What’s so great about “Ulysses”?

For a novel that is jokey, playful and irreverent, that exalts the everyday, and is about as much fun as any book I can think of, Ulysses has a formidable reputation. It is, indeed, often seen as the ultimate in literary elitism, and claims to have read it – and, further, to have enjoyed reading it, and coming back for more – are sometimes regarded with scepticism at best, and, at worst, with downright incredulity, or even with open accusations of lying. For Ulysses is unreadable, isn’t it? Or, at least, excessively difficult. And can anyone really enjoy something that is at such a level of difficulty? Far from being an enjoyable reading experience, is it not rather the case that reading this novel – or, rather claiming to have read this novel – is a sort of admission ticket to an exclusive and highly elitist literary club, membership of which allows one to look down one’s nose at the plebs? And can there really be any reason for reading it other than to get oneself entry into this dubious and pretentious highbrow society?

It would be easy to laugh off such silliness were these claims not frequently made. But the worst thing about this kind of silliness is that one often ends up on the defensive when speaking about this novel. And one shouldn’t.

As everyone knows, Ulysses is set in Dublin on one single day – 16th June, 1904, known nowadays as Bloomsday – and it presents quite ordinary people going about their quite ordinary business. Modernism is often regarded as a radical break from what had come before it, but now, more or less a century after the beginnings of that movement, we should be able to see not merely its radical nature, but also the continuities with what had gone before. Joyce was, after all, by no means the first writer to attempt to find the extraordinary within the ordinary: throughout the 19th century, all sorts of writers have done just that – from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert to Anton Chekhov. Long before Joyce, the novel had staked out its ground: its focus was now no longer on kings and queens, princes and princesses, nobles and bishops – but on ordinary people, in ordinary walks of life. Even drama, for long a conservative bastion of kings and queens and high-flown rhetoric and verse, had come down the social ladder to report on middle-class drawing rooms. This meant that the epic form was, on the whole, eschewed. There are many notable exceptions to this, of course, as there are to any broad-brush observation on literary trends: it’s hard not to use the term “epic” to describe such works as, say, War and Peace or Nostromo; and writers such as Tolstoy or Henry James weren’t exactly averse to depicting nobility. But it was characters such as Anne Elliot, Emma Bovary, Arthur Clennan, Dr Lydgate, Gervaise Coupeau, Isabel Archer, Lily Bart, etc., who now occupied the centre stage rather than merely the fringes, and none of their their humdrum lives suggests the epic. It was up to the creators of these characters to discover the extraordinary within the ordinary – and this discovery seems to me to be among the finest achievements of nineteenth century literature. But the extraordinary – or the sublime, the grand, the magnificent – had to be found within the everyday: writers could no longer turn their backs on the quotidian in search of loftier matters.

Joyce followed in this pattern: like the nineteenth century novelists, he had no wish to turn his back on the everyday. And he sought, again like his nineteenth century predecessors, to find something within the daily grind of trivia that would invest the everyday with some sort of meaning, some sort of significance. He had achieved this at times in his short story collection Dubliners – but generally, despite moments of revelation (“epiphanies”, as Joyce called them, his Catholic upbringing never too far away), and despite even occasional moments of transcendence (such as in those unforgettable final pages of “The Dead”), the depiction is of little people leading little lives: one of the main images linking these stories is that of paralysis. Instead of depicting transcendence, these stories, in general, report on the failure to achieve it.

But then came Ulysses. Here, without turning away from the quotidian, the mundane, he invested the depiction of very ordinary people during the course of a very ordinary day with an epic grandeur, and a Homeric magnificence. It is an achievement that still takes the breath away.

And yet, this entire majestic edifice is built out of considerably less-than-majestic building material: it is endlessly playful and mischievous, and is full of silly gags, jokes, and irrepressible high spirits; there is even room for a bit of old-fashioned schoolboy smut. This is what makes all the more amusing the novel’s reputation for highbrow elitism: material less highbrow or elitist cannot be imagined. Yes – it is difficult: let us admit that right away. But the difficulties are to be encountered with a good-natured laugh rather than with a serious and furrowed professorial brow: Brendan Behan may have not have been entirely serious when he suggested that the best way to approach this novel is to treat it as a sort of joke-book, but he wasn’t, I think, too far off the mark.

And then, of course, there are all those Homeric correspondences. Each chapter – with a single, notable exception – recalls an episode from Homer’s Odyssey. (The exception is the Wandering Rocks chapter, which is taken from the myth of Jason and the Argonauts rather than from the myth of Odysseus: but then again, it is the whole point of wandering rocks to emerge unexpectedly, taking us by surprise.) The parody of Homer isn’t new either: the mock-heroic had been done before – Rabelais, Cervantes, Pope, Fielding – and while relating the everyday to the heroic has the comic effect of deflation, of bringing down the heroic, in Joyce’s hands it also served a more important purpose – that of elevating the everyday. Leopold Bloom may seem an unlikely Odysseus: he is an undistinguished middle-aged man, an advertising canvasser by profession; he is widely derided on account of his Jewish origins; and he is married, not to a faithful Penelope, but to a woman who is serially unfaithful to him. It almost seems as if Joyce had gone out of his way to find as unlikely a candidate as may be imagined for the role of Ulysses. But of course, as Cervantes knew well, the greater the discrepancy between the ideal and the real, the funnier it is. And also, and equally importantly, the more striking it is when this apparently pathetic parody of the heroic ideal does display what may be termed heroism. As, for instance, in the twelfth chapter, set in the pub. Here, Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus – or, more prosaically, Bloom encounters the nationalist Citizen, holding boozy court with his cronies.

The chapter is narrated by one of these cronies who remains anonymous. Bloom, we gather, doesn’t particularly want to be in the pub: he is only there because he has promised to meet with his friend Martin, to help raise funds for the widow and family of the recently deceased Paddy Dignam. A charitable mission – the sort that perhaps wouldn’t have occurred to a real hero, such as Odysseus, the Sacker of Cities. But Bloom’s friend isn’t there yet, and he finds himself amidst unfriendly faces. Bloom, after all, is a Jew – he’s not “one of us”. And it is believed – wrongly, as it happens – that Bloom has won on the horses that day, and is too tight-fisted to say so and buy everyone a drink. As the evening progresses, the comments directed at Bloom become increasingly pointed: there is something not very pleasant in the air. Whatever Free Nation of Ireland the Citizen envisages, Bloom is not part of it. Eventually, Bloom speaks out:

– And I belong to a race too, says Bloom, that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant.

Gob, he near burnt his fingers with the butt of his old cigar.

– Robbed, says he. Plundered. Insulted. Persecuted. Taking what belongs to us by right. At this very moment, says he, putting up his fist, sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle.

– Are you talking about the new Jerusalem? says the citizen.

– I’m talking about injustice, says Bloom.

– Right, says John Wyse. Stand up to it then with force like men.

But this is not what Bloom meant:

– But it’s no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.

– What? says Alf.

– Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred. I must go now, says he to John Wyse. Just round the court a moment to see if Martin is there.

So, having declared the Gospel of Love, he announces his own departure. In his absence, he is made fun of. Love, indeed! “A new apostle to the gentiles”, mocks the citizen, his sarcasm coming closer to the truth than he realises. The unnamed narrator goes off on a riff about love:

Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair gentlema. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschole with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead. His Majesty the King loves Her Majesty the Queen. Mrs Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor. You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody.

And at the end of this chapter, as Bloom is leaving the pub and the anti-Semitic taunts become ever more overt, Bloom stands up to the Cyclops:

– Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mecadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God.

His friend Martin, eager to avoid a scene that’s threatening to turn violent, tries to bundle Bloom away, but Bloom is adamant.

– Whose God? asks the citizen.

Bloom replies:

– Your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me.

The Citizen is incensed. In The Odyssey, Polyphemus threw a rock at the departing Odysseus: here, the citizen throws after Bloom a biscuit tin. But this is a chapter about politics and about rhetoric, and so everything is inflated to monstrous proportions. The impact of the biscuit-tin is immense:

The catastrophe was terrific and instantaneous in its effect. The observatory of Dunsink registered in all eleven shocks, all of the fifth grade of Mercalli’s scale, and there is no record extant of a similar seismic disturbance in our island since the earthquake of 1534, the year of the rebellion of Silken Thomas. The epicentre appears to have been that part of the metropolis which constitutes the Inn’s Quay ward and parish of Saint Michan covering a surface of fortyone acres, two roods and one square pole or perch. All the lordly residences in the vicinity of the palace of justice were demolished and that noble edifice itself, in which at the time of the catastrophe important legal debates were in progress, is literally a mass of ruins beneath which it is to be feared all the occupants have been buried alive. From the reports of eyewitnesses it transpires that the seismic waves were accompanied by a violent atmospheric perturbation of cyclonic character….

And so on, and so forth, the self-important journalese piling on with ever more outrageous comic absurdity. But through all this absurdity, we can discern heroism: not perhaps the sort of heroism of Odysseus, but a heroism that is perhaps even more remarkable – that of a man standing up for the values of simple human decency in the face of disdain and ridicule. Bloom may not have been capable of the heroisms of Odysseus, but then again, we wonder, would Odysseus have been capable of the heroism of Bloom?

