James Joyce’s Ulysses, published February 2, 1922 by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France. 

First published in serial by The Little Review from 1918-1920, Ulysses lead to the arrests of the magazine’s publishers and was banned in the United States for the next 14 years. 

In 1933, Random House received the rights to publish Ulysses in the States, contesting and overturning its illegality in court. The judge presiding over the case, tasked with actually having to read it, famously said this of it’s over 265,000 words: 

“Joyce has attempted… with astonishing success to show… the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions… not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.”


I HAVE NO IDEA. But the portrait I’ve created of the artist from surviving letters, accounts from his friends and family, and embarrassingly honest fictionalized self-inserts in his literature, is this: anxious, sad, funny, witty, pretentious, genuine, weird, and kind of an asshole.

Joyce was born and raised in a suburb of Dublin, had six sisters and three brothers, and attended Jesuit school until his family could no longer afford it. He attended Belvedere College on scholarship and would graduate from University College, Dublin. Joyce moved to Paris in a failed attempt to study medicine and returned to Ireland upon learning his mother was dying.

He then met a country girl named Nora Barnacle. They had their first date six days after meeting, ending in one of the great transcendent epiphany-moments of Joyce’s own life—a hand job. Joyce would set his magnum opus on the day their love was consummated: June 16, 1904 aka Bloomsday. He and Nora then went into self-imposed exile, moving between Zurich, Trieste, and Paris. They had two children and were living in Zurich when Joyce died.

‘He was a near-alcoholic; yet he pursued his writing craft with monastic austerity. He had the courage to face approaching blindness, eleven eye operations, and his daughter Lucia’s madness, but he ran from dogs and thunder. He renounced Roman Catholicism, but he could never rid his mind of the systems of Aquinas and Aristotle. He loathed and left his native land, yet his bitterness was inverted longing.’

Joyce is also an enigma. He saunters around in your mind, around the seedy and uppity parts of Dublin, your own shit-town superimposed upon it, slick ash-plant cane in hand and eyes framed by the glint of golden glasses. When we read his fiction though, largely autobiographical, we meet someone more down to earth, insufferable at times, and I’d argue even recognizable. 


Dubliners (short-story collection, 1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (novel, 1916), Ulysses (novel, 1922), Finnegans Wake (1939). 


Had performed as a baritone alongside famous Irish singers of his time; set a poem of his own to music; dabbled in the budding movie industry, opening a failed cinema; collaborated and partied with other rock star modernists and authors. Had lost his virginity at 14 to a prostitute; gained extensive knowledge of theology and languages at boarding school; wrote occasionally for magazines and newspapers; wrote poems, prose, one play, and a lot of kinky love letters; acted in school plays, taught in schoolhouses, and studied a little bit of medicine; possibly had a gay experience or two. 

In Ulysses, Joyce broke through the narrow traditions of literature and established something surpassing just stream of consciousness. The novel is a literary multimedia; chapters in the novel emulate a specific style of literature—a play, a romance novel, a Cosmo-esque article, a catechism—and, in regards to the metric ton of allusion, Ulysses is something of a neurotically overactive Tumblr blog, filled with personal references to music, visual art, private memories, smutty confessions, and lines from other works that lead you down the derivative rabbit holes that comprise a person’s chaotic train of thought.


Chamber Music, a collection of 36 short cheesy lyric poems, was published in 1907: “When I wrote them I was a strange lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that someday a girl would love me.” 

In 1914, Dubliners, a collection of short stories, was published. “An Encounter,” follows a group of schoolboys who unknowingly come face to face with a pedophile; “Two Gallants,” has the same disturbingly accurate sleaze as Matthew McHounaghay in “Dazed and Confused”; and “The Dead,” reminds us why we don’t stay too long for the holidays. What Joyce accomplished was an artistic depiction of reality unburdened by the pretenses of literary culture. His plots are made up of the nothing occurrences of our lives that actually mean everything. And unlike other realist literature up to that point, Joyce truly expanded the spectrum of “real.” Awkwardness is real. Small talk is real. Shame is real. Sex is real. 

Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man is Joyce’s impressionistic first novel. The novel tells the coming of age story of Stephan Daedalus, Joyce’s authorial self-insert. Stephen is insecure and does some awkward cringe-inducing things that I admittedly can imagine myself doing. Stephen goes about his life, one foot in the objective reality before him, and the other in his mind, full of conscious and unconscious reactions to the world, traversing memory, emotion, and thought. Joyce however, still fits it within literary tradition and the omniscient third person, desperately trying to find a way to express the more amorphous moments of the mind (like sporadic bits of music or disembodied lines from literature).

