James Joyce—Sound as Literature

James Joyce, as many may know him, is the author of the famous work, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’.  Joyce is an Irish novelist, poet and is considered to be one of the most influential writers in the early 20th century. While writing ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is when he began to gain fame as an avant-garde writer and began to experiment with writing more. Joyce’s work with sound is less obvious and is more subtle than many other sound artists. Joyce appreciates sounds and he believes that sound is integral to writing. Even in ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ he imitates the sounds and uses them as words. In the beginning of the novel there is a hundred letter word that takes up many lines, in which Joyce tries to imitate the sounds of lightning and thunder. He recognizes the importance of sound to the scene and so integrates that into his writing. Joyce does this throughout his novel and it may not be obvious to many but that is his intention—to emphasize sounds in his writing. Many writers do not bother with the actual sounds that may go on in a scene of their work but Joyce made an effort to make his writing seem alive. In my opinion, Joyce made a real effort to add a layer of sensation and change the dynamics of his novel. He believed sound to be literature, and it is. In his poetry collection, ‘Chamber Music’ Joyce is actually referring to the sound of urine hitting the side of a chamber pot. To him that sound is literature and he took that sound, worked with it and turned it into a poem. Originally, Joyce also recorded himself reading a part of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, stressing the sounds he wrote in and other features. If reading his work is hard, is listening to it hard too? Will we appreciate his efforts and gestures to sound more if we listened to him read it rather than us reading it? Is sound and literature really all that different? I wonder whether hearing Joyce recite his work will take away from its literary experience for readers. Joyce considers sounds to be important and is why he tries to include allusions to sounds in his writing because it enhances the reading experience. But why don’t other writers do that? Does including sounds into literature take away from its literary meaning or does it add to it? I, personally, want to see if I can write I piece where I spell out sounds and include it into the scene I’m trying to describe. I want to let people read it and ask them whether or not it enhances their reading pleasure or not. I want to see whether the sounds have an effect in literature and if it is appreciated.




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