"Thinking Strictly Prohibited": Music, Language, and Thought in "Sirens"

By Allen, Stuart | Twentieth Century Literature, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

"Thinking Strictly Prohibited": Music, Language, and Thought in "Sirens"


Allen, Stuart, Twentieth Century Literature


Taking their cue from the novelist's comments to Frank Budgen that he composed "Sirens" using "the technical resources of music" (Ellmann 459), many theorist-critics have written about "musicality" in Joyce. These writers locate in "musical" feeling and sensuality a resistance to the incursions of a rationality they identify as, among other things, aggressive and abstract to the point of being barren. Viewing thought as the enemy, they seek to purge this oppressive spirit with the supposedly nonrational "musical" matter they would thereby free. As a consequence, discussions initially concerned with something like Joyce's prosody quickly tend to focus on political and philosophical questions, particularly those associated with desire. (1) The deadly prose of the mind, the argument goes, is countered by the poetic or "musical" body.

In what follows, I consider the idea of musical language in the "Sirens" episode of Ulysses, not in order to cloak a tangential discussion of the body, the porous self, or textual subversion, but to think through the significance of the resemblance between music and language and to identify why critics have found it almost impossible keep this topic in view. (2) It is my contention that rather than rout critical intelligence, musicality in Ulysses allows readers to experience one of music's most striking effects--distraction. With the help of Theodor Adorno's aesthetics, particularly "Music and Language: A Fragment," I address the question of the standoff between art (defined as seduction, destruction, and falsehood) and reason (constructed as disinterestedness, preservation, and truth). I argue that musical mimesis does not just undermine thinking but is a kind of thinking itself. In this way I hope to restore to "Sirens" a cognitive content overlooked by much of the Joyce criticism that takes sensuality to be the adversary of a reason it consistently posits as wicked. I propose that the very separation of art (mimesis/sensuality) and philosophy (cognition/identification) produces the undesirable--that is, crude, distorting, and damaging--aspects of reason that poststructuralist and historicist critics contest. (3) However, it is not my goal to diminish the importance of the mimetic element in art. Neither subsuming art beneath (Adorno's) philosophy nor dismissing it as mere decoration, I consider the political implications of Joyce's mediation of the rational through the sensual, the sensual through the rational.

Derek Attridge takes Joyce's experiments with syntax in "Sirens" as music making in a literal sense. But emptying the idea of musicality into the post-Saussurean model of language to which he is committed, Attridge soon gets distracted from the question of music that motivates his discussion. He argues that by reviving the dormant prosody of prose, fearless of both unintelligibility and a short-circuiting of information transfer, Joyce "liberates the body from a dictatorial and englobing will, and allows its organs their own energies and proclivities" (61). The study of musicality falls by the wayside as classical poststructuralist concerns such as a thematics of the breached subject take center stage.

Attridge's observations about language and the rampant autonomy of fetishised body parts in "Sirens" are extremely provocative, and represent a major contribution to the literature on Ulysses. Nevertheless, his analysis of the body soon also forgets its linguistic ground (a ground that he reminds us is long forgetful of its musical impulse) and develops into a sketch of a progressive politics driven by liberated sexuality. The release of the body from the tyranny of the mind, Attridge claims, unleashes sexuality against repressive morality.

Its utopian politics are not the only problem with this approach. When Attridge actually describes sexuality, he reveals a major weakness with the Anglo-American reception of French theory, or perhaps with the theory itself: "sexuality thrives on the separation of the body into separate parts, while a sexually repressive morality insists on the wholeness and singleness of body and mind (or soul)" (62). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Thinking Strictly Prohibited": Music, Language, and Thought in "Sirens"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.