Eugene Jolas: A Poet of Multilingualism

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Abstract

Eugene Jolas, the first-time publisher of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939 / 2012), started his career as a translingual journalist and poet. A French-German bilingual, Jolas acquired English in adolescence, crossing the Atlantic to refashion himself as an American man of letters. A "Man from Babel," as he styles himself in his posthumous autobiography of the same title (1998), Jolas published poetry in English, French, and German and eventually arrived to an understanding of his linguistic predicament as representative of humanity's path back to a pre-Babel state. Thus, he repeatedly called for a new language, a poetically-charged polygloss, Atlantica, that would surpass Esperanto and allow poets to lead humanity out of a post-war "malady of language." Here as elsewhere, this self-identified "homme migrateur presque symbolique” was right in his claim: “je fais toujours partie du cosmos inter-racial et inter-linguistique, …. j'appartiens au futur (“The Migrator and His Language”, 1948; French draft Box 4, Folder 100; translation Jolas, 2009, p. 458).

This paper explores Jolas’ largely unpublished legacy as a multilingual poet. In addition to published collections of poems in three languages, Jolas left a largely forgotten legacy of multilingual, macaronic, and outright nonsense texts that baffle by their inventiveness. These curious poems, which oscillate between virtuosic linguistic creativity and the construction of a new language, carve out a niche within the modernist movement for literally and metaphorically non-native use of poetic language. Jolas does more than simply create a multilingual collage; he is reconstructing the experience of a creative mind that knows no borders between linguistic systems. By forcing us into a world where any words can enter into any relationships, this experiment in a multilingual poetics invites the critic to think not in terms of poetic value alone but also in terms of method, and it is an extrapolation of this method that this article seeks to achieve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-67
JournalL2 Journal
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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