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Song in the Works of James Joyce

Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 11:44 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Hodgart, Matthew, and Mabel Worthington. Song in the Works of James Joyce. New York City: Columbia University Press, 1959. Print.

Song in the Works of James Joyce represents the work of two separate scholars, Matthew Hodgart and Mabel Worthington, who later realized that they were working towards similar ends, with the book representing the result of their collaboration.  Although the book does not focus strictly on Ulysses (and in fact spends a significantly larger amount of time on Finnegan’s Wake, the reason for which being the higher number of song references in the latter), the insights it provides are valuable in several ways.

The book locates roughly fifty “Irish” songs within the text of Ulysses, providing the valuable definition or “Irish” as: “. . . songs composed by Irish men and women, which celebrate Irish experiences, historical or otherwise; they are about war, battles, nature, love, drinking, all in an Irish context” (6).  It also places songs into roughly six other loosely defined categories, providing examples of the most important, well-known, or most illuminating use of songs from each category.

The later sections of the book provide an episode by episode song-list to Ulysses, although in this case the list is less complete and provides much less background information to each occurrence than Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, as there is little or no historical significance provided for each song.

Similar to my idea in class on Monday regarding sheet music, printed plays, and manuscripts of speeches, the lyrics of songs are only part of the whole meant to stand in for something they represent; they lack the “body” of the performer and thus an important and integral aspect of their final product.  As stated in this book: “The words occupy a halfway position between the sense and nonsense, although their full literal and dramatic content can always be put back into them if we hear or imagine ourselves hearing them in the right context . . .” (3).  This notion relates back to Bloom’s silence regarding his co-workers mocking Dan Dawson’s speech in the newspaper office, as Bloom importantly notes the incompleteness, yet remains silent on the topic.  The “body” of the performer can be seen in the text as Bloom’s (to this point) inactive counterpart, Molly Bloom.  Though she is frequently referred to as a singer, she has yet to actually occupy that role, or any non-passive role for that matter.  Building on that, the same paragraph in Song points out that even without “body” most references lack the other element of song, the music: “In a song, the words are always incomplete in themselves: they need the music to give them their full aesthetic meaning . . . [on a personal level in scraps of songs] the words are for us devoid of their dictionary sense and even of the poetic overtones carried by a verse quotation” (3).  Therefore the closest occurrence of a song actually appearing in the first ten episodes is the Gloria example on page 162 (roughly 9.500).

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