Finding a Tongue: Autobiography Beyond Definition

Juliane Prade-Weiss


The outset of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man presents a stage of life and language that is commonly evoked and, at the same time, systematically avoided in autobiographies as well as theoretical approaches to language: infancy. This textual strategy refers back to Augustine’s Confessiones, one of the most canonical autobiographies, reading it as a mainstay for an unconventional hypothesis: Rather that understanding infancy as an early stage of, or even before, language, Joyce expounds that the condition called infancy – the openness for receiving language while being unable to master it – accompanies all speech, be it childlike or eloquent. The article analyses Joyce’s text as one instance of a general paradox of autobiographical writing: initial aphasia. Setting out with birth or infancy, autobiographical texts precede articulate discourse. In Joyce, this paradox appears as starting point for a poetical – rather than theoretical – thinking about language, and language acquisition.


This article was submitted on September 22nd 2015, and published on April 9th 2017.


James Joyce, St. Augustine, infancy, theory

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Copyright (c) 2017 Juliane Prade-Weiss

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.