But if, as I think, it is this simple human decency that is at the centre of the work, then the huge, unwieldy baroque structure Joyce constructed around it does tend to obscure it somewhat. I think this is intentional: Joyce was no minimalist. Indeed, he was quite the opposite – he was a “maximalist”. Like Dickens, he loved an overcrowded canvas bursting with vitality and with life, with clutter, with all sorts of little details and features and curlicues and arabesques that seem to exist merely for their own sake, thickening the narrative texture. And perhaps there has been no other author since Dickens who has so successfully conjured into teeming life an entire city in all its bewilderingly chaotic forms and sounds and smells and movements. Those seeking the elegance of a clear narrative line, or unity and purity of style, should look elsewhere: this novel is full of voices, sometimes competing against and jarring against each other in a mad cacophony. Different narrative voices weave in and out without warning, and we are never entirely sure to whom the narrative voice belongs at any given time. (Dostoyevsky did something similar in his major novels, but, as ever, Joyce stretches thing further than they have ever been stretched before.) The Cyclops chapter, for instance, is narrated by an unnamed character: he had not appeared earlier in the novel, and he promptly disappears once the chapter finishes. Immediately afterwards, in the next chapter, we find ourselves in the relative calm of a beach as evening is descending, and the narrative voice now is that of a dreadfully cloying and sentimental reader of cheap romantic novels:

The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace. Far away in the west the sun was setting and the last glow of the all too fleeting day lingered lovingly on the sea and strand… etc. etc.

Or, later in the novel, we have the voice of a bad writer, penning the most atrociously constructed sentences. For instance:

Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed.

I’ll resist the temptation to quote more such gems from this chapter, but the very idea of possibly the greatest master of the English language since Shakespeare deliberately writing prose so toe-curlingly awful does, I admit, have me chuckling.

Or there’s that famous chapter set in a maternity ward, where the narrative voices come and go, each voice speaking in the style of a particular period, beginning the alliterative style of medieval poetry (“Before born babe bliss had. Within womb won he worship”) and progressing, as the chapter progresses, to styles of later periods. This gives us a sort of potted history of English prose; and the development of the language within the chapter gives an impression of the chapter itself growing and developing, almost like a foetus within the womb. If all this sounds too dry and intellectual, not to say overly schematic, we needn’t worry: this is also one of the funniest chapters in the novel, with the narrators from past ages not quite understanding the modern world they are describing, and giving the narration their own spin. (I, personally, find myself laughing out loud when the heavily rhetorical tones of Edward Gibbon are employed to reprimand Bloom for his masturbatory habits.)

Sometimes, the narrative voice seems to disappear altogether, such as in the phatasmagoric Circe chapter, or in the penultimate chapter in which narrative is replaced by an impersonal set of questions, and an equally impersonal set of detailed answers, these answers seemingly unaware of the concept of relevance. And in the midst of all this cacophony of voices – or of non-voices – we have the famous, or notorious, “stream of consciousness”, the depiction of the seemingly random wanderings and workings of the human mind, following all its twists and turns wherever it goes.

I’d guess it’s not so much the use of stream of consciousness that gives Ulysses the reputation of difficulty, but, rather, Joyce’s refusal to point it out, to differentiate it in any way from the rest of the text. Joyce also refuses to explain some of the leaps the mind makes, or to give us enough information to help us understand why certain things occur to the mind. Only when one has read through the entire novel do certain details begin to make sense. Also, these characters’ minds pick up bits and pieces of all sorts of things – advertising slogans, bits from operatic arias, words half heard or half remembered, popular music hall songs, local events, etc. etc. Our minds, when not concentrated, are not structured machines, and any realistic depiction of the workings of the mind is bound to appear chaotic. And here lies a problem: art cannot be chaotic – it requires structure. Joyce may wish to give an impression of chaos, but it must be an impression only: for if the novel itself were to be chaotic, the centre would then not hold, and things would fall apart. It is to this end that Joyce devised carefully a plan that would give the novel a structure: each chapter would refer to a certain art or science; to a certain organ of the human body and its function; to certain colours; and, as is well-known, to a certain episode from Homer’s Odyssey. Accounts of Joyce’s scheme may be found in any of the numerous commentaries on Ulysses, but I don’t know that this need detain us here; this scheme was to help Joyce, not us. Joyce himself never made public his scheme: from the reader’s perspective, all that really matters is that each chapter should have a different feel to it: how the feel of each chapter comes about is best left to the Joycean scholar. Of course, the reader can look into this as well – Joyce’s technique is fascinating in its own right – but the main thing is that the reader feels: the intricate mechanics that cause the reader to feel, though fascinating, are but a means, not an end.

Perhaps too much has been made of the difficulty of all this. The “stream of consciousness” for instance – the very phrase promising a work penetrable only by learned professors of literature – is more than enough to put off most readers: it’s reputedly what makes this novel so very difficult. But it’s nothing particularly new. It is an attempt to express in words the often random and unexpected course taken by people’s minds, and one may find it used – though not as insistently nor as extensively as Joyce uses it – in the works of such authors as Fielding or Dickens. (See, for instance, the monologues given to the housekeeper Mrs Deborah Wilkins in Chapter Three of Tom Jones, or to the dialogue given to Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.) But in these books, it is clear that the stream of consciousness passages are spoken by (or thought by) a certain character: in Ulysses, the stream of consciousness can break in at any point, and, without warning, intermingle with the narrative voice. So, for instance, in the very first page, as Stephen Dedalus observes Malachi Mulligan (with whom he shares lodging), we get this:

He peered sideways up and gave a long slow whistle of a call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.

That single word “Chrysostomos” is a bit of “stream of consciousness” here: it’s what goes through Stephen’s mind when he sees the gold fillings in Mulligan’s teeth. It means, literally, “golden mouthed”, and refers to John Chrysostom, an Early Church Father of the 4th century famous for eloquence of speech. Stephen’s identification of Chrysostom with the cheerfully blasphemous Mulligan is comic, but unless one identifies it not as part of the narrative, but rather, as something that is going on in Stephen’s mind, then it will make no sense at all. Most importantly, it helps characterise Stephen: what sort of person is it who can be reminded of John Chrysostom on seeing gold fillings inside a friend’s mouth?

The Stephen we see is a somewhat sullen, truculent chap, with a bit of a chip on the shoulder. The lodgings he shares with Mulligan is a Martello Tower by the sea, and he resents his fellow lodgers – the extravert, flamboyant Mulligan, and the Englishman Haynes, who appears to be stopping by temporarily. Stephen steadfastly refuses to join in with anything, keeping himself apart with a cold reserve, and seemingly resentful of something he never quite articulates openly. He is Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, who, at the start of The Odyssey, goes in search of his missing father. Stephen, too, though he may not know it, is in search of a missing father: relations with his real father are not the warmest. And as for his mother, she weighs down oppressively upon his conscience: on her deathbed, she had asked Stephen to pray for her, and he had refused. And everything in the world seems belittled by this act of defiance: even the broad, wide sea before him, ringed by the flat horizon only, reminds Stephen of that white bowl by his mother’s bed into which she used to cough up her phlegm and mucus. Stephen is a young man who needs to be humanised. At the start, while he corresponds ostensibly with Telemachus, he seems to correspond also with another son of a Greek hero – Orestes, son of Agamemnon, murderer of his mother, and pursued by the Furies.

We spend the first three chapters with Stephen: Bloom – Odysseus, the father of Telemachus – appears only in the fourth. In the second chapter, we see Stephen teaching in a school, and speaking afterwards to the head teacher, Mr Deasy, who gives Stephen a letter – on foot and mouth disease and on the state of cattle farming – to give to his friends in the newspapers. (At every stage, this novel is rooted in the solid, in the everyday.) And in the third chapter, we are in Stephen’s mind as he walks on the beach, allowing his mind to wander where it will.

It is in this third chapter that many first-time readers tend to give up. This entire chapter is an extended piece of “stream of consciousness”. It is the interior monologue of Stephen Dedalus, who had been presented in Joyce’s earlier novel as a Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. However, I cannot believe this self-portrait is very accurate – or, if it is, one can only conclude that Joyce had changed very radically between youth and middle-age: Stephen is somewhat unlikeable, priggish, and overly serious; and, while possessing Joyce’s immense erudition and intelligence, he seems to have none of his creator’s sense of humour, or of mischief. His interior monologue is meditative and often deeply lyrical, but it is likely to fox the first-time reader. The best advice to such a first-time reader is possibly not to worry too much about it: move on, and, maybe, come back to this later. For it would be a shame to get stuck on Stephen’s monologue, and miss out on Leopold and Molly Bloom, to whom we are introduced in the next chapter.

For many, it is really with the introduction of the Blooms that the novel gets going. Not that what we had before is dispensable – far from it – but the vitality and warmth injected into the novel by the Blooms are much needed. As a person, Bloom is very different from Stephen, and the patterns of his stream-of-consciousness are also very different: instead of the long, meditative flow, peppered with erudite and often arcane allusions, we have instead a more punchy, staccato delivery, seeming at times almost like the speech patterns of Mr Jingle in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. And, again unlike Stephen, Bloom is no intellectual – although when his wife asks him what the word “metempsychosis” means, Bloom shows himself to be not entirely ignorant either:

She swallowed a draught of tea from her cup held by nothandle, and, having wiped her fingers smartly on the blanket, began to search the text with her hairpin till she reached the word.

– Met him what? he asked.

– Here, she said, What does this mean?

