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Joyce’s Phoneygraphs: Music, Mediation, and Noise Unleashed

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 2, Winter 2011
pp. 265-289 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0055



This essay considers the interaction between music and noise in Joyce’s narrative texts, arguing that Joyce’s increasing fascination with noise reflects a burgeoning skepticism about music’s formal autonomy and an ear for music’s ideological mystifications. Building on recent works in “sound studies,” which examine sound as a site of anxiety about urbanization and mechanical reproduction, the essay explores Joyce’s abandoned collaboration with the noise-music composer George Antheil on a staging of “Cyclops,” using megaphones and “phoneygraphs.” While “A Painful Case” reflects on the symbiotic relationship between solipsistic music and public noise, A Portrait struggles to detach musical rhythms from their symbolic associations. In unmooring sounds from their referents, however, Stephen leaves music open to the sort of musical misreadings found throughout Ulysses. The admixture of music and noise in Ulysses deflates the bombastic idealism of Wagnerian opera and defamiliarizes music as a “phoneygraph”—a medium and a form of false writing.

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