Notes and Narratives
Edited By Una Hunt and Mary Pierse
‘Play it in the original’: Music, Language and Difference in James Joyce’s ‘Sirens’
Through examining the links between music, language and writing in the ‘Sirens’ episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, this chapter will seek to demonstrate that for Joyce, music is comprised of the same differential effects that permeate language. Reference to Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive analysis of the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau will serve to highlight the deconstructive effects produced by Joyce’s treatment of music in ‘Sirens’, and it will also emphasise the role that music plays in Joyce’s text as it subverts what Derrida terms the logocentric bias in the history of Western philosophy. While the significance of musical allusions in Ulysses is nothing new, and critics have long emphasised the thematic importance of musical motifs in Joyce’s work,1 this study aims to do something different: it will show that music in Joyce’s Ulysses foregrounds the play of differential traces, or différance as Derrida would have it, in the production of meaning in language.
As is well known, James Joyce was an accomplished singer and musician. His contemporary, Oliver St. John Gogarty, who appears as Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, published an essay on Joyce’s musical background, entitled ‘James Joyce as a Tenor’. Gogarty says that Joyce ‘was devoted all his life to music’ and that ‘Joyce was more intent on becoming a singer than a writer’.2 Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of Ulysses in Paris, wrote of Joyce in her memoir: ‘He would seat himself at the piano, drooping ← 217 | 218 → over the keys, and the...
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