The Word in the Ear: Finnegans Wake and Other Experiments in Music and Language

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Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 quarters

Taught by

music composition, performance
creative writing, poetics, aesthetics, media/performing arts

The sound of the name and the name of the sound: James Joyce, Gem's Choice, Jam's Jice … Assonance? Or just asses?

Every word has its sound … every sentence its melody … every paragraph its halitosis.

(Halitosis? That doesn't fit. And why not? Did the rhythm set you up, then trick you? Or is halitosis a new literary form you've not heard of? Does the meaning override the sense, or does the rhythm override the meaning?)

Are there texts that do not cry out to be read aloud? How do texts resist their corruption into voice? When does the music overpower the meaning and render it trivial?

Does the voice of a survivor of violence get drowned out by the noise of the musical beat? Does the beat strengthen that voice and what that individual has to say, or does it render its words and their meanings irrelevant?

Or is the meaning of the text helplessly open to corruption by the music?

It's easy to imagine a text rendered irrelevant by its music, but could a text be so powerful as to render its music irrelevant? Can creative artists combine the strength of the text with that of the music without having one distort the aims of the other?

These and other questions will be addressed in the class, along with weekly readings from Joyce's Finnegans Wake and other texts. We'll learn, try out, and perform ways of reading the text, and explore ways of extracting melodies from a text. Some of the writers we'll be exploring are François Villon, François  Rabelais, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Aimé Césaire, James Baldwin, and Sylvia Plath.

All students, whether enrolled for 8 or 16 credits, will meet for Experiments in Loud Out Reading and for seminar discussions and experiments. Students will be asked to give three presentations, both solo and in small groups, and present to the class the result(s) of their work. Students enrolled for the 16-credit option will attend additional sessions to explore music compositions and experiments in sound. Students in these sessions will write compositions for solo and multiple voices. We'll also listen to compositions written for voice, and explorations of what the voice can do, from Luigi Nono, Susan Parenti, Arnold Schoenberg, Rick Burkhardt, and others. In addition to the composition assignments, each student will be asked to write a paper that analyzes one of the pieces studied in the class.

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics cultural studies music writing

Preparatory For

writing, music, and performing arts



Fall Open Winter Open

Location and Schedule

Final Schedule and Room Assignment

Campus Location


Time Offered

Day and Evening

Advertised Schedule

8 credit option: Tue 6-8p, Thurs 6-8p, and Fri 6-10p

First class meeting (8-credits): Tuesday, September 26 at 6pm (Com 117)

16 credit option: Tue 12-4p and 6-8p, Thurs 12-4p and 6-8p, and Friday 6-10p

First class meeting (16-credits): Tuesday, September 26 at 12pm (Com117)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$100 per quarter for concert and performance entrance fees.


2017-06-15This program now accepts all class levels (Fr-Sr).