Irina D. Rasmussen is a specialist in British modernism, with sub-specialties in American, Irish, and Russian modernisms, the history of aesthetics, cultural poetics, material cultures, and modern world literatures in English from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. Her articles and reviews have appeared in James Joyce Quarterly, Modernism/modernity, Comparative Literature, and Joyce Studies Annual.
“Musicalization in Joyce and Toomer: Staging the Sound Panic”
This paper brings together two literary experiments with incorporation of music and sounds into modernist narrative — James Joyce’s “Sirens” episode in Ulysses and Jean Toomer’s story “Theater” in Cane — to explore how they imagine, articulate, and manifest the effect of music and sounds on the body. While musicalization of modernist prose in Joyce and Toomer has clear narrative implications, their staging of the material effects of sound on the human sensorium suggests an intriguing possibility that in combining sound with the narrative techniques indebted to cinema Joyce’s and Toomer’s experiments foreshadow a modernist response to “the coming of sound” — that is, the transition from silent to sound films, from moving image to visual language, which will alter the status of cinema. In the avant-garde circles, the arrival of sound film will be seen as pushing cinema towards realism and the backward reconceptualization of the body in terms of reintegration of the senses. In Joyce and Toomer, the cinematic quality, combined with the auditory effects of musicalization, can be read as challenging the potential in film of a technologically conditioned return to representation and its co-optation of the psyche into a reconstructed whole. Placing these modernist experiments in the context of cinematic and sound effects might help to map further the conceptual stakes involved in the modernist response to new technological possibilities.