Joyce's Music and Noise: Theme and Variation in His Writings

Joyce's Music and Noise: Theme and Variation in His Writings

Joyce's Music and Noise: Theme and Variation in His Writings

Joyce's Music and Noise: Theme and Variation in His Writings


Jack Weaver explains all of Joyce's writing in terms of music and evaluates the music -- its form, kind, and technique -- in each work. Using Joyce's own rhetoric of theme and variation, Weaver moves from one character to another, through the poems, fiction, and drama, noting improvisations and finding intricate musical patterns throughout the canon.

As Joyce's work grows in philosophical complexity, Weaver says, its music becomes more recognizable. In Chamber Music and part of Dubliners, Joyce at first merely mentions musical titles, instruments, and forms. In other stories in Dubliners, he alludes to them. His writing in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man begins to approximate musical techniques, and music reflects and dominates its story and characters. By the time of Finnegans Wake, it replaces both. Within the works, Weaver cites examples of musical augmentation, diminution, harmony, counterpoint, and key signatures, showing how the works become more experimental and increasingly dissonant in the manner of avantgarde composers.

Exploring fresh territory in the study of Joyce and music and of music and literature, Weaver argues that Joyce's characters and works operate between the extremes of order and disorder, harmony and chaos, music and noise, and that these polarities both signal and contribute to the rhetoric within the texts. Finally, he says, Joyce's rhetoric itself becomes music.


In Joyce's Music and Noise Jack Weaver has expanded the perimeters of musical scholarship on Joyce far beyond what his predecessors have done in effectively establishing the musicality of Joyce's writing in terms of its structure and verbiage. The techniques he describes are more than merely arguably present; they permeate Joyce's writing, even those parts aside from allusions to specific musical works. Weaver follows a continuum from Joyce's early poetry through the Wake, becoming more and more involved technically as Joyce's own technical and theoretical virtuosity concomitantly expands, and returning as did Joyce to a basic recourso retrospective arrangement that is as much musical as it is literary.

Weaver's study embodies a perceptive, believable explication of Joyce's interpolation of verbal and musical modalities, and in the process makes the reader eminently aware of the interlocking nature of the two art forms with the rest of the physical universe and the mental processes by which we have come to understand them. Time and again he rightly aligns such diverse devices as the naming process, cataloguing, augmentation, onomatopoeia, modulation, and improvisation as techniques that apply as directly to music as to writing. While he is doing it, Weaver makes equations between vocalized/written music and traditional physical science, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and noise segmentation, even while he stirs into the mixture the more traditional literary sources we are accustomed to reading about.

Zack Bowen

Series Editor . . .

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