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Zachary Hanson (Florida State University)
“L’oui dire” (“Hear say yes”) changes telephonically into “l’ouï dire” (“hearsay yes”) in Derrida’s essay of this name on Joyce’s Ulysses, the latter version developing a more gossipy feel from the mere placement of an umlaut over the “i” in “oui.” This distorting effect of the mere change of a letter or a diacritical mark, this making language “say yes” to newness and jouissance, connects to another linguistic process: metathesis. Metathesis—the mere switching of letters, sounds, or words—strongly leads Derrida to “hear this vibration [,the gramophony of the other,] as the very music of Ulysses” (Acts of Literature 308; emphasis added). I trace music’s dialectical reordering of the metathetical word as it rhapsodizes through the yes of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake into the music of no in a few of Beckett’s works. Ultimately, the no of Beckett turns back into yes. The simple metathesis of “On” into “no,” and vice versa, throughout the works of Beckett, for example, has effects far beyond linguistic play. This metathesis of letters and sounds in large part forms the music of Beckett’s prose, effecting what I term a “meta-thesis,” a thesis alongside the thesis (or placement alongside of the placement; Gr. tithenai—to place, hence thesis), which catapults the reader into realms of aesthetics and philosophy far beyond letters. In this essay, I specifically examine musical settings of Beckett by composers like Morton Feldman as they relate to Beckett’s writing, seeming to bring us far away from Joyce’s initial “yes,” though dialectically we are as close to the yes as we have ever been, even in the midst of “no.”
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