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What does it mean to talk about the 'voice' in literature, and especially in Joyce's texts? The interrelationship among multiple voices marks a formal and thematic constellation in Joyce's works: as both theme and leitmotif in Joyce's texts, voices recur obsessively. The transition from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to Ulysses to Finnegans Wake is marked by an increasingly complex proliferation of voices. This article explores this formal and thematic progression by showing how Joyce textually inscribes voice on the page in A Portrait and Ulysses. Drawing on Mladen Dolar's A Voice and Nothing More (2006), which emphasises a plurality of voices, this article re-evaluates the role of voice in Joyce's texts and argues that it is appropriate to consider Joyce a literary theorist of the voice and his texts as theorizing the voice.
In A Portrait, Joyce portrays the struggle of one man to overcome the competing ideological voices of church, nation, and patriarchy in order to become an artist. The individual male voice of artistic and epiphanic triumph eventually conquers the 'dull gross voice of the world' and the 'inhuman voice' of the priesthood (P IV. 798–9), but only by transforming earthy material, gendered as feminine, into images for later aesthetic consumption. Such an appropriation is a profoundly gendered act, resonating with female/male binaries of passive/active and nature/culture and extending to the colonial occupation of land and the seizure of resources.
If A Portrait emphasizes one man's negotiation of ideological voices, then Ulysses draws upon a wider range of voices in service of a broader social critique. In the early episodes, voice is more clearly linked to individual characters, especially Stephen and Bloom, but following 'Aeolus', the voice increasingly becomes less personal and coherent as Joyce both uses the personified voice for objects, animals, and ghosts and also blurs the boundaries among voices. At times, the voice can be clearly explicated by punctuation, as in the use of the dash for dialogue, but at other times, the vocal ambiguity that arises from Joyce's punctuation choices (or lack thereof) has profound thematic and interpretive implications.
As bodily, acousmatic, interior, gendered, ghostly, and personified voices materialize throughout the Ulysses, they collectively portray and critique Dublin society, ultimately pointing to the complexity not just of the voice, but of 'the voice against the voice,' in Dolar's terms (Dolar, p. 56). Ultimately, a central question of the text becomes how to read Molly's inner 'voice' in comparison with the '[f]lat Dublin voices' (U 5.279) that have been circulating and discussing her throughout the book, epitomizing the politically-charged question of being spoken about versus speaking for oneself. The debate over how to handle 'Penelope' exemplifies the tension of whose voice we listen to, as readers tend to remember character traits as they are repeated through the male voices in the text. How we understand Molly Bloom may come down to which voices we side with and our own perceptions about gender.