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


EVERYTHING, and nothing. In a sense, it’s really about one thing: “that word known to all men.” The way it goes about that is, well, complicated—because Love, and Life, are complicated—but not. Let’s just start with the plot. 


The action of Ulysses takes place in a single day. It is not an epic spanning months or years, or generations, but hours, minutes, and seconds. It begins at 8 AM and ends at 2 in the morning. It is about walking, and thinking. 


STEPHEN DAEDALUS is 22. He has come home from France after a failed attempt at med school. —Nother dying come home father, reads the telegram that prompts him to come back. I can’t mother. Sing for me Stephen. He now lives in the Martello tower with his friends, renting it from the Irish government sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me. He works as a school teacher, now in the very position of authority that instilled him with so much trauma in Jesuit school; I can’t mom. but Stephen is kind, albeit broody and pretentious. I can’t. Like Bloom, he wanders through the city all day, not quite fitting in with anyone around him.  Play for me. His “friends” ostracize and ridicule him, his father is busy with his own pals, and strangers don’t seem to notice him. Touch me, he thinks to himself. Looked at me all right. Soft eyes. You can come if you want. Soft soft soft hand. Going home. Nobody. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I see you. I am quiet. Here alone. In F sharp major. Walking ‘cross the campus. Sad too. Fat cats go down alleys eating. Touch, touch me.


LEOPOLD BLOOM is a Jewish-Irish, middle-aged man, who also likes to walk. He is an advertising agent, a father, and a husband. He is our hero, one who sniffs his toenails, masturbates in public, and adores his wife (MOLLY BLOOM is a soprano singer who has been having a less than clandestine affair). Mr. Bloom, knowing this, is still generous with people, and it is that quality that renders him a heroic figure of love and humanity (what is the word known to all men?). Bloom wakes up and goes about his ordinary day: he cooks breakfast, goes to the bathroom, checks his mail (P. S. Do tell me what kind of deodarant does your girlfriend use. I want to know.), smokes cigars, pokes his head indoors, attends a funeral, represents clients, eats a grilled cheese, goes to the library, buys smutty books for his wife, goes to a bar, goes to a different bar, masturbates on the beach, visits a sick and lonely friend in the hospital, hangs out with prostitutes, kindly takes care of someone who’s had too much to drink, crawls into the bed he knows his wife and another man had sex in earlier that day, and for the first time since the death of their firstborn child, Bloom ends his day making a move on his wife, literally kissing her ass as he reaffirms his love and utter devotion for her with a physical, tangible, manifested gesture, before falling asleep. 


BLOOM and STEPHEN cross paths but do not meet until the end. Stephen’s friends have abandoned him after drinks on him, and prostitutes on him. Bollopedoom invites Stephen over and sobers him up.

Of what did the duumvirate deliberate during their itinerary?

Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, corporation exposed emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, Stephen’s collapse.

MOLLY ends the novel in an unpunctuated continuous stream of consciousness as she the mythical presence in the novel saturating Bloom’s every thought throughout the day tells us what’s been on her mind unfiltered but also completely vulnerable realize the bigger picture for instance Molly cheats because Bloom has not touched her since the death of their young son Rudy utterly heartbroken despite her bawdy demeanor heartbroken even then can’t stand her sidepiece in comparison to Bloohimwhom she loves

no thats no way for him has he no manners nor no refinement nor no nothing in his nature slapping us behind like that on my bottom because I didnt call him Hugh the ignoramus that doesnt know poetry from a cabbage 

the multitudes we observe over the course of the day through Bloom occurs instantaneously in a boundless monologue that transcends both time and space yet occurs within the minutes it takes for her to fall back asleep a sleep to sleep because that is the mind lives a thousand lives before the uttering of a single word yes. 


Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, corporation exposed emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, the fluidity of identity, the age of anxiety, which is indeed 22, and love.


Each chapter in Ulysses parallels a book from the Odyssey. There are one-to-ones, but there are also other, more creative analogs in the entirety of the text. The Cyclops episode, for instance, you would really like, it’s where our unremarkable and thus wholly relatable Odysseus heroically outsmarts and blinds Polyphemus with a flaming torch while Bloom, our modern analogue, stands up to a narrowminded, shallowhearted, weakwilled, singlesided, redhaired, frecklefaced,  oneeyed, loudvoiced, bigheaded, worldwearied, wordslurred, dogguarded, nationalistcrazed, highschoolpeaked, barhopped, bigot, known only as “the citizen.”

