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From Lucretian Atomic Theory to Joycean Etymic Theory


Much has been written on Joyce’s use of portmanteau and pun in Finnegans Wake. Building on Joyce’s reference to “the etym” in the Wake and relating it to the Lucretian linguistics adopted by such avant-garde conceits as Alfred Jarry’s ’Pataphysics and Steve McCaffery’s writing, I analogically regard ’Pataphysics as the literary equivalent of physics. Jarry considers Lucretius’s clinamen (which is the “swerve” created during atomic collisions) as a fundamental aspect of poetical creativity; this combined with Joyce’s etym can yield an “etymic theory” that can approach texts such as Finnegans Wake which so epitomize postmodern concerns of grammatology.

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