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  • An Italian Tongue in an Irish Mouth: Joyce, Politics, and the Franca Langua
  • Eric Bulson (bio)

During a trip to Western Ireland in the summer of 1912—and coincidentally his final trip to Ireland—James Joyce published an article entitled “La città delle tribù: Ricordi italiani in un porto irlandese” [“City of Tribes: Italian Echoes in an Irish Port”] in the Triestine newspaper Il Piccolo della Sera. 1 The article reads like a lyrical travelogue colored with bits of historical information and depicts the majestic beauty of Galway’s landscape, as well as its cultural and architectural links to a sea-faring Italian and Spanish past. To substantiate his claims regarding the outstanding beauty of Galway, Joyce cites a “curious document” left by an Italian traveler in the sixteenth century who acknowledged that “although he had traveled throughout the world, he had never seen in a single glance what he saw in Galway.” 2 Joyce’s authentic Irish voice is buttressed by a venerable (possibly fabricated) Italian testimony, and although this article was published in Italian in Trieste, sections of it were translated and reprinted in the Freeman’s Journal as the work of the “Irish-Italian Journalist” James Joyce. 3 The hyphenation of Joyce’s nationality by the Irish press reminds us that Joyce was between countries and that he had not yet emerged onto the European literary scene as an Irish author. Joyce betrays his own cognizance of this fact in Exiles with the return to Dublin of the Italianized Richard Rowan, who reads Italian newspapers and is identified in Robert Hand’s article as “‘A Distinguished Irishman.’” Therefore, it is crucial to remember that before the publication of Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait (1916), Joyce cast himself, sometimes unknowingly, as a journalist reporting for Italy and Ireland, caught between national borders. 4

As can be gleaned from the title of Joyce’s eighth and penultimate Piccolo article, “City [End Page 63] of Tribes: Italian Echoes in an Irish Port,” he seems to have reversed his standard dislocational mode of writing about Ireland through the lens of such cities as Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, and, in this instance, writes about Trieste, “the Italian echo” as he calls it, through Ireland. These geographical intersections suggest that Joyce appears to be crafting himself as the Italo-Irishman: the nostalgic image of Galway informed by links to an Italian history and culture attest to Joyce’s continued interest in the contiguity of these two histories. Joyce, of course, would write about nothing but Ireland and the Irish for the rest of his life, but his Trieste articles and his increased mastery of Italian and the Triestine dialect provide a useful point of departure for a discussion of his ambivalent ties to Irish nationalism and national identity. 5 Joyce’s own geographic, linguistic, and narrative dislocation and his immersion into Italian and Triestine dialect during this decade in Trieste (1905–15) proved an integral part in the production of the Irish artist. In his book on Joyce’s Triestine years, Peter Hartshorn reminds us that Joyce was writing his fiction during his early years in Trieste, but “almost no one thought of [him] as a writer of fiction.” 6 Still Joyce’s journalism is imbued with shared critical attitudes towards history, aesthetics, and politics that are later exhibited in his fiction. When read from this angle, it is possible to speculate on what the “God of the Creation” was actually doing when he was not paring his fingernails (Portrait, p. 233).

Joyce’s geography represents a vast amalgam of physical and mental landscapes that repeatedly collide and converge: just as Dublin evolves into the universal site of human history, so too does Joyce’s movement among Dublin, Pola, Rome, Trieste, Zurich, and Paris demonstrate that international movement was necessary for his fictional representation of Ireland. 7 Distance, in effect, was contingent on imaginative and psychic proximity, and the further that Joyce moved from Ireland, the sharper the contours of Irish life were hewn in his fiction. With Seamus Deane’s suggestion that Joyce’s geography precipitated an act of writing that would replace politics, it is important to note that at the...

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pp. 63-79
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