He leaned downwards and read near her polished thumbnail.

– Metempsychosis?

– Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home?

– Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek: from the Greek. It means transmigration of souls.

– O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.

I’d guess that even the most devoted readers of Ulysses have sometimes echoed Molly Bloom: O, rocks! Tell us in plain words! But Joyce is too much in love with words, too much in love with words for their own sake, to tell us anything in plain language. Not sharing at least something of Joyce’s love of words is a serious handicap when reading this novel. But those who do love words – which, after all, are the basic building blocks of literature itself – can but revel in his delight in language, and in his virtually inexhaustible linguistic exuberance.

There is one word, though, that, at a crucial point in the book, remains unspoken. It occurs in the longest chapter in the novel, which is its climactic sequence. It is set in a brothel. Bloom, having observed Stephen (the son of his friend, Simon Dedalus) in a state of extreme inebriation and barely able to look after himself, has followed him there to keep an eye on him. Here, the correspondence with The Odyssey is Circe, the enchantress who turned men into pigs – an apt image when applied to the keeper of a whorehouse. We are now in the realms of magic: all the solidities break down, and structure itself – in this, the most intricately structured of all novels – seems to dissolve. There is no narrative voice: it is depicted in the form of a playscript. But the dialogue isn’t restricted to the characters: the bar of soap, the jet of gas, a moth, a fan, a fly-button – they all have things to say, even if what they say is utter gibberish: language itself seems to be on the point of collapse. Characters, real and imaginary, from history, from folklore, from the newspaper headlines, from the weirdest recesses of the mind, all wander in and out at random. Nothing is real. Men turn into women, women turn into men; and the wildest sexual fantasies intermingle with memories and desire, and play themselves out in forms increasingly grotesque. In The Odyssey, Penelope keeps her suitors at bay by telling them that she would only remarry once she has finished weaving her tapestry, but what she weaves during the day she unweaves at night. And here, we see just such an unweaving: all the accumulated details of the day here unweave, re-appearing pell-mell in a mad unstructured jumble. The unpurged images of day don’t so much recede, as intermingle with each other in an insane disorder: nothing can keep its shape. At the height of this mad frenzy, Stephen’s persistent nightmare intrudes; the ghost of his mother appears, and the stage directions describing her are fearful:

Stephen’s mother, emaciated, rises stark through the floor, in leper grey with a wreath of faded orangeblossoms and a torn bridal veil, her face worn and noseless, green with gravemould. Her hair is scant and lank, She fixes her bluecircled hollow eyesockets on Stephen and opens her toothless mouth uttering a silent word. A choir of virgins and confessor sing voicelessly.

Stephen wants to hear his mother speak one word. He pleads with her:

Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.

But his mother refuses to speak the word. Instead, she tells Stephen to beware, to repent. She prays for Stephen, she says, from the other world. The word known to all men, the word Stephen longs to hear, remains unspoken.

There has been much scholarly controversy on what this word is that is known to all men. I am no scholar of these matters, but it seems to me obvious what this word is: Bloom has spoken it already, earlier that night in the pub, and had been ridiculed for it.

At this point, Stephen accidentally smashes the gaslight. “Pwfungg!” says the gasjet, and the very world – this world, not the other one from which Stephen’s mother prays for her son – seems to come to an end. The stage directions describe the apocalypse:

Time’s livid final flame leaps up and, in the following darkness, ruins of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry.

Outside the brothel, Stephen becomes involved in a fight with two soldiers. And Bloom is there to rescue him. This is the climactic point of the entire novel. For, if Stephen had been a son in search of a father, Bloom is a father in search of a son. At the end of the chapter, as Stephen lies in a heap on the ground, Bloom has a vision of his own dead son, not an infant as he had been when he died, but eleven years old, as he would have been had he lived, the woollen handkerchief that his mother had placed in his pocket before his funeral now miraculously resurrected into a living lamb. It is as moving and as tender and as wondrous a moment as I have encountered in literature.

After this, there remain three further chapters, mirroring the three opening chapters in which we had been introduced to Stephen. Here, Stephen has found his spiritual father in the unlikely figure of Bloom. Of course, in a traditionally narrated novel, the significance of this meeting would barely register: after all, nothing much exactly happens as such. A middle-aged man sees the son of a friend very drunk, and determines to keep an eye on him; follows him into a brothel and sees to him when he gets involved in a fight; takes him back to his own home, and helps him freshen up; and then they part. And that’s it. However, in this novel, in which the tiniest and most trivial of details can assume immense meaning and significance, even something so ordinary as this becomes extraordinary: the ordinary decency and gentleness of Bloom is transfigured into the most extraordinary thing in the world. The deflation of the heroic may be funny, but it is the inflation of the everyday that seems to me to be at the heart of the matter. For all its myriad complexities, this novel is about the everyday, the ordinary: it embraces all that ordinary life has to offer, never turns its back on anything for being to trivial or too low or too sordid; and it exalts what it finds.

The final chapter is given over to Molly Bloom. She has been at fringes of the novel till now, but in the final exultant pages – once Bloom, his epic journey finished, is asleep – she comes fully into the spotlight on her own. The pattern of her stream of consciousness is different again from Stephen’s or Bloom’s: it is some sixty unpunctuated pages, words and thoughts and feeling flowing one from the other in a mighty, unstoppable torrent. It is magnificent.

Of course, while the writing may be unpunctuated, the reading cannot be: we need to pause for breath. And so, we are forced to create our own stops and pauses, provide our own punctuation. And, as we do so, this rushing torrent takes on shapes of sorts, and Molly becomes the unlikeliest model for Penelope, perhaps even more unlikely a model than Bloom had been for Ulysses. But Penelope she is. We travel with her on a voyage through her past – her marriage to Bloom, the death of her child, her lovers – and, by the time we come to that exultant ending, Bloom, despite being a cuckolded husband, is triumphant: like Odysseus, he has vanquished his suitors. At the very end, Molly thinks back to the time when Bloom had proposed to her, and she had said Yes. And that word “Yes” rings through the closing pages like a triumphant bell. Twentieth century literature, on the whole, is pretty angst-ridden, but this is jubilant. There is nothing in all literature quite as joyously affirmative as this.


In a recent post, I tried to make the point that we must allow for literature not to be entertaining. But Ulysses is a work which, despite its formidable reputation, entertains: it is sheer fun, even when it is at its most serious, and it is a great irony that this of all books is associated with stuffiness and literary snobbery. It is an amalgam of everything: a single ordinary day in which ordinary people go about their ordinary business is raised to a level where it becomes a depiction of the whole of mankind, through the whole of eternity. But there is nothing self-consciously lofty or elevated in any of this: it is all rooted in the ordinary, the everyday. The achievement is extraordinary. This novel, and Proust’s masterpiece (which Proust left nearly but not quite complete when he died in 1922, the same year that Ulysses was published) carve out the novel between them: there have been fine novelists since, even great novelists, but none has attempted anything quite as insanely ambitious as these two works. All prose fiction since has been under the shadows of these twin peaks of literary achievement. It is all too easy merely to stand in awe before such achievements, but a better response would, I think, be to familiarise oneself with them. One may not understand everything at first reading – or even, perhaps, at the umpteenth reading – but let us not let such minor details get in the way: after a while, the difficulties, far from irritating, merely add to its unending fascination. If ever there was a work to be lived with, this is it.

54 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alex on July 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I was waiting for your review on Ulysses and, I must say, you’ve outdone yourself; this is one your best reviews ever. Although I still haven’t read all of Ulysses it has become one of my favourite novels, and, in this particular case, I don’t find that statement superficial. My knowledge of the novel is, however, very superficial. I love to swim on the snotgreen sea aware that, below my feet, there’s a world of animals and underwater caves I can’t even imagine. I’ll need my whole life to explore Ulysses, but with the help of Burgess, Tindall, Gifford, even of your review, discovering that most humourous, brilliant and profoundly human of novels (besides Don Quixote, I must add) will be the funniest literary adventure I’ll ever undertake. Much appreciated, Himadri.


  2. Posted by Michael Henderson on July 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I did enjoy reading your article. I have never read through all of Ulysses, but have dipped into it at times. Some of my favourite moments are the letter Stephen’s headmaster writes to the newspaper, which is a brilliant bit of fun at the expense of such a pompous man writing what is little more than a collection of cliches. Then there are the drunks in the graveyard, commenting on the figure of Jesus above the man’s grave, (not a bloody bit like him). Another favourite is the Citizen, who says he will ‘brain that bloody Jew man for taking the holy name in vain, by Jesus I will’. There are many more passages that make me laugh. It’s one of those books that rewards re-reading, over and over.


  3. Hello Alex and Michael, I hope you don’t mind my replying to you both together. And my apologies for taking so long to reply: i have been away for a few days.

    Thank you both for your kind words, but I must admit I do feel like a bit of a fraud: I certainly do not claim any expert knowledge – merely enthusiasm. And what’s a blog for if not to share one’s enthusuisms? It’s just such a delightful work! And, as Michael says, full of laughs.

    I first read Ulysses in my early 20s – that’s about 30 years ago now – and, although i have read it since twice more (and dipped into it frequently – it’s a wonderful book just to dip into) there’s still much that eludes me – much that I still don’t understand. The obscurities used to infuriate me: they don’t any more – now, instead of infuriating, they intrigue.

