Ulysses, “Sirens,” Episode 11~pp 252-86.

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Important Themes of Episode 11

  • The Fugue: This episode develops like a musical composition, a fugue to be precise. Composer Focus instructs us there are three elements to a fugue. The Exposition plays in two voices. The first voice sets the stage, and the second answers. The middle consists of subjects and answers paired in changed keys. The final section is a return to the tonal key. In their footnote to a note, Gifford and Seidman include an uncredited quote suits Poldy’s odyssey. It says the fugue has “the desire for home.” There has been an ongoing rift between those who defend Gilbert’s classification of the episode. He calls the Technic “Fuga per Canonem.” Those who object contend the piece is more appropriately a fugue. Zack Bowen shrills fortissimo: “Does Gilbert mean to imply that they are all singing the same song, or that they strictly imitate one another?” I frett I am not sharp enough to assess his complaint. But the defense of Fuga per Canonem by Susan Brown satisfies me. She says the form requires the many characters participating in the eight voices of a canonem. In another nice stroke, “Siopold” conjoins Si Dedalus, Cowley, and Bloom. Here is a link to a three-minute fugue appropriately enough from the pen of Bach


  • Economy of Notation: According to Budgen, “… both arts (musician’s and poet’s) use written symbols to conserve and communicate.” What he doesn’t discuss directly is how Joyce uses a shorthand not very different from a musical notation in writing this episode. There are many instances of clipped words that to the informed reader communicate as much as a sentence just as a composer’s musical notation with a single curved line tells note, duration, etc. One such example of Joyce’s conservation is “Bloosup.” Bloom stood up becomes a musical notation. Joyce’s artistic language, a language that will be perfected when he writes Finnegans Wake, is beginning to take shape in Ulysses.
  • Percussion Section, “jingle” and “Tap, tap”: Gilbert reminds us that the jingle punctuating the episode announces Boylan’s cab. It also reminds me of the music of Molly’s bedsprings in “Calypso.” While the jingle calls to Boylan’s assignation with Molly. The “tap, tap, tap” of the piano tuner’s cane predicts Bloom’s fated meeting with Stephen. These two percussions lead the novel’s tune to its conclusion.

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