Here we have it laid out in all its giddying and disorientating grandeur, that passage from Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):
Besides how could you remember everybody? Eyes, walk, voice. Well, the voice, yes: gramophone. Have a gramophone in every grave or keep it in the house. After dinner on a Sunday. Put on poor old greatgrandfather Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeragain hellohelloamarawf kopthsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn't remember the face after fifteen years, say.[i]
In this much quoted and analysed passage, Leopold Bloom, articulating what Richard Terdiman has referred to as modernity’s ‘crisis of memory’, imagines how it might be possible to remember the lost.[ii] Should we reduce them, he asks, to snapshots, to fragments, metonyms, synechdoches, leftover objects that operate in the manner of a kind of make-shift memento mori, a ‘gramophone on every grave?’ It is interetsing that, for Leopold, the voice, that texture, that sonic mark, like a characteristic walk that marks a person out as ‘what they are’, is precisely that which is leftover when the lost are gone, as if voice could only become audible as it leaves the body. Terdiman connects the ‘crisis of memory’ to a specific phase of modernity or, rather, a specific articulation of it, the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century.[iii] How, then are we to understand this notion of voice as leftover, as remnant? What are the cultural-historical processes that incubate this notion and, what, precisely does this allow us to think about constructions of gender during this very long fin de siècle?
Let’s begin with this relation of voices and memories. One way to understand Leopold Bloom’s makeshift economy of fragmentary memories is as a negotiation of a very particular kind of loss characteristic of modernity, a loss that projects itself backwards in a fetishized investment in objects, details, metonyms.[iv] Bloom’s investment is not nostalgic, but is precisely about side-stepping that nostalgia: real things can stand for someone close, for a touch long since gone, and for an imagined organic connection with the other that never was; and those real things can be collected, ordered, catalogued, stored. In Virginia Woolf’s fiction as well, investments of this kind are made by her characters in order to close the circle of memory, to smooth over the fractious and debilitating discontinuities of modernity.[v] Clarissa Dalloway is given voice at the opening of Mrs Dalloway (1925) as someone fixated on details, the fetishes of modernity, in the now famous stream-of-consciousness narrative that intertwines her ruminations with those of Peter Walsh and the fate of the young shell-shocked soldier Septimus Warren Smith, who kills himself during the day on which the novel is set. Clarissa loves London, immerses herself in every extraordinary detail of its soundscape, gives herself to it fully:
... in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages; motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she love; life; London; this moment of June.[vi]
It is as if a voice were in all this for Clarissa, in the ‘high singing’ of the aeroplane and in the ‘leaden circles’ of Big Ben. She is immersed in thought as in the city itself, they flow one into the other: thoughts of her life, of loving life and the sound of Big Ben striking the hour:
The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life.[vii]
The soundscape of London is what holds Clarissa together, what keeps her safe. The sonic envelope of the city is something in which she takes great pleasure and which she feeds on. And Peter too is fixated, distracted by the great city that booms around him, but for him it is a more visual fixation, an investment in reflections, surfaces, figures:
Remember my party, remember my party, said Peter Walsh as he stepped down the street, speaking to himself rhythmically, in time with the flow of the sound, the direct downright sound of Big Ben striking the half-hour. (The leaden circles dissolved in the air.) Oh these parties, he thought; Clarissa’s parties. Why does she give these parties, he thought. Not that he blamed her or this effigy of a man in a tail-coat with a carnation in his buttonhole coming towards him. Only one person in the world could be as he was, in love. And there he was, this fortunate man, himself, reflected in the plate-glass window of a motor-car manufacturer in Victoria Street. All India lay behind him; plains, mountains; epidemics of cholera; a district twice as big as Ireland; decisions he had come to alone—he, Peter Walsh; who was now really for the first time in his life, in love.[viii]
