On the Music of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake

Gerri Kimber at the TLS:

By the time he came to write Finnegans Wake, Joyce had moved beyond trying to imitate musical forms, and described his novel not as a “blending of literature and music”, but rather as “pure music”. Writing to his daughter Lucia, Joyce explained, “Lord knows what my prose means. In a word, it is pleasing to the ear . . . . That is enough, it seems to me”, and in conversation, he declared, “judging from modern trends it seems that all the arts are tending towards the abstraction of music; and what I am writing at present is entirely governed by that purpose”. This offers perhaps the best way to approach his most complex work. Joyce emphasizes how, “if anyone doesn’t understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud”, and such an approach certainly helps here: “and the rhymers’ world was with reason the richer for a wouldbe ballad, to the balledder of which the world of cumannity singing owes a tribute for having placed on the planet’s melomap his lay of the vilest bogeyer but most attractionable avatar the world has ever had to explain for”.

more here.

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