—Well, his uncle was a jew, says he. Your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me.

Gob, the citizen made a plunge back into the shop.

His cigar burns fiercely throughout the scene leading up to the altercation.


[from Sirens]

Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.

A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.

Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.

Horn. Hawhorn.

When first he saw. Alas!

Full tup. Full throb.

Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come!

Clapclop. Clipclap. Clappyclap.

Goodgod henev erheard inall.

Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.

A moonlit nightcall: far, far.

I feel so sad. P. S. So lonely blooming.


[from Schylla and Charibdis]

—A father, Stephen said, battling against hopelessness, is a necessary evil. He wrote [Hamlet] in the months that followed his father’s death…[a lot of bullshitting later] Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro and microcosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood. Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, maybe the only true thing in life. Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?

What the hell are you driving at?

I know. Shut up. Blast you. I have reasons.


AN ACADEMIC DEFINITION of Joycean might be something “reminiscent of the writings of James Joyce… exhibit[ing] a high degree of verbal play, usually within the framework of stream of consciousness” (Google). But it’s also a stock word, like Lynchian or Kafkaesque, overused and seemingly nebulous in meaning. Once you see it, however, you cannot unsee it—Ingmar Bergman is Joycean; Seinfeld is Joycean; my breakfast was Joycean. In theory, Joycean is the elevation of our mundane, very real, day-to-day lives. Joyce argues that art lies in the commonplace, and in the banal is an inherent potential for the religious and the spiritual, a connection to humanity that in actuality is lived moment by moment, comprised of banal tasks, slow-burning developments, and an unmeasurable expanse of interiority. An “epiphany moment” especially pronounces this, where some normal thing, some daily occurrence, becomes a symbolic moment that unlocks this third eye perspective: a child overhearing a dirty conversation; a repressed teen staring at a girl’s ass as she wades in the water; “snow being general all over Ireland,”—these seemingly insignificant moments become touchstones to greater truths (the loss of innocence; the acceptance of self; the ubiquity of death).

Things that are Joycean also recreate the chaos and absurdity of our minds. Daydreams, flashes of images, sound bites of voices, memories of loved ones, sexual fantasies, intrusive thoughts—randomized yet tangentially related neuropathways that spur each other on through association, in no seemingly apparent order, happening instantaneously, organically, and often simultaneously. Joycean things in this regard depict the mind as a psychedelic kaleidoscope of thought (something we see often in Ulysses and entirely in Finnegans Wake), beyond our understanding, yet organized by the sacred geometry of some god-like artificer, “within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails;” where words like “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk,” lie primordially in the subconscious, coherent to it, and Joyce, alone.

A NOTE ON WHAT I HAD FOR BREAKFAST: Chorizo and egg with a side of waffles I made them every time for I’m slaving over a hot stove I’d joke meal that never fails to piss me off too bad it tastes so good easy to make hard part cooking the chorizo all the way through without burning it just having to stare while it sears in the pan sizzles this is your brain on mine too no such thing as thin love no such coffee’s ready 


MODERNISM’S stronghold on contemporary storytelling is still going strong. Stream of consciousness alone comprises the majority of popular narratives today. Maybe it was Proust first, and a combined effort on the parts of Woolf, Faulkner, and other modernists of literature and art, but none rendered reality with the candor, the honesty, the banality, the full range of experience, as Joyce, none with the kaleidoscopic insanity that defies the neat syntax of Virginia Woolf, yet reads coherently according to the amorphous grammar of our intrapersonal thought.

Beloved is a novel by Toni Morrison. It is a haunting piece of speculative fiction that frequently dips in and out of stream of consciousness, free indirect discourse, third and first-person narration, and contains some of the same freeform structures found in Joyce’s work, meant to convey a realm of consciousness not easily contained by rigorous prose.  

Joyce, and in particular the genuine absurdity of Finnegans Wake, has been of particular interest to English scholar Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange, his most successful novel, is particularly Joycean with its extremely stylized lexicon of the new world order of ultra-violence. 

