Academic journal article Style

The Mutt and Jute Dialogue in Joyce's Finnegans Wake: Some Gricean Perspectives

Academic journal article Style

The Mutt and Jute Dialogue in Joyce's Finnegans Wake: Some Gricean Perspectives

Article excerpt

Let us swop hats and excheck a few strong verbs weak oach eather yapyazzard abast the blooty creeks.

(Finnegans Wake 16.8-9)


It has been nearly twenty years since Mary Louise Pratt, in Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse, extended to literary discourse ideas about language and communication developed by the philosopher H. P. Grice. Even so, Pratt's book did not attempt to account for communicative acts represented in literary discourse--e.g., literary dialogues--but rather for "the literary speech situation" in a global sense (100ff.).(1) Here, by contrast, I wish to explore the possibilities and limits of Grice's conversational analysis vis-a-vis local versus global literary speech situations. Specifically, I shall examine the extent to which Grice's ideas and methods can be used as a framework for understanding the dialogue between Mutt and Jute in Finnegans Wake.(2) By invoking Grice's ideas in this context, we can in the first place work toward a finer-grained conception of conversation analysis as a tool for literary interpretation. But furthermore, we can also rethink the way literary texts themselves function as what we might term models for hypothetical discourse situations. Literary dialogues like Joyce's, as we might also put it, stage the principles and mechanisms of dialogue in general, forcing us to reflect on our canons for conversational coherence.

I shall examine the form and functioning of the Mutt and Jute episode, then, in light of a broadly Gricean perspective on discourse and communication. I say "broadly Gricean" because, here, I shall focus not so much on the specifics as on the legacy of Grice's theories: what Grice has taught practitioners of conversational analysis and what they in turn may be able to teach us about Mutt and Jute. Grice's lesson, essentially, is that when text-grammarians and others try to locate within a text or a discourse the principles explaining the coherence of that text or discourse(3)--what makes it more than a mere jumble of sentences, a hodgepodge of statements--they are engaged in a fundamentally misguided attempt (cf. Blakemore 237 and in passim). For Griceans, cohesiveness is not a property inhering in texts, but instead a relation between sentences--or, rather, utterances--that we ourselves bring to texts in our bid to interpret them.

On the one hand, since the early 1970s scholars working on text grammars have adopted a text-internal approach to the problem of textual cohesion (see van Dijk, "Introduction," for a brief historical survey of the text-grammatical tradition). Thus researchers like Teun A. van Dijk and Robert de Beaugrande have sought to project relations between sentences into textual "surface structures" via syntactic rules like those governing definitivization (article-selection) from sentence to sentence, whereby "[t]he 'contextual' conditions for definitivization, normally left over to performance, are thus explicitly brought within the scope of the [text] grammar" (van Dijk, Some Aspects 8; cf. 42ff.). On the other hand, researchers working in the Gricean tradition typically shift the burden of coherence from texts to contexts, from discourses to the people who make and use them. After all, the emphasis on textual coherence as (in part) a function of context motivates what Grice describes as the Cooperative Principle: most basically, one's default assumption that one's interlocutor is designing and processing utterances in a reasoned or predictable manner. For Grice, "talk exchanges," which can be seen as "a special case or variety of purposive, indeed rational, behavior" (28),

do not normally consist of a succession of disconnected remarks, and would not be rational if they did. They are characteristically, to some degree at least, cooperative efforts; and each participant recognizes in them, to some extent, a common purpose or set of purposes, or at least a mutually accepted direction. …

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