    Back when I was a student – in fact even when I was still at school – Anthony Burgess used to write regularly in the Observer, and he had an enthhusiasm for Joyce that was quite infectious. After Ulysses, I remember, I tried Finnegans Wake, but here I had to admit defeat. Temporarily, that is … I am still determined to have a few more attempts at it. I do enjoy bits of it when I dip into it, and some day, I really must dake a deep breath and dive in.


  4. I’m yet to read Ulysses. I attempted it a couple of times and failed to get past the first 10 pages. But I’m determined to get through at least one entire reading one day. I like your review for laying out the elements of the book that might make it “difficult” for some. Thanks.


  5. Posted by John Henrick on August 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

    At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel), the Wikipedia provides a concise synopsis of Ulysses, along with quite a few helpful references and links. Of special interest to some is the audiobook link: http://www.archive.org/details/Ulysses-Audiobook. It is customary in several cities throughout the English-speaking world to read the novel aloud in public annually, from beginning to end, on on June 16, aka Bloomsday. However, this year a novel twist to this twisted novel occurred via Twitter. Check it out at http://twitter.com/#!/11ysses. Or not!


    • Thanks for the links, John. I haven’t had time yet to try out the audiobook, but I’ll certainly be having a go. As for Ulysses on Twitter … I’m not quite sure what boggling is, but my mind is boggling right now!


  6. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read in a blog! I’m one of the many who disliked reading Ulysses. I didn’t find it humorous at all; I think I smiled once. What is curious is that when I read the isolated fragments you’ve posted, they are indeed funny, hilarious even. For a long time it has upset me that I didn’t enjoy the novel. Perhaps I need to re-read it.


    • Hello Miguel, and thank you very much for that. It isalways a pleasure writing about a favourite book, but I’ve been struggling lately to find time!

      A very Happy Bloomsday to you,
      (and apologies for the very late reply … I’m afraid I lost track of the comments for a while!)


  7. It’s a tremendous review, but I’m not sure I feel less daunted as a result of it. My impression is that unless I at least reread The Odyssey I could miss a great deal – I wouldn’t have picked up the parallels with the cyclops or with Circe for example I’m quite sure.

    Similarly your post was the first time I’ve seen the word Chrysostomos to the best of my knowledge. That reference would then, as you discuss, have made no sense to me at all.

    I do think though that one can worry too much about references. Many Modernist books are written with a particular audience in mind, the author’s peers and contemporaries. They often assume not only a certain level of education, but a certain type of education. As a result much that the author might have expected to resonate with their peers may be opaque to a modern reader. For a more prosaic example, when I recently read Dubliners (there’s a write-up at mine) it assumed a knowledge of then-contemporary Irish current affairs that I completely lack which meant that while in some stories I could sense the mood of the piece it was much harder to understand the specifics (particularly an issue with Ivy Day in the Committee Room).

    A good example is with Eliot. He assumes a certain level of classical education which I suspect few of his readers now have. It can make him more obscure than I think he would actually have been to many of his contemporaries.

    References in novels and poems though aren’t Pokemon – one doesn’t have to catch them all. Indeed it might be a shame if one did, what would then be left for a rereading?


    • What’s particularly nteresting about the references in “Ulysses” is that they encompass not merely erudite matters, but also music hall songs, advertising slogans, etc etc in short, not merely the highbrow, but middlebrow and lowbrow also. I don’tknow that it’s worthwhile to get too hung up over them: I lose most of the references also. There are detailed annotated editions around which explain these, but i don’t know it’s important to get all of them: as you say, it’s not Pokemon. the reader can, as you say, get the mood of the piece without necessarily delving into every single detail.

      I’ve been a bit tied-up lately, and haven’t been brwosing the various book blogs as I have been meaning to, but I’ll certainly look at the piece on Dubliners in your blog. And, generally, spend a bit of time there catching up!

      Regards, Himadri


  8. Posted by Di on February 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    I haven’t read “Ulysses”, so no comment on it. But I’ve noticed the same reaction of scepticism and incredulity to those who claim to have read and enjoyed “The sound and the fury”. Some people even call it “the emperor’s new clothes”.
    Which is offensive and irritating, because it’s 1 of my favourite novels.
    In a sense it’s understandable, however. Do you know that there are articles, and even books, showing people how to pretend to have read classics? Because in fact there are.


    • Yes, good point Di, I’ve seen that too. A sort of defensive hostility and disbelief at the idea you might have enjoyed something and the old Emperor’s New Clothes canard. It’s very odd. I don’t see how somebody could enjoy the UK soap Eastenders, and yet millions (including my mother) do just that.

      At the same time some people feel they “should” have read and “understood” these books (as if they were some sort of odd cultural exam one had to pass). Hence they are tempted to fake it. I can’t see why. One can’t read everything and it’s not like there’s some kind of reward for reading books that don’t speak to you. I plan to read Ulysses because I think I’ll find it rewarding. If I’d hated Dubliners though I probably wouldn’t bother with Ulysses and I wouldn’t be embarrassed by not having read it (I’m not embarrassed right now that I’ve not read it).


      • I must admit this is something I don’t get. I was recently at Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford, and, as ever when I set foort in that place, I felt grossly inadequate: all those learned books on all sorts of subjects – biochemistry to macro-economics, pre-Socratic philosophy to linguistics, Medieval history to naval architecture … you name it, I am ignorant about it. And yet, I don’t feel the need to fake knowledge of any of these areas. Why should I? Whom would I impress? It’s all very strange…

    • I don’treally understand why anyone should pretend to have read demanding books merely to impress. We don’t, after all, live in a society in which erudition is much valued, so why go out of one’s way to fake it?

      “The Sound and the Fury” is indeed magnificent. As are “Light in August”, “Absalom, Absalom”, “Go Down Moses”, “The Mansion”, “As I Lay Dying”, etc. As for the scepticism and incredulity thatone may read and enjoy such books – well, yes, it’s irritating, but I guess it’s best merely to shrug it all off. What is most galling is that there must be many people who get put off making the effort required for demanding books because they do not get the message that this effort will be rewarded. There really is no incentive around for anyone to engage seriouslywith serious literature. And that’s sad.


  9. Posted by M'Intosh on May 10, 2015 at 6:31 am

    Thanks very much, Argumentative; that’s the best piece I’ve read on ‘Ulysses’ in a long time! It’s curious that so many readers regard ‘Ulysses’ as the dreary creation of an icy, humourless demiurge when so much of the book is given over to parody, jokes (good and bad) and plain old-fashioned p*sstaking. Similarly, it’s a pity so many people fail to engage with the book’s human dimension. Joyce himself regarded the portrayal of Bloom as the most fully realized in world literature and the chief glory of ‘Ulysses’. I happen to find it beautiful and moving, but I suspect readers for whom Bloom doesn’t ‘click’ are unlikely to fall in love with ‘Ulysses’.


    • Hello, and thank you for that, I think with Ulysses, people just get put off by the difficulty, but once you accustom yourself to that, it is such unmitigated fun! I really should have a proper go at Finnegans Wake now. Not immediately – but some time in the not too distant future.the few bits and pieces of that novel that I am acquainted with bespeaks a similar, mischievous sense of humour. It would be worth the effort, I reckon.


  10. I don’t think one needs to be an intellectual giant to enjoy Ulysses, but I do think that one needs a certain amount of literary experience. The first time I read it, I missed most of the playfulness, and I was still rather earnest when I read it the second time. The third and fourth times I was more relaxed, I’d read heaps of other modernist and postmodern texts in between, and I didn’t care whether there were experts out there who knew what I was missing, I was just reading it to have a good time.
    And yes, FW is next. I was going to read it last year but I had an annus horribilis and although I listened to it on audio twice, I never really got started with the print version. But now I have a beautiful Folio edition of it, so 2016 is the year I venture forth!


    • Yes, I agree: just as one cannot run a marathon without, at the very least, being in training, so one cannot come straight to an author such as, say, Joyce or Proust without any literary experience, and hope to take in their works. I think that with any work of substance, we cannot take everything in: even on the umpteenth reading, it is difficult, and on the first reading it is, I think, impossible. I took in very little of “Ulysses” at first reading, but I think I took in enough to realise that there was much I was missing; and, because of that realisation, I had to return to it.

      I have been putting of divining into “Finnegans Wake”, but I know I have to some time!


  11. Posted by Arnold on March 10, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I don’t believe anybody thinks Ulysses is highbrow. It’s obscure to those who doesn’t already know Homer, Dante, Catholicism, etc. and must look them up as they go along. It is no different from obscurity that would result form frequent allusions to The Simpsons and Seinfeld. (Homer and Dante are themselves not more difficult than The Simpsons to understand.) The so-called stream of consciousness is troublesome text to be sure, but you can achieve a similar effect with any unnatural writing. It is called “stream of consciousness” but does not resemble anyone’s actual mental process but is an artifice you need to “work at” to get used to. Yes, the book is quite troublesome, makes you “work at” it, and may let you feel as though you had accomplished something if you are the sort of person who thinks, “Whatever is troublesome to me must be great.”


    • Hello Arnold, and welcome to this blog.

      I am not too keen on the word “highbrow”, as it is all too often used in a pejorative sense, but I do think it fair to say that Ulysses demands an intellectual engagement on the part of the reader, and that this engagement goes beyond merely registering the references. The references in Ulysses are to everyday matters as well as to Homer, Dante, etc., and I certainly won’t pretend that get all of them myself!

