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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The idea of a fictional encyclopaedia : Finnegans wake, Paradis, the Cantos Clark, Hilary Anne


This study concerns itself with the phenomenon of literary encyclopaedism, as especially evident in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Philippe Sollers' Paradis and Ezra Pound's Cantos. The study focuses on developing the notion of an encyclopaedic literary mode and on establishing the existence of a genre of fictional encyclopaedias. It finds an encyclopaedic mode in literature to be one comprehending and imitating other literary modes, both mimetic and didactic. Further, the idea of a fictional encyclopaedia is developed through an understanding of the traits of the neighbouring forms of essay, Menippean satire and epic, and through an understanding of the paradoxes associated with the making of the non-fictional encyclopaedia. The fictional encyclopaedia thus comprehends and exceeds the following traits: 1. A tension, characteristic of the essay, between integrated autobiography and impersonal (and ultimately fragmented) exposition of the categories of knowledge. 2. A tension, characteristic of the Menippean satire, between tale and digression, between a single narrating subject and a multiplicity of transient narrating voices. The menippea also contributes a simultaneous preoccupation with the most sacred and the most profane subjects. 3. A totalizing drive characteristic of the epic, a desire--rivalling the urge to tell a story--to list or include all aspects of the culture in the epic past. The fictional encyclopaedia also translates into fiction the following paradoxes associated with the encyclopaedic enterprise: 1. The recognition, implicit in the drive to trace a complete and eternally-perfect circle of the arts and sciences, that encyclopaedic knowledge is always ultimately incomplete and obsolete. 2. The recognition, at the heart of the attempt to produce an objective and unmediated picture of the world, that encyclopaedic knowledge is ideologically shaped and textually mediated. The dominance of the encyclopaedic gesture in Finnegans Wake, Paradis and the Cantos allows us to account for the characteristic length, obscurity and "bookishness" of these works; they absorb the traits and tensions of essay, Menippean satire and epic while yet exceeding these traits in their fictional translation of the encyclopaedic paradoxes noted above. This translation manifests itself in each work as a characteristic parodic hesitation before the authority of totalizing predecessors; it manifests itself in the texts' fascination with images of a paradisiacal completion and timelessness, a tendency that is undercut by a repetitive, digressive or fragmented form which asserts the inevitability of time and incompletion. Further, the Wake, Paradis and the Cantos, in their overt and extensive intertextual activity, emphasize the textual boundaries of encyclopaedic knowledge. Nonetheless, in their foregrounding and valorization of speech rhythms, the works also repeat the challenge that the encyclopaedia brings to its own limited nature as written book.

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