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«By Joshua Benjamin Epstein Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Vanderbilt University in partial fulfillment of the ...»

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Joshua Benjamin Epstein


Submitted to the Faculty of the

Graduate School of Vanderbilt University

in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of




December, 2008

Nashville, Tennessee


Professor Mark Wollaeger

Professor Carolyn Dever

Professor Joy Calico Professor Jonathan Neufeld


First thanks go to the members of my incomparable dissertation committee. Mark Wollaeger's perceptive critiques and (somehow) relentless optimism have been deeply appreciated, and Carolyn Dever's clarifying questions and sound advice have proven invaluable.

As teachers, mentors, and readers of my work, Mark and Carolyn have been models of professionalism and generosity since I first arrived at Vanderbilt. Joy Calico's near-omniscience and keen critical eye have aided this project from its inception, and she has graciously tolerated my encroachment on her disciplinary terrain. Jonathan Neufeld has in many ways helped me grapple with the complex philosophical issues at stake (more complex than I had imagined!). To all four, I extend my sincere gratitude.

My research has been funded by a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences; by the Robert Manson Myers Graduate Award in English; and by a year-long fellowship at Vanderbilt's Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. Mona Frederick, Galyn Martin, and Sarah Nobles have worked tirelessly to make the Warren Center a pleasant and intellectually vibrant environment, and while a fellow there I benefited greatly from the collegiality and wisdom of Michael Callaghan, Megan Moran, George Sanders, Nicole Seymour, David Solodkow, and Heather Talley. My thanks and best wishes to all of them.

It has been a privilege to spend graduate school surrounded by such an extraordinary group of graduate-student colleagues: energetic intellectual fellow-travelers and first-class friends. Starting with the colleagues who shared my entire journey through graduate school— Nicole, Katherine Fusco, Ben Graydon, Christian Long, and Jeff Menne—I wish to acknowledge and thank Beau Baca, Yeo Ju Choi, Emily Hines, and Brian Rejack for their wisdom and ii friendship. Rebecca Chapman, Sarah Kersh, and John Morrell, terrific friends by any measure, deserve special thanks for carting me around Nashville after Beau's air-tight perimeter defense left me temporarily immobilized. Diana Bellonby, Brian Essex, and Megan Minarich offered useful and surprising contributions to my research; and during the late stages of writing and revision, I was enormously grateful for the brilliance and big-heartedness of Tom "o' Bedlam" Armstrong and Caroline "C-Lion" Heaton.

The Vanderbilt English Department has consistently encouraged and supported my work.

Every conversation I have had with Jay Clayton, Roy Gottfried, or Paul Young has taught me something important about modernism. While researching at King's College, Cambridge, I benefited from the generosity of Bridget Orr and Jonathan Lamb. I have much admired Lynn Enterline's Ovidian wisdom, and always appreciated the patient and cheerful assistance of Donna Caplan, Sara Corbitt, Carolyn Levinson, Janis May, and Dori Mikus. And a tip of the hat to the undergraduates on whom I have inflicted these texts and arguments; they have responded with curiosity, insight, panache, and good humor.

My debts extend even beyond the boundaries of Music City: Marsha Bryant, Natalie Gerber, Chris Goddard, Scott Klein, Patricia Maguire, Wendy Moffat, and Matthew Smith have all allowed me to draw on their time and energies. I frequently recall and appreciate the wisdom of my professors and mentors from the University of Puget Sound, particularly those who instructed me in the ways of words and music: Douglas Cannon, Peter Greenfield, Duane Hulbert, Priti Joshi, David Lupher, and J. David Macey Jr.

Finally, I wish to express heartfelt thanks to my father, Richard Epstein, for his unflagging assistance with the work of personhood over the last twenty-seven years. To him this dissertation is dedicated with love and appreciation.

–  –  –







Interpreting Writers Interpreting Music

Noise, Music, and Culture

Modernist Vibrations: Russolo, Cowell, and Schopenhauer

Musical Noise After Russolo

Theoretical Indiscipline: Attali's Noise

The "Supervention of Novelty": Dissonance and Tradition

The Rhythms of Modernist Culture


Wagner and the Syphilitic Body

Stravinsky, Jazz, and the Music Hall

"Changing Forms": From "Portrait of a Lady" to The Waste Land................ 77 The Roots of Eliot's Rhythm: Symons and the Wagnerian Symbolist............ 83 The Waste Land and The Tempest, Revisited

What the Gramophone Says


The Bad Boy of Music: A Sensation Materializes

Boilerplate: Pound, Antheil, and the Pianola

Pound and the Noise of Impressionism

Time Travel: Futurism, Primitivism, and Ballet Mécanique

Tricks of Time: A Brief Excursus on Death in the Dark




Outside the Chamber: Music and Politics

Musical Phrasemongering and Performance in Dubliners

No Noiseless Existence: Music and Musical Language in Portrait.............. 174 "Ready-Made Phrases" and Musical Rhetoric in Ulysses



Walton, Modern Music, and English Cosmopolitanism

Façade: From Noise to Rhythm

Bernays, the Ballets Russes, and the Aesthetics of Publicity

The Parade Behind the Façade

The Profession of Personality: Commedia Dell'Arte

"Punch and Judy Show": Sitwell on Puppetry and the Commedia............... 246 The Sitwells, the Mask, and the Russian Ballet



"A Muddle and a Noise": "Broadcasting" Music in Forster

Who Shall Inherit Britten?

