This essay explores Joyce’s attempt, in “Sirens”, to give articulation to the sounds made by objects and nonhuman beings, with the ultimate goal of destabilizing the boundary separating the human voice (and other forms of human expression) from nonhuman sound. The episode itself can be read as a catalogue of sounds, nonhuman and human, that interact with one another in the absence of a qualitative standard of judgment that would separate the human voice from nonhuman sound, music from “noise”, or conceptual language from sonic expression. Human characters in the episode become what Vike Martina Plock has called “soundboards”, or resonating bodies through which the sounds of their material environment achieve expression. Additionally, human bodies are fragmented metonymically into their sounding body “parts” detached from the unity of the human subject, which allows for new forms of sonorous collaboration between sounding objects and sounding body parts. Nonhuman sounds persist in contrapuntal relation with the voices and sounds of the human characters (and their sounding body parts), a phenomenon which forces us to expand our conception of the fugal form of the episode to include nonhuman entities as collaborators, or “voices”, within it. In this way, “Sirens” asks us to consider sound, and by extension music, not simply as the purely intentional product of a human consciousness, but also as a collective composition between human bodies (and body parts) and the sonic materials of their environment.
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