Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Poetics of the Unsaid: Joyce's Use of Ellipsis between Meaning and Suspension

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Poetics of the Unsaid: Joyce's Use of Ellipsis between Meaning and Suspension

Article excerpt

The interruption of the incessant is what is proper to fragmentary writing.

- Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster152

exclamatory sentences and suspensions that do away with all syntax in favor of a pure dance of words. The two aspects are nonetheless correlative: the tensor and the limit, the tension in language and the limit of language.

- Gilles Deleuze, "He Stuttered"153

...there appear instants

Between no word and no word

When there are gaps between things.

- Louis Zukofsky, "A" 154

1 Introduction

The word ellipsis comes from Greek elleipsis and means "a falling short, defect". From a linguistic point of view, the phenomenon of ellipsis involves a complex interplay at the syntactic, linguistic and pragmatic level. The default interpretation of ellipsis usually corresponds to what linguists properly call "syntactic ellipsis", i.e., the "nonexpression of a word or phrase that is nevertheless expected to occupy a place in the syntactic structure of a sentence."155 However, one should not neglect another crucial form of ellipsis, perhaps more difficult to detect: "semantic ellipsis", which could be defined as the "nonexpression of elements that, while crucial for a full semantic interpretation, are not signalled by a syntactic gap."156

As punctuation, ellipsis denotes a series of marks (suspension dots or points of suspension) that usually indicates an intentional omission of a part of the text, or an unfinished thought, which causes a temporary suspension of the narrative flow. The use of ellipsis might be considered a sort of aposiopesis: the author's silence expresses an unwillingness to continue, tell or write any further. Such a reticence implies a necessary reassessment of the relationship between the author and the reader. The reader is invited to take part in the creative process in order to fill, or at least try to fill, the (meaningful) gap left by the author. In his study on ellipsis and Maurice Blanchot, Michael Naas observes:

The ellipsis is [...] a sort of speaking that conceals itself behind a simulated silence; it is coded and decipherable, and when deciphered, the reader has the impression of entering into the very intimacy that the narrator or author shares with their work.157

Ellipsis may well be decipherable to some extent; however, the kind of decoding it suggests does not mean that the ontological gap between the author's (simulated) silence and the reader's hermeneutical attempt can be bridged: the author's voice can only partially replace the reader's. As Naas observes, the reader has "the impression of entering into the very intimacy that the narrator or author shares with their work", hence their roles do not completely overlap. Indeed, what is left interrupted and fragmentary through the use of ellipsis becomes the object of a "virtual writing": i.e., a writing that finds its existence in its continuously being delayed, in the effacement and extenuation of the subject it is supposed to talk about. Paradoxically, such a writing awaits to become meaningful although it will be never written, destined as it is to remain virtual, suspended in an indefinite dimension between being and non-being. It becomes one of the reader's tasks, then, to creatively produce this (supplementary) writing and fill what Iser has called Leerstellen, those "blanks" of meaning that the text either does not define or leaves open to the reader's imagination.158

In a notebook draft of an essay on punctuation (1809), Coleridge observes that when punctuation makes the reader pause

the activity of the mind, generating upon its generations, starts anew-& the pause is not, for which I am contending, at all retrospective, but always prospective -that is, the pause is not affected by what follows, but by what anterior to it was foreseen as following. 159

The pause (of full stop or ellipsis) that punctuation signals represents the moment in which the author involves the reader in the creative process, so that the activity of the (reader's) mind "starts anew". …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.