      I am not entirely sure what you mean by “unnatural writing”: insofar as all writing is human invention, it may be argued that all writing is “artificial” – or “unnatural”, because it is not something that occurs in nature. The “stream of consciousness” is certainly an artifice, but then again, all art by definition is “artifice”, since, once again, it doesn’t occur in nature. But, artifice though it undoubtedly is (all art is artificial), I think it is executed with such skill in this novel that it conveys very vividly the workings of human minds.

      I think people who appreciate and love this novel (and there are many, myself included) do so because they enjoy what the novel has to offer, rather than because they think “Whatever is troublesome to me must be great”.

      All the best, Himadri


      • Posted by Arnold on March 11, 2016 at 2:27 am

        Oh, but, really. You know perfectly well what is natural prose. You are writing it. A road from A to B is natural. One with needless bridges and tunnels is an artifice. We don’t have occasion to say so because no one takes needless trouble in road building. You don’t say that all roads are artificial because they didn’t drop from the sky.

        This so-called stream of consciousness mostly results from removing anchoring devices that *are* there in your thoughts. Your example, “Chrysostomos.” The status of an internal exclamation like this is absolutely clear in the subject’s mind. By a deletion Joyce creates, from what is clear in the mind, an artificial obscurity. The result is that it gives the poor reader the impression of “working at” something.

        Of course it is also “work” when you have to look up things like Chrysostomos or blood and ouns or learn that Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The problem with these random things, which anyone can get from the library, is that they don’t amount to anything. It doesn’t for instance go toward character because almost every character in this book wants to quote from the random Wikipedia article they read the night before.

      • Hello Arnold,

        “Natural” means “that which occurs in nature”. (Of course, you may disagree with my definition of “natural”: if you do, please do feel free to propose an alternative definition.) Since no writing occurs in nature, all writing is necessarily artificial. So no, I don’t know perfectly well what “natural prose” is. The kind of prose I am writing is more commonly used, yes: I think we can agree on that. But that does not make it more “natural”.

        Neither are roads“natural”, since all roads are built by men, and are hence, by definition, “artificial”. So I do, indeed, say “all roads are artificial”.

        The primary purpose of as road is indeed to get us from Point A to Point B, with, usually, as little fuss as possible. If that is indeed the case, the yes, I agree, we wouldn’t want more bridges or tunnels than are absolutely necessary. But sometimes, we may want to build a road that will allow a traveller the most scenic views; and in this case, it may well be justified to build a few more bridges and tunnels than are absolutely necessary. If we extend this metaphor to writing, then Joyce’s prose was never intended simply to get us from A to B with the least fuss: Joyce’s roads were very scenic roads – they take us through all sorts of scenery that roads built on more utilitarian principles would not have come near. Joyce’s prose is not direct, no, but it is not intended to be; and it is its very indirectness that we Joyceans love.

        On the question of how we think, of how thoughts occur to us, I don’t know that matters are very simple. We certainly do not think in grammatically well-constructed sentences. Sometimes, we may not think in words at all: for if we did, why do we so often need to make an effort to put our thoughts into words? What Joyce does in Ulysses is to give an impression in words of the way we think, of the way thoughts occur to us. So if we take the example of “Chrysostomos”: Stephen sees a gold filling in a friend’s mouth, and it reminds him of St John Chrysostomos. Now, did Stephen actually think a fully formed sentence at that point? Did he really say to himself “That gold filling in his mouth reminds me of Chrysostomos”? Or was it, rather, instantaneous – a thought, an impression, that occurred in a flash, that flit by in a split second? In expressing this thought by a single word, Joyce captures the instantaneous nature of the impression that flashes through Stephen’s mind. It’s there one moment, and gone the next.
        You say:

        By a deletion Joyce creates, from what is clear in the mind, an artificial obscurity. The result is that it gives the poor reader the impression of “working at” something.

        I’d say that by deletion, Joyce creates a sense of the instantaneous, and an obscurity entirely justified given what he set out to achieve. And two further points on this matter:

        1. The reader does not get an impression of working at something; the reader actually is working at something;

        2. There is no reason to describe the reader as “poor”: the reader may well enjoy working at this. I certainly did. I frankly get bored with prose that demands no work from me: I tend to find such prose bland and boring.

        You go on to say:

        The problem with these random things, which anyone can get from the library, is that they don’t amount to anything.

        I think I went to some pains in my essay above to demonstrate that this novel is not merely a random collection of odds and ends, but, rather, is designed to give an impression of randomness. Stephen thinking of Chrysostomos is far from random: it helps characterise the kind of person Stephen is. Neither Leopold Bloom, nor Molly Bloom, nor Blazes Boylan, nor Martin Cunningham, nor any of the other characters in the novel would have thought of Chrysostomos at this point. Stephen does, because this is the kind of world his mind inhabits.

        And it amounts to a lot of things. It amounts to characterisation. It amounts to imagery (liturgical imagery is particularly important in this opening chapter). It amounts to a subtle rhythm in the prose. It amounts to the thematic development (religion and theology are important themes in this novel). Registering all this, thinking about it, reflecting on it, sorting it out in one’s head, and, yes, even looking up a few things if we need to, doesn’t make the reader “poor”: quite the contrary.
        You had written in your earlier post:

        Yes, the book is quite troublesome, makes you “work at” it, and may let you feel as though you had accomplished something if you are the sort of person who thinks, “Whatever is troublesome to me must be great.”

        Can we not at least allow that some of us may actually enjoy working at it, and, indeed, welcome the opportunity to do so? I frankly find rather insulting the suggestion that those of us who think this book to be great only do so to justify the work we put into it. Could it not be that we appreciate what we ended up getting out of it?

        All the best, Himadri

      • Posted by Arnold on March 12, 2016 at 5:39 am

        I don’t doubt you enjoy the book and don’t want you to feel bad about it. There is much in Joyce that is legitimate. Stephen’s refusal by his mother’s deathbed, for instance, can be quite affecting. The prose is a wild success sometimes. (“The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid.” Isn’t it great?) Even the arcane stuff is OK if it goes strictly to characterization. But I think the book’s reputation is built on its hoard of trivia.

      • Hello Arnold,

        Please don’t worry – I most certainly don’t feel bad about loving Ulysses. Quite the opposite – I feel privileged to read (and re-read) so wonderful a book.

        I am, however, a bit confused about a few things you say. For instance:

        There is much in Joyce that is legitimate.

        I really don’t understand what you mean by “legitimate” in this context. Its dictionary meaning is “in compliance with the law”, or “in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards”. Now, whatever “law” or “established rules” or “principles” or “standards” there may exist in relation to writing, Joyce wasn’t interested in them: he created his own rules, his own standards. So in this sense, describing his writing as “legitimate” is no more praise than describing it s “illegitimate” is criticism: literature should not be judged by how closely or otherwise it sticks to established rules – whatever those established rules may be.

        There is much in Ulysses that is, as you put it, “arcane”, but getting to the bottom of such things is part of the enjoyment of reading it. These arcane elements can serve characterisation, and they can serve a great many other ends also. Sometimes, they may be there for their own sake – ends in themselves rather than means to some other end. These elements do not need to justify themselves strictly in terms of characterisation: characterisation is indeed an important element, but in a novel as complex and as intricate as Ulysses, it’s not the only element.

        I am also a bit confused when you say:

        But I think the book’s reputation is built on its hoard of trivia.

        Do you mean that the book’s reputation rests on its depiction of matters that are trivial? If so, I can’t say I entirely agree. Sure, the book depicts much that is indeed trivial: someone takes a walk on the beach, or has a cheese sandwich, or buys a bar of soap, and so on; and yes, these acts are “trivial”. But it is out of such trivial acts that our everyday lives are constructed. Joyce’s achievement is to take such trivial matters, and to endow them with significance; and in doing this, these everyday and trivial matters become suffused with a sense of grandeur. In other words, this book is admired not so much because it depicts the trivial, but because it transforms the trivial into something magnificent. This is a stupendous achievement. But I am frankly not sure if this is what you meant.

        There are also many other reasons to admire Ulysses: it is, after all, a profound and multi-faceted work, and all I am presenting is my own, personal perspective.

        All the best, Himadri

      • Posted by Arnold on March 13, 2016 at 8:22 am

        I will confine myself to the things you said were unclear in what I’d said because it seems you really want to know what I meant.

        By trivia I meant things people might have to look up. (“Epi oinopa ponton,” the correspondence to Homer, etc.) I believe they are supposed to make this book “erudite.” I did not mean what you call “everyday.”

        As for “legitimate” we may say that a thing in a work of art is “illegitimate” if it proceeds from a bad motive. I did not mean to say that this book violated some established rules for novels.

        So in sum I said (or implied) that Ulysses proceeded in part from bad motives. Which part? The “erudite” part, the hoard of trivia, what you called the things “there for their own sake – ends in themselves rather than means to some other end,” what Joyce thought might send the professors to the library.

        So there. Please don’t think I am trying to reiterate my view once again by referring to bad motives. Nor do I think that expression is self-explanatory. I am only saying, “No. Not in the direction of some rules of novel writing, but in the direction of an author with a little learning eager to show off.” Again, not asking you to accept this view. Only saying where I was headed and where not.

      • Hello Arnold, and thank you for your reply.

