Textual Instability

Textual instability is one of the most essential notions in the sphere of intertextual connections. Many literary works turn out to manifest different kinds of meaning in the pre and post publication authorial states. The textual instability results in the transmission of meaning and producing different effects on the readers, which makes the original literary works rather elusive. This is caused by the fact that the meaning itself is marked by principally subjective character. This research aims at investigating the essence and practical examples of textual instability through the analysis of the dramatic performance and Ulysses by James Joyce.
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Textual Meaning

One of the main reasons for textual instability to transmit a reliable meaning is the notion of unsettling universe. It was initially introduced by Roland Barthes, who expanded the notion of text and its analogies. He presupposes that everything is relative and that nobody could claim authority. Barthes’s idea has a fundamental importance for the perception of the literary works, as it presupposes independence and immunity to the possibility of unification. Barthes claims that the organic unity of the work is an illusion; it turned into the text divided by gaps and contradictions. Further research in the field of text elusiveness and instability was conducted by Derrida. Derrida builds his theory on the notion of textual difference. According to him, textual meaning is a system of difference. Derrida emphasises the fact that textual meaning cannot be stable due to the fact that its meaning is constantly altered by the chain of signifiers. Derrida makes the following essential statement: “Language could not refer outside itself and there was no possibility of arriving at a single, stable meaning and therefore a very quest for meaning was futile”. According to him, the text is unable to convey absolute meaning. The analysis shows that all the texts are marked by their instability. Derrida shows the audience that any text contains a large number of conventional elements and its own codes. While decoding the text, the readers reveal one particular meaning. However, this meaning is one out of many. In such a way, every reader obtains the possibility to get their meaning and grasp their gist. The textual logic is unstable and deferred. Textual instability presents the possibilities of textual meaning. In one context, the text shows one meaning, and in another context there is a completely different one. Derrida states that textual instability is the revelation of possible textual variants.

Relationship between the Oral and Written Word

While discussing the relationship between the oral and written words and its interpretation in modern performances, the theory of speech acts should be mentioned. At first, it has to be assumed that dramatic performance applies textual instability, as the directors make an attempt to express their vision of the original work. In such a way, they choose or deconstruct one meaning out of many and show it to the audience. It should be assumed that speech act theory reveals the original intention of the speaker and their attitude. Austin, a researcher, has indulged in the analysis of speech acts and states that speech acts are often performed. In regards to the current discussion, Nadia Sirhan mentions: The theory of speech acts aims to do justice to the fact that even though words (phrases, sentences) encode information, people do more things with words than convey information and that when people do convey information, they often convey more than their words encode. In fact, when the particular author writes their work, they aim at conveying certain meaning to their words. However, when the readers start encoding the initial meaning, they turn out to decode more meanings  than the author has conveyed. In an attempt to decode writer’s message, the readers ground their thoughts on the worldview, certain tendencies, personal attitude towards the issue, etc. Hamlet by Shakespeare is definitely one of the bright examples of meaning deconstruction. At the time the play was written, the readers perceived Hamlet as a noble man and his mother as an adulteress. However, with the course of time, the audience started to attach different connotations to this text. The feminist movement has seriously affected the global community, and today certain directors perceive Gertrude as a strong woman who did everything possible to protect her son and give him the possibility to become the King of Denmark. The change of historical paradigm has influenced the human perception greatly. Therefore, it could be said that there is a certain gap between medieval and modern perception of the discussed play. Differences in understanding the main idea of the play impact the way it is performed on stage. Thus, the audience obtains a chance to observe the textual instability. The innovative vision is exhibited through the incorporation of speech acts. Directors simply integrate the illocutionary aspects of speech in order to show the audience their initial intention. Auditing and acting the original work presupposes decoding the text’s signs. The ways in which the original signs are provided to the audience creates the differences between the written and oral words. It could be claimed that the contestation between the print original and performance takes place. When the directors simply reproduce the original version, they perform a text. Textualising the performance means adding conceptualisation towards its representation. In other words, according to Barthes, it reconstructs the performance with the help of text. It presupposes the transformation of the original material into meaning and showing the audience the possible thematisation of the material through meaning and activity. Transformation of the original work through the application of modern thoughts means textualising it. Being textualised, the performance may retain the original text, but the altered emphases expressed through the speech acts change the work. This is considered to be the main difference between the text and the work. The text may be the same, but different context and understanding alter the meaning of the work, and the audience starts perceiving it in another way. This is the main idea of text instability. The text is not perceived in a vacuum: it is usually understood by people through the prism of cultural context. The alterations of meaning occur due to the alterations of context, which shape the viewpoint of the audience.