Britten's Ninths: Peter Grimes, Dissonance, and the Art of Rumor............. 295 The Spellbinding Music of Billy Budd



–  –  –

Literary modernism, driven by a desire to fragment and then reassemble artistic form, turns and returns to music: a "universal language" and a provincial one; sometimes a call to reflection and sometimes a call to arms; resistant to explanation and, for that very reason, the subject of constant inquiry. Alongside the modern soundscape of urban traffic, new media and recording technologies, and the sounds of warfare, the seemingly numinous qualities of music acquire specific and material kinds of significance. This dissertation argues that modernist writing interprets and engages with modernist music as an art form with a range of cultural and institutional effects. It contends that a chief ambition of modernist writing and music is to critique and mediate the increasing presence of noise, and in so doing, to reconsider the cultural and institutional forces underpinning artistic production.

It is almost a cliché to begin an account of "modernism" by acknowledging both the need to define the term and the hopelessness of doing so. What all such accounts acknowledge, however, is the experimental quality of modernist form: its "testing of the limits of aesthetic construction."1 Put differently, Walter Pater's nostrum (after Arthur Schopenhauer) that "All art constantly aspires to the condition of music"2 means just what it says: arts do not merely represent or comment, but aspire, moment by moment, such that the experience of art can enable the continuous reinvention of a creatively interpretive subject.3 Modernist literature aspires to the cultural effects of music by rethinking how language relates to other musical and non-musical kinds of sound. The salient structural properties often attributed to modernist writing—narrative discontinuity, fragmentation of voice, emphasis on subjective and psychic states, allusion and intertextuality, resistance to realism, mimesis, and representationality—can be considered as

–  –  –

cultural commentary, as a historically emplaced comment on the properties of art per se, and as fuel for the "hard, gemlike flame" of aesthetically lived experience. Considerations of the aesthetic "condition of music" invite a complementary account of music's material condition: its status as a constructed artifact, and its relation to the social and economic stuff of daily life.

This dissertation focuses on two elements of music, dissonance and rhythm, as competing engagements with the pervasive presence of noise in the early twentieth century. Understood in this context, modernist form can be grasped as a set of reactions to noise by means of textual dissonance, whose movement through time is marked by the (often irregular) forward motion of rhythm. Both dissonance and rhythm are under significant pressure in twentieth-century musical culture, and modernist texts implicitly and explicitly debate the relative value of dissonance and rhythmic experimentation as ways of interpreting modernity. Arnold Schoenberg's effort to "emancipate the dissonance," to expand the possibilities of harmonic expression, gave dissonance a particular kind of cultural and political cachet in the early twentieth century.

Theodor Adorno's philosophical reflections on dissonance, which should not be conflated with Schoenberg's own program, emphasize its negative critical potential, its ability to expose the false rationality of mainstream systems of knowledge.4 A literary effort to reproduce the emotional or cognitive effects of dissonance requires the writer to test the limits of representational language, to struggle against too-transparent modes of reading the world.

Rhythm, similarly, is perceived to have certain kinds of potential for commenting on the noise of modern life, for structuring images, sounds, harmonies into a communicable narrative.

On just these grounds, T.S. Eliot interprets Igor Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps (1913) not just

as an experiment with "primitive" or folk music, but as a commentary on the modern:

–  –  –

Stravinsky's piece apparently exemplifies what Eliot came to call Joyce's "mythical method," a "continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity."6 According to Eliot, Stravinsky performs a double transformation: first transforming the "rhythm of the steppes" into all of the "barbaric cries of modern life," and then transforming those "despairing noises into music." The music interprets and transforms the dance itself into the "despairing noises" of "the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, and the other barbaric cries of modern life." The "sense of the present" is located in the experience of sound, in all of those "despairing noises" that Eliot interprets as the "barbari[sm] of modernity" and as the potential site for the transformative currents of modernist art. Music needs a new language, like the one provided by Stravinsky, precisely because modernity has intensified the presence and experience of sound.

In the same year that Stravinsky's ballet premiered to riots in the stands, the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo began proclaiming noise itself as grounds for musical exploration.

Russolo's 1913 manifesto Arte Dei Rumore ["Art of Noises"] asserts, "We must break out of this limited circle of sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds."7 Russolo argues that rhythmic and harmonic innovation alone, though important, cannot fully appease the ears of modern listeners, already accustomed to the sounds of machinery and traffic. Russolo's collaborations with F.T. Marinetti, in continental Europe but also in Britain, resulted in the widespread notoriety of his manifesto, and efforts to perform his noise-music with instruments of his own invention. Thus just as modernist writers test the limits of literary form and genre by aspiring to the condition of music, modernist music in particular, musicians in certain spheres

–  –  –

possibilities offered by seemingly non-musical sounds: sirens, airplane propellers, train whistles, noises with different timbral qualities and explicit real-world associations. Though modernist composers such as George Antheil, Edgard Varèse, and Arthur Honegger tend to deny that their experiments with noise are mere imitations of trains and machines, these sounds never lose their real-world associations in the cultural imagination. Noise-music addresses the material presence of noise while claiming for itself the non-representational, phenomenological function of music.

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