Dangerous Fugues: Sirens, Divas, and the Dangerous Voice

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Dangerous Fugues: Sirens, Divas, and the Dangerous Voice

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Title: Dangerous Fugues: Sirens, Divas, and the Dangerous Voice
Author: Silverblank, Hannah
Advisor: Mulligan, Bret; Roberts, Deborah H.
Department: Bi-College (Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges). Comparative Literature Program
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Classics
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2012
Abstract: The Sirens first appear in Book XII of Homer's Odyssey, and from this episode has emerged a tradition of the dangerously seductive and powerful feminine singing voice. In this essay, I argue that the Sirenic tradition can be identified in the music videos of the American pop divas Madonna and Lady Gaga, in which the singers' voices contain Sirenic qualities but also transcend the power of the ancient Sirens. I use reception theory and Helene Cixous' “The Laugh of the Medusa” to explore the ways in which the voices of ancient Sirens are silenced, arguing that pop divas channel this Sirenic voice in order to move outside of its expressive confines and limitations. I locate four primary sources of danger in the song of the Homeric Sirens. First, the Sirenic voice threatens bodily harm to its listeners, who die upon hearing the song. Additionally, this voice threatens the temporality of the primary narrative, as the Sirens offer the pleasure of a song with an alternative temporality that is incommensurable with that of the Odyssey itself. Next, the temptation of the voice offers a fatal distraction from and thus destruction of the hero's voyage. Finally, I argue that the Sirens' song beckons its listeners to indulge desires that threaten the social stability and economy for the song's male listeners. This section about the danger of the Sirens is followed by an exploration of the mortal female voices in the “Cupid and Psyche” episode of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, wherein the different female characters speak in Sirenic tones and thus offer a mirror to the Homeric rendering of the Sirens. Having traced these dangers through ancient accounts of the Sirens, I briefly discuss other ancient female characters with dangerous voices in Greek and Roman literature, including Medusa, the Furies, the Bacchantes, Scylla, Philomela, Echo, Cassandra, Medea, Circe, and various witches. The essay then moves toward its analysis of the vocal and visual poetics in Madonna's “Bedtime Story” video and Lady Gaga's “Telephone” video. Here, I argue that Madonna's video invokes Sirenic imagery to inscribe power within the voice of the singer, but also to ultimately reject the Sirenic tradition. Through the interactions between the visual, sonic, and lyrical elements of the text, Madonna's “Bedtime Story” enacts a performance of Cixous' écriture féminine in a way that re-characterizes the danger of the Sirens and works to create and claim a new kind of power for the feminine voice. Next, I analyze Lady Gaga's “Telephone,” and I suggest that the two divas in the video also employ Sirenic themes in order to reject a certain mode of listening to the powerful feminine voice, using écriture féminine to break out of the Sirenic tradition and to migrate toward an unspecified, anonymous elsewhere. Where “Bedtime Story” both uses and rejects the Sirenic tradition in the formulation and performance of écriture féminine, the “Telephone” video speaks in écriture féminine in order to defy the limitations placed upon the diva and to posit a new but unknown potential for the feminine voice.
Subject: Madonna, 1958- -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Women singers
Subject: Sex in music
Subject: Lady Gaga. Telephone
Subject: Madonna, 1958- Bedtime Story
Subject: Lady Gaga -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Sirens (Mythology)
Terms of Use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
Permanent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10066/9159

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Silverblank, Hannah. "Dangerous Fugues: Sirens, Divas, and the Dangerous Voice". 2012. Available electronically from http://hdl.handle.net/10066/9159.

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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/ Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/