But it is Septimus, more most of all, who is invested in what Freud (and Marx before him) had termed the fetish; and Septimus is specifically invested in the fetish of the voice. This is an attachment to the sound that speaking makes, and to every sonic detail that his fragmented memory allows him to conjure up; he gives these fragments magical, mystical meaning, in line with Marx’s definition, in Kapital of fetishism:
... the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.[ix]
And for Freud too, the fetish is to be linked to a certain religiosity:
What is substituted for the sexual object is some part of the body (such as the foot or hair) which is in general very inappropriate for sexual purposes, or some inanimate object which bears an assignable relation to the person whom it replaces and preferably to that person's sexuality (e.g. a piece of clothing or underlinen). Such substitutes are with some justice likened to the fetishes in which savages believe that their gods are embodied.[x]
So, for both Marx and Freud, the fetish (and fetishism) are to be connected to a religious investment in the ordinary life of things. Septimus’s investment in the vocal fetish is linked explicitly by Woolf to a religiosity at the heart of his psychosis:
“K . . . R . . .” said the nursemaid, and Septimus heard her say “Kay Arr” close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing, broke. A marvellous discovery indeed—that the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions (for one must be scientific, above all scientific) can quicken trees into life! ... But they beckoned; leaves were alive; trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down; when the branch stretched he, too, made that statement. The sparrows fluttering, rising, and falling in jagged fountains were part of the pattern; the white and blue, barred with black branches. Sounds made harmonies with premeditation; the spaces between them were as significant as the sounds. A child cried. Rightly far away a horn sounded. All taken together meant the birth of a new religion.[xi]
This voice, transformed into a life force that connects everything, as a network of filaments, ‘fibres’, is a voice at the heart of a machine, a networked machine that encompasses the world: in this manic moment, Septimus imagines a voice beyond the fetish, as in all things, as distributed. And it is precisely this deterritorialisation of the object that constitutes the action of fetishism here. The psychosis that dis-associates and re-associates the world for Septimus, that deterritorialises the object of desire, is messianic: ‘All taken together meant the birth of a new religion.’[xii]
In Mrs Dalloway, these three kinds of investment in the world of objects, the sonic-metonymic, the visual-metonymic and the messianic, jostle for attention in the narrative, each fracturing the stylistic cohesion of the text, each threatening to foreclose the teleology of that narrative and dominate it to the detriment of the others. What is particularly telling here is the extent to which Septimus in particular disturbs the subtle gendering of the fetish-investments of Clarissa and Peter: Sepitmus’s visions are precisely about refusing the duality of a Clarissa versus a Peter. His is an investment, we might say, in androgyny. The vocal fetish expands to fill every gap, smooths over all discontinuities, swells to infinite plentitude – the fetish of all fetishes, the compensator for all losses, an object saviour, a space between men and women.
[continued in next post]
[i] James Joyce, Ulysses. (New York: Vintage,  1961), 114.
[ii] Richard Terdiman, Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993).
[iii] Terdiman concentrates his analysis specifically on Alfred de Musset, Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust and Sigmund Freud, and thus on what we might term the long fin de siècle. Ibid., vii-ix.
[iv] See David Lodge’s analysis of Leopold Bloom in ‘Metaphor and Metonymy in Modern Fiction’, Critical Quartlerly, Vol. 17 No. 1 (1974), 75-93. For a fascinating account of the fetish in early modern England, see Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, ‘Fetishisms and Renaissances’, in Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor (eds.), Historicism, Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 2-35.
[v] In her introduction to the annotated Penguin edition of Mrs Dalloway, Elaine Showalter suggests that the novel might also be read as in some sense a product of the First World War. Indeed, Woolf herself had suffered from bouts of psychosis during the Great War and Septimus could be said to constitute an attempt to exorcise her own illness. Elaine Showalter, ‘Introduction’ to Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, ed. Stella McNichol (London: Penguin  1992), xxii.
[vi] Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, ed. Stella McNichol (London: Penguin  1992), 4.
[vii] Ibid., 4.
[ix] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990),165
[x] Sigmund Freud,
[xi] Woolf, Dalloway, 23-4.
[xii] Ibid., 24.