Joyce’s text as Dissonant Music. Criticism by Daniel Melnick
Menlick, Daniel. “Dissonant Ulysses – A Study of How to Read Joyce” in Twentieth Century Literature 26.1 1980 pp. 45-63.
Melnick uses as the basis of his argument the fact that Joyce has espoused a view of art in which music is the ideal art form and all other art aspires to it. Additionally, Joyce is well versed in the symbolists, and their view (voiced by Nietzsche) that dissonance “voices man’s spiritual disillusionment before reality by subverting the “pure” harmonious forms of tonality” (50). Therefore, according to Melnick, Joyce sees dissonance as central to art, and to the relation of art to reality, and to the world of ideals. Dissonance in prose is achieved by layering multiple, contradictory meanings, juxtaposing different perceptions, interweaving reality with fiction, mixing ancient and modern, myth and “reality”. This understanding of dissonance is quite helpful for understanding Joyce’s concept of translating musical aesthetic into prose.
For Melnick this dissonance is ultimately about the self. Bloom and Stephen both are seen as autobiographical characters, and therefore, the two of them demonstrate the multiple, complicating truths of his self. The self is created through our interaction with the immensely complex and discordant reality that surrounds us, and therefore a reader’s interaction with the world of the novel help shape the reader’s self. Not only this, but the reader is involved in the imaginative process of Bloom, of Stephen, and of Joyce himself. Thus the novel is an affirmation of the self in the overwhelming world of modern life. This article would probably be useful to anyone interested in Joyce’s incorporation of music into his work, and also anyone interested in the creation of self, and ultimately Joyce’s idea of art’s role in the modern world.
The article deals with Portrait and Finnegan’s Wake as well as Ulysses and is quite long so takes some sifting through. The analysis of Ulysses focuses on the “Sirens” episode where the dissonance Melnick is talking about occurs very heavily and the music of the scene is woven thickly into the text. Melnick claims that readers have objected to the form of this episode because the narrative force is weak, but points out that the counterplay of themes, motifs, phrases, and perceptions leads to a very humorous milieu of ambiguities which center around Blooms sensibilities. Thus the episode “develops the multiple human truths of Bloom’s situation” (53). When we have read and discussed this episode I will be able to comment further on the usefulness of this argument, but overall the article is very interesting, and does give some good insight into how to read Joyce as it claims.