        Before I address your points, may I first say that of course I really want to know what you meant. I do feel that debate and discussion are important, but that, on the internet, it all too often descends into cheap point-scoring, name-calling etc., and rarely, if ever, does it proceed beyond exchanges of mere unargued opinion. I have tried to explain in an earlier post what I think debate and argument should ideally be like, and why I think they are important. I also tried to explain in that post why it is important to scrutinise the words we use, and what specifically we mean by these words: it is not out of bloody-mindedness, or out of a desire to be awkward, but because clarity of our argument depends on the clarity of our words, and, quite often, the very nature of what we are arguing relies on the precision of our expression.
        With that out of the way, let us move on.

        Ulysses does, as you say, refer to a great many things – to history, to literature, to philosophy, theology, etc. You refer to these things as “trivia”:

        By trivia I meant things people might have to look up.

        I personally do not think these things are trivial (I wrote a post some time back explaining why). On the contrary, it seems to me important to have a wide range of general knowledge. But the question we need to address is why the book is so full of so many references. You think it is because Joyce wanted to “show off”:

        I believe they are supposed to make this book “erudite.”

        And later:

        …an author with a little learning eager to show off

        Actually, Joyce was an author not “with a little learning”, but with a vast learning, but let’s leave that point to one side for now.

        Now, if Joyce had crammed in so many references merely in order to show off, then I’d agree that his motive genuinely is “bad”. But is that Joyce’s motive? To whom should he want to show off? And to what purpose? He was writing a very difficult book, which could only be published privately (mainstream publishers wouldn’t at the time touch it), and which could only reach very few readers. If he wanted merely to show off, would he not have made it more easily understood, so as to reach a wider audience? And would he really have laboured away incessantly for seven whole years, living on a very modest income, merely to be able to “show off” to readers whom he didn’t even know?

        Let me propose a more likely motive.

        In this novel, Joyce set out to depict the way our minds work, the way we think, the way thoughts enter our minds. Now, our minds are full of all sorts of bits and pieces of knowledge we have picked up – sometimes systematically, sometimes otherwise. These are things that are resident in our minds. So naturally, when our minds are at work, these various bits of knowledge we carry around in our minds will inevitably come into play. And Stephen is a very intellectual chap: his mind is full of Thomas Aquinas, of Aristotle and Dante and Shakespeare, and so on. So it is hardly surprising that these things play a major part in his thinking process.

        Other characters are not quite so intellectual. What passes through Bloom’s mind are generally everyday things – music hall jokes, popular songs, advertising slogans, and the like. As I said in my essay above, the majestic structure of Ulysses is often built on less-than-majestic material. Not that Bloom is entirely ignorant: some well-known lines from Hamlet or from Mozart’s Don Giovanni sometimes flit through his mind also. But generally, Bloom’s thoughts aren’t as unremittingly intellectual as Stephen’s. And Molly is far more down-to-earth than either: there is nothing very erudite about her stream-of-consciousness.

        So all these references serve the purpose not of “showing off”, but depicting the workings of human minds. The knowledge that we carry about us in our minds inevitably form a large part of our thoughts.

        The various references serve other purposes also, I think. As I said in my essay, Joyce’s ambition was not merely to depict a few people over a single day, but to suggest something far more universal than that – he wanted to suggest the entire history of the whole of mankind. So the philosophy of Aristotle, the music of Mozart, the dramas of Shakespeare, all have their part here; and so, for that matter, do smutty schoolboy jokes, cheap music hall songs, newspaper headlines. All elements, high ad low, are present.

        There’s also the question of thematic development. The lines from Hamlet that flit through Bloom’s mind (“I am thy father’s spirit…”) may seem irrelevant, but they’re not: that particular line is spoken in Shakespeare’s play by the dead father of a living son, whereas Bloom is the living father of a dead son; and, at the climactic point of the novel, Bloom encounters Stephen, his “spiritual son”. This novel gives an impression of randomness – and that is because our thought processes tend to be random – but it’s an impression only: the longer one studies and contemplates this novel, the more one realises that there’s very little here that is actually random. This is actually a very tightly constructed novel.

        In other words, the various references – which I. for one, would not describe as “trivial” – demonstrably play a major part in the novel, and serve Joyce’s artistic aims: the purpose is not to show off, because, quite simply, a novel written with the purpose of “showing off” will inevitably end up being a bad novel. And Ulysses is not a bad novel.

        In an earlier comment, you had said:

        But I think the book’s reputation is built on its hoard of trivia.

        Now that you have explained what you mean by “trivia”, I can only infer that you mean by this (and please do correct me if I am misreading you) that the book is highly rated by many readers because it makes a great many references. If this is what you mean, then I am once again a bit puzzled. There are many reasons why people love books, but I must confess I have never heard of anyone loving a book because it makes a lot of references to other things. I know several people who love Ulysses: no-one I know loves this book because it makes a lot of references. Do you have any evidence that this is why the book is loved? Can you point me to some article or essay in which the writer claims to like Ulysses because of all the references it makes? In short, do you have any evidence to support your allegation?

        I’d have thought it far more likely that Ulysses is loved because of all it has to offer – some of which I have tried to describe in my essay above. The people whom I know who love Ulysses love it because of its linguistic exuberance, its wit and humour, its profound humanity, its vast thematic scope, and so on. All of these are good reasons to love a book: the fact of containing a lot of references, frankly, isn’t.

        All the best,

      • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 7:11 am

        Please give me some time to go and read the other posts you link.

        But on “vast learning.” “Vast.” It’s not as though Joyce kept a real day time job. With all the time on your hands, why couldn’t you learn a few languages, which are in any event all related one to another?

        “Learning.” I don’t know that Joyce learned anything. Ulysses reads like Jeopardy (the American game show), but are there any signs of understanding? Does Joyce seem to you to understand theology?

        It’s not even clear, just from the book, that Joyce could read or write any language other than English. Anybody can go Thalatta, Thalatta!

      • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 7:36 am

        On your wanting to see anyone claim “to like Ulysses because of all the references it makes.”

        I think you did, didn’t you? You said the stuff was there “for their own sake”? (I suppose you could say, “I only said they were there for their own sake. I never said I liked them.”)

        Well, you are right, there may not be anyone who comes out and says, “I love the book for all the stuff I have to look up.”

        So I think my argument may have to take these forms.

        1. Find the instances of reviewers referring to the “erudition” of this book, and argue from the tone, context, etc. that these reviewers were sold on the book because of the things they had to look up.

        2. Establish first the otherwise poor quality of the book. Then raise, “How then all this raving about it?” Then propose that it could only be the “erudition.”

      • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 9:11 am

        Hamlet. Let me see if I can follow this. Bloom had a dead child and was hanging out this evening with a young man, whom therefore we may allow to be his “spiritual” son (as you say). Father-dead son, father-spiritual son. The ghost had a son, named Hamlet. Dead father-son. Oh wow, it’s all father-son! How tightly woven all this is!

        Is this what is supposed to impress me? And how exactly is it supposed to reflect on the workings of a human mind?

        Are we attributing something to Bloom’s mind? Is he supposed to go, somewhere in his mind, “Me and my dead son. Me and my spiritual son here. Well, let me see. Which Shakespeare has a father-son in it? Might as well let one flit by in my mind that suits the occasion.”

        Or are we attributing it to Joyce? He wanted to remind us that there was this father-son theme being developed and thus used the mind of poor unwitting Bloom for the purpose?

        It’s exactly like the pointless “parallel” to Homer, matching a funeral to Hades, and so on.

      • Hello Arnold, there are a great many points to be made here, so I will try to be clear and concise.

        1. You say:

        It’s not as though Joyce kept a real day time job.

        Of course he had a “day job”: Joyce was a full-time writer. Writing was his profession, not a hobby.

        It is obvious to anyone who has considered Ulysses seriously that Joyce was vastly erudite, and that, yes, he understood the significance of the various things he refers to. Any biography of Joyce will confirm his erudition, and his linguistic skills. But I would prefer not to expand on this point, as it is merely incidental to the central points under discussion.

        2. You say:

        Himadri, I really cannot believe what you say is what you think.

        It is very bad manners in a discussion to impute bad faith to others. If you disagree with what I say, refute me: if you can’t, concede the point. But do not accuse of me of being insincere in what I say.

        3. You use the word “unnatural” repeatedly, but have, so far, failed to define it. I have provided a definition that I am happy with. If you are not happy with it, then it is up to you to provide an alternative definition. I have, indeed, invited you to do so.
        (I can actually guess what you mean by “unnatural”, but I don’t want to put words into your mouth.)

        4. Yes, I did indeed say that some of Joyce’s references are there for their own sake. There are a great many works of art in which there exist decorative elements – i.e. elements that are there for aesthetic embellishment, rather than as a means to some other end. Such elements exist in Ulysses, but to conclude from this that Joyce was “showing off” is a non sequitur.

        5. In a debate, or a discussion, it is good manners to take on board what other people are saying. Not necessarily to agree with it – but to acknowledge it. And then, if you agree with what is said, to accept it; and if you don’t, provide arguments to refute it. Now, I have spent quite a bit of time and effort to demonstrate the purpose served by the various references made by Joyce, and, further, to demonstrate how Joyce’s writing styles (for there are more than one) simulate the workings of human minds. You have not had the good manners to so much as acknowledge any of this: instead, you keep repeating the same thing over and over again, without any supporting argument:

        What I meant was that Joyce did not intend to mimic the mind (or your long list, thoughts and so on) or, if he did, failed.

