Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Irish Sense of Rebellion; From Elvish to Klingon to Quotation Marks

Just the other day, I blogged about James Cooke Brown who, among other things, invented a logical language.  Cooke's language "was designed to test the theory that natural languages limit human thought" by using "symbolic logic made speakable."

What caught my eye today was last year's anthology FROM ELVISH TO KLINGON: EXPLORING INVENTED LANGUAGES, edited by Michael Adams.  An essay here touches upon Brown's lawsuit concerning his invention, but mostly they discuss the invented vocabularies of novelists down through the ages.  Chapter seven is entitled "Oirish Inventions: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Paul Muldoon" by Stephen Watt:

"It is a widely accepted fact, perhaps even a cliche, that much significant Irish literature of the twentieth century adopts a peculiar, even adversarial, stance towards established languages.  At times, this antipathy emerges in what are finally minor rebellions against grammar, syntax, and convention.'

"So, for example, Bernard Shaw at times eschewed apostrophes when writing contractions and invented a method for indicating verbal emphasis in which spaces were added between letters, in this way, revolt became r e v o l t.  James Joyce avoided quotation marks when writing dialogue, perhaps the least radical of his myriad experiments with language leading inexorably to Finnegans Wake.  Sometimes, however, the struggles between artist and convention are waged over somewhat larger stakes than marks of punctuation and, not surprisingly, the most vexed of these obtains between Irish writers and the English language an uneasy mesalliance."

Cormac McCarthy, who has named James Joyce's Ulysses as one of his four favorite novels, doesn't use quotation marks either.  He says that they're unnecessary, but of course the real reason lies in the Irish rebellion against formal language mentioned above.  It is the nonconformist attitude best seen in his autobiographical novel, Suttree, as well as in Blood Meridian.

New York's White Horse Tavern:  From Dylan Thomas to Jack Kerouac to Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, in THE CHRONICLES, volume one, writes of the scene in New York, and says that what attracted him was not protest songs, but "songs of rebellion,"  Oedipal perhaps, but still songs of the disenfranchised, of the dispossessed and most importantly, of the natural alienation felt by the thoughtful spiritual mind conscripted into this temporal physical existence.

Dylan says he started going to the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street, which was then mainly an Irish bar.

"All through the night they would sing drinking songs, country ballads and rousing rebel songs that would lift the roof. The rebellion songs were a really serious thing."

"The language was flashy and provocative--a lot of action in the words, all sung with great gusto. The Irish singer always had a merry light in his eye--had to have it. I loved these songs...even in a simple, melodic wooing ballad there'd be rebellion waiting around the corner. You couldn't escape it."

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