Johnnie Morey

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis considers the three-way interaction between semantics, musicality, and disability in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The silent actions of prose writing and reading, and the silent nature of the printed text, can be felt to divorce this medium from the strictly sonic medium of music altogether. Many scholars have, however, found in literary texts (particularly modernist texts) latent sonic capacities that may allow for a quasi-musical, intra-auditive reader experience.
The “Sirens” episode of Joyce’s Ulysses has been a key focus for such musical analyses since the 1920s. Developed musical readings of Finnegans Wake are far fewer, though the text is often mentioned as representing an advancement of Joyce’s “musicalisation” of prose to an extreme, perhaps impossible degree.
The present thesis takes an anti-able-normative (or “disablist”) perspective on Joyce’s testing of the (im)possibility of music in literature and of the broader possibilities of language itself. To this end, it compares Finnegans Wake to high- and post-modernist musical/sonic artworks that similarly pushed the established limits of the aesthetic and the semantic.
My objective is to allow literature, music, and disability to shed light on each other’s conceptual and practical strengths and weaknesses. Just as states of cognitive and somatic disability are coming to be understood, not as paradigms of failure, but as potential alternative models of (dys)functionality, so we may view musical, narrative, and poetic “failures” (or “disabilities”) in avant-garde arts as similarly positively dysfunctional.
The thesis cites high, late, and post-modernist compositions by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Pierre Boulez, and John Cage. Through this, it illustrates that similar phrasal, inter-phrasal, narrative, and meta-narrative “disabilities” occur in modernisms both musical and literary. The “combinatorial” composition methods of Pierre Boulez in particular are found to share many “dysgenic” characteristics with those employed in the writing of Finnegans Wake.
Original languageEnglish
  • Fordham, Finn, Supervisor
Award date21 Aug 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Disablist (disabled)
  • Music
  • Sonic-aesthetic
  • Deformity
  • Dysfunction
  • Conditionality

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