        In debate, assertions unsupported by argument are utterly worthless. As the above assertion is.

        6. Your “argument”, if that indeed is the appropriate word here, boils down to:

        – Joyce was merely showing off
        – People who say they admire the novel are also just showing off

        Can it really be that you do not see how insulting this is to those of us who do admire Joyce?

        Sophisticated literature requires sophisticated response: your response is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sophisticated. You are entitled to dislike the novel if you like, and for whatever reasons you like; but what you are not entitled to do is to make baseless and insulting speculations on why others might like something that you personally don’t. That is just plain rude.

        7. Despite your rudeness, I was prepared to engage in discussion with you in a civilised and courteous manner, but your latest comment (starting with “Hamlet. Let me see if I can follow this….”) is so gratuitously rude and aggressive, that I don’t know there’s much point my continuing. But I’ll say this anyway – not in the hope that you’ll understand it (you don’t appear to have understood anything I have said so far), but for my own satisfaction:

        A line from Hamlet flits through Bloom’s mind as a random thought. But while it is random in the context of what Bloom thinks, in the context of the thematic aspects of the novel, it isn’t random at all: it introduces a theme that Joyce goes on later to develop.

        Frankly, whether or not this impresses you is beside the point.

        8. Until this post, I have been perfectly polite and courteous to you, but after your very insulting comments above, I no longer feel any obligation on this point. So, before you see fit to comment again on Joyce or on Ulysses; before you see fit to display again your contempt for those of us who happen to love this book; I would recommend that, first of all, you study the book with the care it deserves; and, secondly, but equally importantly, you learn how to engage in civilised debate.

        Any further comment on your part that I judge to be rude will be deleted.

      • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm

        Hello Himadri, if I am to be chastized, I would like to be chastized for the sins I committed. Please find my explanations below and see whether you still ought to be upset. Numbers are yours.

        2, 3.

        Of course I accept your definition of “natural.” It tracks one usage of the word by which “natural” is opposed to “man-made.” Say, a mountain as opposed to an amusement park.

        But there is another usage of the word, which we find in, “She spoke naturally,” or “The dress has a natural fit.” In these, natural is not opposed to man-made, and the speech or fit is not unnatural (or artificial) just because it is man-made.

        When I say that Joyce is unnatural you seem to insist on understanding me as applying usage 1. (You say something to the effect of: Of course Joyce is unnatural. All things written are unnatural because man-made.)

        To me that is unbelievable. And saying that something is unbelievable is not an imputation of bad faith.

        Allow me a crude example. Suppose I held up a camera and said this was a bird. You may not know what to make of that, but, “Why, he means the camera is a bird,” would not be the leading candidate in your mind. So you might say, “I cannot believe you mean that the camera is a bird,” without imputing bad faith to me (or anything else for that matter).


        There I was replying to Di (our friend of the bridge). He said he was confused by what I had said, and seem to identify “unnatural” as the source of the confusion. So I tried to describe my view without using that word. I even expressly added there that I was only explaining my meaning and not providing any argument. So you are right: I was simply repeating a statement, but thought someone had asked me to do it.


        You attribute to me the idea, “People who say they admire the novel are also just showing off.”

        But I never said anything like it. On the contrary, I gave a very different view, at least twice, to wit: Joyce is hard, people have to put work into it, work leads to a sense of accomplishment.

        Accomplishment is one of the commonest path to enjoyment. It is wholly unrelated to showing off.


        I don’t know what you found so rude and aggressive in what I had said about Hamlet.

        Remember you were giving us an example of “tight construction,” which is opposed to “randomness.” But the only thing you said was that the Ghost and Hamlet, Bloom and his natural son, and Bloom and Stephen are all (in some sense or other) father-son.

        I mean, where is the tight connection? The passage may be impressive in all kinds of ways, but it doesn’t seem to be an example of tight connection.

        Allow me another crude example. Suppose we were watching a movie with a married couple in it, and on the wall behind them hangs the poster of Romeo and Juliet. And it is pointed out to us that there was a “tight connection” between the movie and the play because both had a couple in it. Would that seem to you like a tight connection? There are hundreds of stories with a married couple or father and son in them. They can’t all be tightly connected.

        You say that Joyce later develops a theme introduced. If you gave me the full account including this development, I may come to see a tight connection. But I hope you’ll agree that there was no way for me to see any tight connection in the things you said as of then.

        I would be fine if you deleted this or any other remark. I am sorry that you felt insulted. I hope my explanations helped you to see that some of the insults you might have suspected were not there.

        Finally on 1. I am not denying that Joyce might have written in day time as well as night. I am only comparing him with someone with a full time job at the post office or insurance company and turning out fiction too. Joyce only wrote a few things and could not have been all that busy.

      • Hello Arnold,

        I do not like unpleasantness, and I do not wish to prolong this. But since you asked:

        You still haven’t provided a definition of “natural”. You’ve given some examples of what you think count as “natural” and what doesn’t. That doesn’t amount to a definition.

        And saying that I don’t mean what I say is indeed an imputation of bad faith. You’ve said this on a number of occasions:

        Oh, but, really. You know perfectly well what is natural prose.

        And again:

        I really cannot believe what you say is what you think.

        People love this novel because of all the many riches that it has to offer them. I have gone to some length to explain some of the things that I, personally, get out of this novel. Despite this, you insist, with no supporting evidence at all, that admirers of this novel (which includes me) like this novel merely because it gives them a sense of accomplishment. Every reason I have given for loving this novel is consistently ignored in favour of your unsupported assertion. If you cannot see why this is insulting, I’m afraid I cannot help you.
        If you think your pointed and heavy-handed sarcasm on the quote from Hamlet was polite and courteous debate, then I beg to differ.

        To give anything like a full account of something as complex as Ulysses takes much time and effort. I have actually taken much time and effort, not only on my original post, but also in my replies to you. But since you have not taken on board what I have said, I am reluctant to expend further effort on this matter. If you would like to know how Joyce takes the father-son theme of Hamlet, and develops it closely through the novel, then may I suggest that you spend some time studying the novel before coming up with pointed and sarcastic put-downs on something that is dear to many of us?

        On a lighter note, your last point is genuinely funny, though I doubt it was intended as such:

        Joyce only wrote a few things and could not have been all that busy.

        The comments section in this blog is intended for discussion. Not understanding is not a crime: I don’t understand most things myself. But sarcastic put-downs of what you clearly don’t understand are not acceptable. And even less acceptable is insisting on why I happen to like something, despite my claiming otherwise. Do you really think you understand my reasons better than I do myself? Or do you think I am lying when I say what I (and many others) love and value about this book?

        Writing this blog and replying to comments is not my “day job”: I have other things to do. I am usually happy to write here, and to respond to comments, because I love literature, and I love talking about literature. But I am under no obligation to explain things to someone who seems to take little if any interest in what I had said earlier. If you’d really like to know why I found so many of your posts insulting, then do please read over at leisure what you have written so far: at the very least, you’ll know better for next time.

        If you wish to discuss Ulysses in a more considered manner, I’d be happy to continue. But I see no point in prolonging this particular conversation.

  12. Posted by Di on March 13, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Excuse me, gentlemen.
    This hardly has anything to do with Ulysses or even literature. But may I interrupt you gentlemen by directing your attention to an example of “an artifice” in road building- a road, or rather a bridge, that doesn’t simply get people from point A to point B?
    Here it is: http://www.boredpanda.com/circular-bridge-uruguay-rafael-vinoly/
    Speaking of natural vs unnatural prose, I’m a bit confused. Why is stream of consciousness considered unnatural when it’s meant to depict the thoughts and feelings and images that pass through the mind, to mimic the chaos, randomness, confusion and messiness of the mind? Don’t our minds work that way?
    I also wonder if, say, dialogue in 19th century novels is considered unnatural, as opposed to that in later novels. Who has such eloquence in everyday talk? We pause, we stop, we misspeak and correct ourselves, we open our mouths to say something and forget, we stutter, we say “ah… um…. uh…”, etc. Should we say that dialogue in 19th century novels is unnatural, because people don’t speak that way, or should we see everything in the art of fiction as an artifice, because all the “ahs” and “ums” in today’s novels are devices to show the hesitation/ confusion… of the speaker and to make the dialogue appear natural?
    The idea of some writers “with a little learning eager to show off” is rather interesting. Somebody needs to write about that.


    • Hello Di,
      That’s a spectacular picture you link to!

      I think “stream of consciousness” is considered “unnatural” because it s not the usual way of writing. But of course, that is not what “unnatural” means: “unnatural” does not mean “unusual”. And Joyce did succeed spectacularly well in depicting, as you put it, “the thoughts and feelings and images that pass through the mind, to mimic the chaos, randomness, confusion and messiness of the mind”.

      I think all art is artificial (the two words have the same root). All writing is, by definition, artificial. Shakespeare’s characters expressed themselves in blank verse: that is artificial. Characters in Austen and James expressed themselves in elegant, perfectly constructed sentences: that is artificial. Characters in Pinter’s plays express themselves with hints and pauses and ellipses: that is artificial. Some writers write dialogue that mimics the hesitations and the inelegant phrasing of everyday speech: and that, too, is artificial. It’s all artificial. but that’s the great paradox about art – through the use of artifice, the artist can depict to us to greater depth the nature of things. The events in Hamlet or in King Lear never happened: they are, in other words, lies. But these lies reveal to us profound truths about our lives.

