the wonders of good writing

February 5, 2007

Before we get to the word of the day, i want to take a look at some brilliant literary theory (I really hope I’m being facetious). I actually took a class with this author (who shall remain nameless), and I’m happy to report that s/he does lecture a bit more coherently than s/he writes, although not by much.

“Prior to this translation, another translation–the unsettling disruption of localization–was already occurring, taking place in the language of the so-called original. In turn, the (secondary, revealing) translation as the inscription of a determinable location constituted a response to the prior translation, to an indeterminacy that had already translated the reader onto another place, a place which was not one, and that withdrew from localization as it enabled and even provoked the very attempt at localization, at translation. ”

Why do I bring this up? Compare said theorist’s incoherent ramblings with James Joyce’s bizarre neologism, “contransmagnifandjewbangtantiality.” Unlike the passage I just cited, it’s possible to make sense of Joyce’s stupefying concoction. Here’s Joseph Campbell’s take, which I find convincing. The first syllable (con) and the last five (tiality) evoke “consubstantiality,” the idea that God and Jesus are one, of the same substance. At the same time, “trans” and “tantiality” evoke transubstantiation. The Annotated Ulyesses finds (less satisfying) explanations for “magnific” (magnificat, Mary’s Thanksgiving song in Luke)  “Jew” (a reminder of Jesus’ birth, and rejection) and “bang” (controversial origins of christianity–i don’t get that one either).

It’s amazing how a great writer manages to make complete sense even during his/her obfuscations.

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