contained in the final two sections of the volume, “Writing Silence” and “Translating Silence”, sometimes deepen the reader’s appreciation of silence and its importance to the understanding of Joyce’s work. On other occasions, however, the focus seems rather tangential to the question of silence. Opening Part III, “Writing Silence”, William S. Brockman provides a scrupulously incisive consideration of amanuenses in Joyce’s correspondence at various points from 1917 onwards. However, Brockman’s idea of Joyce being silenced when his voice is overruled by the amanuensis is only valid if it could be demonstrated that there is intentional misrepresentation involved, something extremely difficult to prove conclusively (p. 124). Brockman’s essay is followed by Sara Sullam’s absorbing consideration of what might have become a publishing history of Joyce’s work in Italy alternative to that which actually unfolded, drawing attention to the plans of Italian publisher Enrico Cederna to bring out a volume of Joyce’s essays in translation as early as 1949 along with his Italian translation of Synge’s Riders to the Sea (p. 140). The volume of essays never got into print, however, leaving us with a tantalising sense of how differently the image of Joyce might have developed during the 1960s had it done so, following the publication of the first Italian translation of Ulysses in 1960. As with Brockman, however, this is a matter only tentatively related to the topic of silence.

6The question of translating silence in Joyce’s writing and the silences that enter the process of translating this writing are dealt with in the final section of the volume. The essays that it contains relate more assuredly than the previous section to the theme of silence. Jolanta Wawrzycka’s essay on translating silences in Chamber Music is the most impressive of these. Examining Polish and Italian translations of Chamber Music, Wawrzycka manages to convey to readers who do not understand the Polish language just how successfully her efforts have been in capturing the aura of silence in Chamber Music, as she also includes reference to those of Maciej Słomczyński in addition to Italian translations by Marina Capodilista and Alfredo Giuliani. The essay begs the question as to why no other essay in the volume was given over fully to analysis of Chamber Music in its original English version, a volume of poems for which the boundary between sound and stillness is so delicately yet emphatically poised. Serenella Zanotti’s essay on silent translation in Joyce actually reads more like a consideration of unacknowledged intertextual allusions that Joyce weaves into his work. Certainly important as an essay on translation and intertextuality, the silence within translation processes in Joyce’s writing that Zanotti detects in her essay appears instead to be simply a case of Joyce reworking those influences into the fabric of Joyce’s own style. This is indicative of the shortcoming in the final two sections of the volume. While all of the essays are absorbing in their own right, they are not always attuned to the primary objective of the volume as a whole: the topic of silence. Following the publication of this excellent volume of essays, the field of Joyce Studies would be well served by a full exploration of silence in Joyce in ontological and metaphysical terms.

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Michael McAteer, « James Joyce’s Silences, Jolanta Wawrzycka, Serenella Zanotti (eds.) », Études irlandaises, 44-1 | 2019, 141-144.

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Michael McAteer, « James Joyce’s Silences, Jolanta Wawrzycka, Serenella Zanotti (eds.) », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 44-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 14 novembre 2019, consulté le 14 décembre 2019. URL :

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