      Joyce’s Ulysses is full of artifice, but, as with Hamlet and King Lear, its artifice reveals profound truths. I’m not sure how. Great art remains a great mystery.

      I am, however, looking forward to a post in your blog on writers “with a little learning eager to show off”. I can’t help reflecting, though, that if they have “little learning”, they won’t have much to show off!

      Cheers for now, Himadri


    • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 6:50 am

      Thanks for the nice bridge.

      Since I am the one calling Joyce unnatural I should explain what I mean? Maybe I should just retract the label since it’s not working.

      So let us forget unnatural. What I meant was that Joyce did not intend to mimic the mind (or your long list, thoughts and so on) or, if he did, failed. What did happen might be laid out as follows.

      1. Joyce (and others) invented a new thing.
      2. A new thing is hard. You can learn a hard thing. Learning something makes you better at it. Getting better at something gives you a sense of accomplishment.
      3. (From 1 and 2.) The so called stream of consciousness is hard. You can learn it, etc.

      In short, this “stream” stuff has nothing to do with your mind. If I wRote LieK THis aLL tHe tIMe it would be hard on you, but you can get better at it, etc.

      The case is different with Jane Austin, etc. She is onto something that is actually there.

      (This is just explaining what I meant. I don’t claim to have provided an argument.)


      • Posted by Di on March 14, 2016 at 10:47 am

        Oh no, you’re not quite explaining what you meant.
        “What I meant was that Joyce did not intend to mimic the mind (or your long list, thoughts and so on)”. How do you know that he didn’t intend to do so? What do you think his intentions were? To show off?
        “or, if he did, failed.” Oh, did he? In what sense? Considering the place of Ulysses in the literary world, and Joyce’s influence, I wouldn’t say he failed. Please explain how he failed.
        “If I wRote LieK THis aLL tHe tIMe it would be hard on you, but you can get better at it, etc.” Except that I don’t quite see the point of writing that way, whereas stream of consciousness has a point, whether or not you think it reflects our thinking.
        “Getting better at something gives you a sense of accomplishment.” No, it depends. I can get better at reading your writing (“If I wRote LieK THis aLL tHe tIMe”), but no, that wouldn’t give me a sense of accomplishment. Do such things easily give you a sense of accomplishment?
        “In short, this “stream” stuff has nothing to do with your mind.” You need to elaborate it a bit, please. I’m rather slow.
        “The case is different with Jane Austin, etc. She is onto something that is actually there.”
        I assume you meant Jane Austen, not Jane G. Austin, who was someone else. Do you mean that you’re against innovations and inventions of all kinds in literature? There’s nothing that has always been there. There’s always somebody that invented it at some point.

      • While I think you are on the money, Di, I find myself fascinated by Arnold’s post. His 1-3 arguments are intriguing. They are not a syllogism, but they look to be mimicking the form of the syllogism.

        The “and others” of the first item in his argument really is the most telling, since Arnold here, apparently unconsciously, is referring to William James. William James explicitly intended stream of consciousness to refer to how we think.

        Where Joyce was using the method to imitate something important in our lived lives. James was not attempting to imitate anything; he did not try to write in this mode, but rather developed his conception of it through his ongoing studies in psychology.

        The phrase “has nothing to do with your mind,” of course, is non-sequitur. It is non-sequitur because our friend, Arnold, seems to think the method was peculiar to literature.

        Because James defined stream of consciousness as having to “do with mind,” we cannot say the concept has nothing to do with mind. We could, and many have done so, argue with James as to whether it is an adequate description of human thought. But that is a debate with James, not with Joyce.

        But setting aside Arnold’s mistaken notions of the origin of stream of consciousness, his logic produces only one finding — that learning to write in stream of consciousness is an accomplishment. I don’t see how that can be made into a negative. If learning to write or read stream of consciousness is an accomplishment, what are we to impute to the reader or writer — that they have accomplished something? Well, good for them.

        I think Arnold loses track of his argument here. He’s real conclusion, perhaps item 4, is that because stream of consciousness is not relevant to mind (a point he has not demonstrated at all), then the accomplishment is an empty thing. But, is this ability to “do” stream of consciousness really why one would adopt stream of consciousness? That seems very doubtful, and again we are faced with a rhetor who has not been as careful as he should be in putting his arguments together.

      • *his not he’s.

        And to correct myself, the relationship of “stream of consciousness” to mind is non-sequitur because Arnold offers no argument showing that stream of consciousness does not relate to mind. He offers only his opinion that it does not. The source of his misunderstanding is that he seems to be unaware of the origin of the term and the need to debate that origin in psychology, or show that Joyce has not used it as James’ describes it, or to establish (which is the one notable truth here) that Stream of consciousness is not something that can be structured into prose, and, if using this final argument, that Joyce does not, at least, provide something that meaningfully can be equated with stream of consciousness as it occurs in the mind (and that would be a very difficult undertaking).

      • Posted by Arnold on March 15, 2016 at 7:30 am

        I am sorry I cannot respond to your thoughts. In a word I was asked to leave. I am not even sure if this is allowed. Good bye.

      • Just for the record, neither Arnold, nor anyone else, has been asked to leave.

    • Posted by Arnold on March 14, 2016 at 7:01 am

      Himadri, I really cannot believe what you say is what you think. Suppose I said, “She spoke quite naturally, and everyone liked her.” Is that going to baffle you? Will you say: “What do you mean? All speech is man-made. She spoke artificially by definition.”


    • I was at a writists’ soiree recently and a guy said he hated Ulysses because it was just a guy being clever. I alwys think this is a disguised way of saying I resent the cleverness of other’s because it makes me feel stupid. I revel in the cleverness of others, because I KNOW I’m stupid. Just as I like strong people to shift my heavy furniture for me. I don’t go, “Oh, look at him there, showing off with his ‘muscles’!”


      • [Blimey, I’m having a field day with misplaced or omitted apostrophes. I do apologise and lament the lack of an edit option.]

      • I could edit out all the typos for you if you want, but then, your comment above would make little sense!

        And yes – I never understood the criticism of the author being “clever”. Would people rather read an author who is stupid?

  13. A couple of interesting thoughts here. I read one of Colin Wilson’s books on the novel, in which he described Ulysses as a failure, having first pontificated on very flimsy grounds about what Joyce was trying to do. Well, yes, if I define a novelists aims to suit my argument I can claim anybody failed.

    And as to ‘natural’ expression, I recall an appearance by my old drinking buddy, Harry Pinter on Pakinson. He related a correspondence with an angry guy who asked why his characters all spoke so unnaturally, and his inability to convince the guy that the characters spoke very much like the people he hear in the East End on a daily basis. It’s the way people speaks in Shakey, Shaw and Wilde that’s unnatural, but, as with telly and, yes, novels, we get used to conventions. So it’s perfectly normal for us to take a way of speaking or thinking as represented on the page as ‘natural’, that would sound weird in everyday discourse; and the same in reverse. So when authors do come closer to the ‘reality’ of the evryday, they can seem contrived or weird.

    This can be overdone of course. Mike Leigh actors, aiming for a heightened naturalism, always sound extremely mannered to me.


    • I think this is something that should be engraved across all libraries, art galleries, bookshops, museums, etc. – “All Art is Artificial”. If you want strict realism, just listen to conversations in the pub, on the bus, in cafes.The paradox of art is that it reveals nature through artifice; it uncovers truth through lies.

      I think what most people mean when they speak of something as “artificial” or “unnatural”(and I’m only conjecturing here, since people who complain about things being “artificial” or “unnatural” never define clearly what they mean) is that what they encounter is not the usual way of expressing things. Why they think this is a criticism when it comes to art, heaven only knows.

      And yes, I agree also that efforts to be “naturalistic” are as artificial as anything else – as in the Mike Leigh films. I don’t actually object to this, but “naturalistic” dialogue is as much an artifice as any other kind of dialogue.


      • Since the word art derives from artifice, then all art must be artificial or it is not art, not artifice.

        Stream of consciousness was, of course, William James’ term to describe “natural” thought. To say it is not natural means one must not only debate Joyce’s efforts, but James’ still widely respected essays. (Whether Joyce liked the term or not, he was clearly doing what James described.)

        I do wish Arnold had not exploded. I was enjoying his not unnatural, but clearly careless rhetorical efforts. He actually did provide some real arguments after you called him on it. I wonder did he think that he had already made all these arguments?

        In any event, I still think his telling you not to feel bad because you like Ulysses is one of the funniest unintentional jokes I’ve ever read.

  14. Btw, I think it’s unfair on Jimmy to use the phrase ‘stream of consciousness’, as it’s a term he hated and never claimed for his writing.


  15. Posted by Di on March 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    @Arnold: I look forward to your response to Dai and Mark. I think everyone else does, too.

    @Mark: Hello Mark, how are you? Himadri and I were talking about you the other day, or to be precise, I was talking about Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and he said I should talk to you. Now how can I contact you when I’m not on facebook?


  16. Reblogged this on The Gerasites and commented:
    “What’s so great about Ulysses?”
    By @hairygit


  17. Thank you for this excellent.article!


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