Book Review: Fritz Senn, Joyce's Dislocutions: Essays on Reading as Translation,
edited by John Paul RIQUELME, Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, 225 pp.
(This book Review by C. George SANDULESCU (Monaco) was published in Études Irlandaises, December 1985, No. 10 Nouvelle Série, pages 324-326. Université de Lille III, "Pont de bois", B.P. 149, F-59653 Villeneuve d'Asq, France.)
This Dislocutions book follows quite in the wake of the author's Nichts gegen Joyce, Haffmans Verlag 1983, Zurich (see Études Irlandaises 9 (1984), p.345 ff). Indeed the two books are related, for they are both collections of earlier published essays by the author, who is indeed one of the most outstanding Joyce scholars of the century; both books also share the additional merit of carrying original research, for Senn is well-known for only putting pen to paper when he has something new to express.
Joyce's Dislocutions groups thirteen essays under three major headings: I. Reading as Translation: Foreign Readings; II. On Reading: Dynamics of Corrective Unrest, and finally: III. On Ulysses: Book of Many Turns.
None of these essays are specially written for this book, though, quite paradoxically -- and quite characteristic of the author's personality -- the essay on Dislocution (see title of the book under review) had been written specially for the earlier book (under the title "Variants of Dislocution"). It is a pity that the titles are different in the two books for the text of the essay is exactly the same; the differences are only to be found in the last three pages. For instance, the defining words "dislocution would be a convenient blanket term for" are tagged to one of the last paragraphs. The working definition of dislocution thus becomes "each chapter [of Ulysses] reprocesses its ingredients according to different and, on occasion, highly deviant preferences".
Dislocution is an important term: we all heard Fritz Senn utter it fairly frequently at one Joyce conference or another during the past few years. And it is one of the great merits of Senn that he attempts to make use of "clean" terms, i.e. expressions which had NOT circulated or even had NOT existed before. As he puts it himself in the essay under scrutiny, "Dislocution has the advantage of not being predefined" (p. 202). However, the formulation of the earlier -- 1982 -- version of the essay has the advantage of being more specific in the authorial Work in Progress with a view to finding a workable definition:
The term aired here in some of its possible applications is not a precise definition. In its most frivolously comprehensive sense it might even take within its sweep everything that makes us respond, spontaneously, with laughter. [ . . . ] If anything, Dislocution is an expediently blurred trope, a catalystic [sic !] visual aid for us to discern a trifle more readily the variants of that protean energy which, while no single one of its symptoms may be entirely new, in its pluralistic mercurial impact does set ULYSSES off from all of its many predecessors and from still most of the works that followed in its wake.
If Hans-Walter Gabler's notorious concept of DIACHRONIC TEXT has any theoretical validity at all (and Senn himself would incline to say YES), then I personally prefer the above quoted text, as printed by Haffmans Verlag to its replacement, printed one year later by Johns Hopkins. For if we can pick and choose in Joyce himself, at the discretion of Gablerian editorial competence, so we can, can we not ?, among the diachronic variants of his critic,quite in accordance with the makeshift principle "the earlier [the version], the closer to the essence of the Work in Progress".
Of the three essays making up the first part of the book, the middle one, entitled "Transluding off the Toptic: or, The Fruitful Illusion of Translatability" (pp. 24-38) is contained in its German version in Nichts gegen Joyce (pp. 246-260).
Of the four essays making up the second part of the book, the first three of them are contained in the 1983 Zurich volume in their original English version. Finally, the third and last part of the book, made up of six essays, has the last study in common -- the one entitled "Dislocution", and which has already been analysed above.
But let us push the comparison of the two books a little further: both books carry Bibliographies of the Writings of Fritz Senn, placed at end of volume. Comparing the two bibliographies, it so happens that the Zurich volume is again superior, for the bibliography it carries is strictly chronological, whereas the bibliography in the Johns Hopkins anthology is purely systematic, placing Senn's writings severally under the following headings: I. On Joyce's Early Works; II. On Ulysses; III. On Finnegans Wake; IV. On Joyce (General); V. Collections of Essays; VI. Reviews; VII. On Other Authors and Topics; VIII. Edited Volumes.
Now, the main purpose of any bibliography is to help locate the exact reference to one or several entries. When one listing is devised on the unique criterion of chronology, whereas the other listing is constructed on a crisscross of sophistication escaping proper systematisation, which of the two will the scholar prefer ? All the more so, as the so-called "systematic arrangement runs the risk of, if well done, mentioning the same item several times . . . And then, section VI, placidly labelled "Joyce in General", kills in the bud all hope of any classification whatever.
I wish to add that most of the essays forming the third and last part of the book are reproduced from easily accessible sources, such as the JJ Quarterly and Hartman & Hayman's Ulysses (1974, reprinted 1977 etc) . . . In short, the earlier volume, the Zurich one, at least contains one so far unpublished text, paradoxically dealing with . . . "Dislocution", which happens to be the key- and title-term of the book here under review: this Johns Hopkins anthology contains no such originality ! It is perhaps true that this latter volume was edited -- with a preface that I find cumbersome -- by John Paul Riquelme, for the almost exclusive benefit of American readers. But it is nonetheless true that the European volume addresses itself to the rest of the world, as twenty-three of its twenty-eight pieces are not written in English. However, for this and other reasons which I discussed earlier I find it superior to its near-twin from across the Atlantic.
For it is in the Zurich book that one finds Fritz Senn at his very best: at work, and in progress -- from 1964 (cf. "Ein hoher Preis", p. 285 ff) to 1983 (cf. "Paratektonik oder Nichts gegen Homer", p. 155 ff). I also find it surprising that it is the Editor -- Jean Paul R -- who takes it upon himself to dedicate to somebody else the book made up of the writings of a LIVING author . . . even if that somebody else is my good friend who was Louis Mink.