The Bounds of Nonsense: Reading, Interpreting, Translating


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation provides an account of a series of hard-to-classify texts, loosely described by such terms as delire, “logophilia,” and “paragrammatism,” that, while acknowledged to exemplify some distinctive characteristic of Modern French literary culture, have until now been theoretically united merely on the grounds that they mount assults on traditional ways of making sense. Via three case-studies (Mallarme, Artud, and Leiris), this project shows that these texts constitute a tradition organized around the concept of nonsense as a mode. This tradition forms a distinctively French response to the perceived fin-de-siecle crisis of language and its aftermath and may be viewed alternately as a French re-appropriation, development, and subversion of the genre of English nonsense-writing. Consequently, this dissertation investigates not only the theoretical limits of the translatability of nonsense (both as a literary genre and a marginal discourse) but, more broadly, the stakes of translation.