Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Beckett

Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Beckett

Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Beckett

Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Beckett


In this book Adam Piette establishes fascinating new links between sound effects and the representation of memory in literary texts. He sets out a workable taxonomy of sound-repetitions in prose and formulates, through a theory of alerting-devices, the ways in which the reader's attention is drawn to the acoustic surface of the text. Piette scrutinizes Mallarme's prose-poetry, Proust's musical syntax, Joyce's memory-rhymes (from the Portrait of the Artist through Ulysses to Finnegans Wake), and Beckett's prose and drama, demonstrating that sound effects act as intricate reminders of memory-traces in the text. Despite how widely the four writers diverge in their representations of memory, Piette shows that the use of this memory-rhyme technique is common to them all.


Il y a des moments où pour peindre complètement quel- qu'un il faudrait que l'imitation phonétique se joignît à la description.

(A la recherche du temps perdu, iii. 333).

Paul Valéry, in the 1910s, speculated on the strange power of memory:

Ce qui me frappe le plus dans la mémoire, ce n'est pas qu'elle redit le passé--c'est qu'elle alimente le présent. Elle lui donne réplique ou réponse, lui met les mots dans la bouche et ferme en quelque sorte tous les comptes ouverts par l'événement. (Cahiers, 1221)

Memory is a ventriloquist here, throwing the voices of past selves into present tense speech. This personified faculty, memory become dramatic voice within the mouth, haunts the texts of Mallarmé, Proust, Joyce, and Beckett. With Proust, voluntary and involuntary memory, though made triumphantly distinct in 'Le Temps retrouvé', often subtly inter-mingle in the ordinary courses of the human voice. I will show how Proust demonstrates this intermingling by use of a technique of key-word emphasis that mimes memory's ventriloquist interjections. the prose rhymes are marks of a past anxiety involuntarily altering the voice as it attempts to speak of 'other matters'.

Proust's portrait of memory is largely celebrated as centring on the 'souvenir de la patrie intérieure' (iii. 761) which the artist's lonely mission directs him towards, the bedridden mind's conscious reliving of its complex pasts ('la décharge douloureuse d'un des mille souvenirs invisibles qui à tout moment éclataient autour de moi dans l'ombre' (iv. 61)), or the quasi-divine grace of . . .

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