Reading, listening, and understanding: Wordmusic in narratives of Joyce and Mann

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Zack Bowen - Committee Chair


This study looks at what happens when readers try to make sense of High Modernist narratives containing musical allusions, musical devices, and theoretical forms borrowed from music.Part One, "Wordmusic and the Language of Hermeneutics," presents Modernism as a context for the theoretical concerns, linking music and literature via the interdisciplinary language of philosophical hermeneutics. It places literary and music theorists in a dialogue on the related experiences of reading, listening, and performing.Part Two, "Wordmusic in Narratives of Joyce and Mann," examines key episodes---the "Sirens" chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses and the sixth narrative division of Thomas Mann's Tristan---during which characters listen to music. By providing musical figures and fictitious listeners, James Joyce and Thomas Mann create seductive texts that rely on the reader. Lured by music, the reader enters these narratives as a performer, one who, like a musician, translates squiggles on a page into organized patterns of sound while listening, appropriating, and understanding. Observing the dynamic relationship between art forms, I demonstrate how High Modernist writers use this interplay in innovative works where the apprehension of meaning appears in the foreground. Hypothesizing that musical modes have an analog in narrating techniques, I show how the authors considered employ musical elements while playing with the associations, responses, and aesthetic ideas that these musical elements impose. Examining what happens when readers interpret narrative cues as musical performances, I describe this experience as wordmusic.


Literature, Comparative; Literature, Germanic; Music; Literature, English

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