"This Is the Propper Way to Say That, Sr:" Music and Musical Sound in James Joyce and Gertrude Stein

Daniel Olson-Bang, Fordham University


Critics of James Joyce and Stein have long noted the centrality of sound in both authors' texts. From the extensive annotations by Roland McHugh to Angela Steidele's claim that we must read Stein's work "with the body," there is a strong consensus that both authors' texts become most meaningful by being read aloud. What is lacking from these conversations is a discussion of the role that Joyce and Stein themselves play in creating theoretical texts that respond to their historical contexts and to their influences. This dissertation thus argues that Joyce and Stein are deeply engaged in the theoretical conversations of their day and create both fictional and nonfictional works that must be appreciated for the ways that they make meaning, what I refer to as a "hermeneutics of sound." Through analyses of Joyce's Finnegans Wake in terms of three key influences, Giambattista Vico, Marcel Jousse, and Sir Richard Paget, I show that Joyce incorporates these thinkers, creating a text that demands a physical, gestural performance of the text aloud. I next turn to a crucial period in Stein's history, when she toured the United States in the 1930s. I argue that her lectures during this era represent her own theoretical model, one that advocates reading aloud and for a process of reciprocal "talking and listening" at the same time. This form of communication is a response to Stein's perception of the media as a professionalized class of "talkers," whose ability to speak on the non-reciprocal technology of the radio renders the public as a form of passive "listeners." Thus Stein's lectures present her poetry as a way of restoring the reciprocity that has been lost in the wake of these new inventions, a corrective of the corrosive role of the media in her day. My final chapter turns to an exemplary listener, the composer John Cage, whose settings of Joyce and Stein in "Living Room Music" (1940) and Roaratorio (1979) represent astute representations of the spatial, physical, and sonic realities of Joyce and Stein's work, in consequence yielding insights into the ways in which texts can become more meaningful when rendered in sound. Together, the dissertation argues that Joyce's and Stein's text both gain significant meaning when performed aloud, and that both authors cultivate audiences of readers who are able to understand the significant role of sound in their texts and in society in general.^

Subject Area

Modern literature|American literature|British & Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Olson-Bang, Daniel, ""This Is the Propper Way to Say That, Sr:" Music and Musical Sound in James Joyce and Gertrude Stein" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10186001.