Between Aesthetics and Politics: Music in James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Sylvia Townsend Warner

  • Gemma Moss

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the relationships between music, literature, aesthetics and politics in the novels of James Joyce, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and the poetry of Ezra Pound, to show the political relevance of how discourses of musical transcendence appear in these texts. These authors were notably political: Pound was involved with Italian fascism, Warner a Communist Marxist, while Joyce critics have been invested in claiming for him a liberal, humanist political position that is reflected in his writing. This allows me to analyse their engagement with music in light of their politics in order to make connections between aesthetics and politics through music in modernist literature. The texts analysed in this thesis are Joyce's Chamber Music and Ulysses, Pound's Cantos, his early essays and articles, and his musical theories 'absolute rhythm' and 'Great Bass', and finally Warner's Mr Fortune's Maggot, 'The Music at Long Verney', and The Corner That Held Them. I use a methodology, informed by the musicology and philosophy of T.W. Adorno, that moves between aesthetic and social approaches to music. I analyse the political significance of Joyce's and Pound's appropriation of musical forms as part of a radical departure from traditional aesthetic practices to articulate a newly modern subjectivity, and arrive at an analysis of Warner's exploration of the tension between music as both transcendent aesthetic paradigm and material object with political meanings and functions. I argue that the extent to which writers and scholars continue to refer to discourses of musical transcendence as a way of exploring and representing humanity's relationship with the world means that analyses of music's social grounding, which can reject problems of signification and meaning, are not sufficient to explain the variety of functions music can fulfil in writing and in thought.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHoward Booth (Supervisor) & Daniela Caselli (Supervisor)


  • Adorno
  • Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • Ezra Pound
  • James Joyce
  • modernism
  • music

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