The Laughter of Dionysus: Bataille and Derrida on Joyce

In his essay on Bataille, ‘From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve,’[1] Derrida alludes to Bataille’s reference to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in his essay, ‘Hegel, Death and Sacrifice’,[2] in which the ‘Welsh Coffin’ is illustrated as the symbol of a communal event that is performed – comically, as with the ‘wake’ in the southern United States – in the face of the tragic ‘event’ of death.  As Derrida retells Bataille’s (second-hand) story,[3] the deceased is stood up in his coffin in pride of place amongst his fellows – dressed with a top hat, cigar and suit – and who, contrary to the usual and useful expulsion of the corpse, begin to essentially ‘roast’ the one who had passed – but, is still strangely in attendance.  Such a surreal performance is a sublime example of a Dionysian mortality that is shared by each member of the community.[4]joyce_2464804b

In the following pages, I will explore various threads of philosophical questioning that have emerged in light of this ‘unconscious’ and ‘unstable’ last text of Joyce – in its reception by the exiled surrealist Bataille, and by the post-structuralist Derrida, in his own excursions into Joyce and Bataille. Against the background of cautionary remarks by Habermas, I will argue that Finnegan’s Wake is a disseminal text which, in its a-syntactic operation, is a strategic abuse (abuso) of language (catachresis) with the intention of, in the formulation of Turnheim, an ‘apotheosis of the word’.[5]  In the wake of the apotheosis, the text not only reflects the – as with Kristeva’s contemplation of Celine in her magnificent Powers of Horror[6] –  necromantic and abject character of existence, but also serves to disrupt the inter-textual universe in which the subversive text erupts – and disseminates its contagion.

For the rest of the essay, please visit The Laughter of Dionysus


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