Representation of Textual Instability in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”

In regards to the issue of textual instability, Ulysses by James Joyce should be mentioned. This work is marked by the textual instability, as it includes a number of textual variations. This work is ambiguous in its structure and representation. The instabilities in this work reveal Joyce’s post-Nietzschen transformation of fiction form. The understanding of the work is totally dependent on the readers’ ability to engage in the ambiguities of the artwork. This novel seems to be composed of wandering text, which is ungoverned by the authorial orderings. The difference which distinguishes this work from the millions of others lies in the fact that it restructures the human way of text perception. Ulysses is written in the form of stream of consciousness, and it gives the readers the opportunity to deconstruct the meaning out of this work in the way they consider appropriate. This text resembles a fluid, as the audience indulging in the process of reading it makes an attempt to reveal certain ideas there. In this novel, the text and its language play a ground-breaking role, as it represents Joyce’s wish to self-wander in the world. The power of language lies in the thematic and formal issues raised in this writing. The discussed novel is marked not only with the instability of text and meaning, but also with the instability of time and space. It draws attention of the audience by its relation to Odyssey by Homer. As well as in the epic, the figure of Ulysses represents wandering of the individual, although in the novel by Joyce the protagonist experiences all the adventures during a single day. This questions the idea of time and transforms human understanding of this notion. It should be also assumed that Ulysses is imbued by deep symbolism. In his work, Joyce synthesises all the manifestations of reality, shaping the character and achieving the universality. The world portrayed in Ulysses implies the priority of human consciousness over the irrational thoughts. Joyce is focused on the main character who is portrayed as an everyman and combines and embodies all the principles of universality, These features certainly increase the instability of the text. Variations and ambiguities increase it as the readers obtain the chance to choose among the wide varieties of meanings and understand this work using their set of skills and background knowledge. Joyce is considered to have deliberately created his work in this way so that every reader could relate to the novel. Stream of consciousness is marked by the absence of barriers and directions, and the same concerns Ulysses. It applies certain hints in the form of symbols and allusions which help the audience to understand the novel. Interestingly enough, the readers still have an opportunity to choose their own meaning, as it is completely based on their own perception. It could be stated that this work is intended for the “every reader,” because every individual could draw their own conclusions and find something valuable in this novel.


In conclusion, it could be assumed that while creating their work, the author conveys their own ideas, perceptions, sufferings, thoughts, and truth in it. While people indulge in the process of reading, their major mission is not only to read the work, but also to understand its gist and grasp its major meaning hidden between the lines. Derrida calls the hidden gist of the work its code. It could be stated that the author imprints certain things in their work for the audience to encode them. However, the audience decodes the original message with the help of skills and knowledge acquired through their own experience. The author’s original message is therefore often interpreted in a completely different way. However, it cannot be considered a mistake but the result of the temporal gap and innovative worldview of the readers. The literary works might be perceived as a way of communication between the author and the readers. They consist of the speech acts which make the audience understand certain things and take actions. The way in which the audience interpret them also results in the textual instability, which is particularly evident while analysing modern performances. The directors make an attempt to apply the original quotes in order to prove their vision and their understanding of the gist of the work thus textualising the performance. They add additional shades to the text altering the general meaning of the artwork. Finally, one of the most famous and prominent landmarks of  textual instability could be considered Ulysses by James Joyce. This novel consists of ambiguities and variations, while the author’s stream of consciousness provides the readers the basis for further analysis. Constant investigations of the peculiarities of this work show the instability of its meaning. Generally, textual instability is a result of the progress and development of a work. New audience and new perceptions add new interpretations to the original work thus seriously altering its meaning.