Chamber Music eventually accomplished what Joyce had hoped for—to inspire a composer to set it to music. With its introverted, surrealist musing, Joyce’s work would find an unlikely yet appropriate match with ex-Pink Floyd frontman, Sid Barret. Golden Hair, sounds like it was written by a time-traveling Elizabethan bard peaking on acid, which, is actually quite Joycean, and we played the album in the car after having bought a gallon-sized bag of Trolli Sour Crawlers trust me she said I sat in back and she drove us halfway to San Antonio in pulsing twilight what the fuck open the bag have somewhat open the bag oh my god crawling I can’t feel my haha

“Slacker,” is a movie by Richard Linklater, shot continuously in one tracking shot. As one conversation or banal encounter reaches its peak, some other random, average person comes into frame at a crosswalk, until the next passerby becomes our main character. Some of rhe characters in the film? Co-op Guy, Shut-in Girlfriend, Has Conquered Fear of Rejection, and Pap Smear Pusher, who suddenly comes into frame trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear to our temporary heroes. The “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses may be the first prime example of this kind of periphery madness. Told in 19 parts, every subsection follows a different narrative with overlapping continuities as characters run into those from other sections, hear the same bells striking across Dublin, or see the same couple making out in a bush.

David Foster Wallace is the author of Infinite Jest.


IF Ulysses is obscene, then so is life. The scenes that are most often brought up in regards to obscenity are as follows: 

in which Bloom takes shit

in which Bloom is horny

in which Molly is horny

And yet, all of these moments are absolutely essential to the novel. True, there is a loss of romance seeing our literary hero tear off a piece of newspaper, ironically the page where a prize story is printed, to wipe his ass, but what is gained is astounding. It is real. Joyce forces us to acknowledge that disparity between fiction and reality, but nonetheless, manages to elevate it through art and language, forcing us also to observe our lives through the same lens, to find the overwhelming beauty in all of life’s moments, even the mundane ones. Because of this, we are captivated by Bloom’s toilet thoughts and the flow between the surrealist realm of the mind and the objective world of the body. Most of all, the language in the novel is consistently beautiful, even during these “obscene” moments. 

Evening hours, girls in grey gauze. Night hours then: black with daggers and eyemasks. Poetical idea: pink, then golden, then grey, then black. Still, true to life also. Day: then the night.

He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it.


Social anxiety is everywhere in the novel. We are confined mostly to the subjective mind of Bloom and Stephen, and like them, we don’t really know what other people are thinking of them. Bloom doesn’t know the extent of his wife’s love for him; all he knows is that he is being cuckolded. Stephen acts aloof and misanthropic, a lone wolf who doesn’t need anyone; but he is actually desperate for friendship, validation, and the approval of others. 

In episode six, also known as “Hades,” Bloom crosses the river Liffey to attend the funeral of Ol’ Patty Dignam. He rides in a cramped carriage car with 3 other men. They start up some boy’s talk, and despite the proximity, seem to exclude and ostracize Bloom the whole time. Bloom tries to tell them a story and continually gets interrupted, even getting the punchline stolen from him. Bloom is as unobtrusive as the cracking leather seats they sit on. 

But the peak of this moment is when Pat’s death is finally discussed. He died of alcoholism, and overdoes, and left behind his wife and children. While on the subject, the conversation steers towards suicide. 

— The greatest disgrace to have in the family, Mr Power added.

— Temporary insanity, of course, Martin Cunningham said decisively. We must take a charitable view of it.

— They say a man who does it is a coward, Mr Dedalus said.

— It is not for us to judge, Martin Cunningham said.

Mr Bloom, about to speak, closed his lips again. 

The moment is tense and awkward for no one but Bloom, whose own father committed suicide. Yet there is a sliver of opposition from Martin Cunningham, who knows. While Bloom remains silent, what is happening inside is breathtaking. 

Martin Cunningham’s large eyes. Looking away now. Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent. Like Shakespeare’s face. Always a good word to say. They have no mercy on that here or infanticide. Refuse Christian burial. They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave. As if it wasn’t broken already… He looked at me. And that awful drunkard of a wife of his… pawning the furniture on him every Saturday almost… Drunk about the place and capering with Martin’s umbrella… 

He looked away from me. He knows. Rattle his bones.

The novel holds a magic mirror to reality. The complexity of navigating life and bridging the gap between objective and subjective reality is ubiquitous in the book, but here it is in one of its most common, mundane iterations: the difficulty of social interaction, especially amongst “friends.” Bloom is demeaned throughout, ridiculed and excluded in subtle ways that render him an outsider to even his companions. But someone notices his discomfort, even knows the reason for it, and steers the conversation elsewhere—a benevolent act of the everyday and the all too familiar. 


Ulysses is a thick book with some difficult passages and pretentious references, but it’s also pretty damn good, and not just because a bunch of stuffy academics with British accents say so. It might not be for everyone, but it’s for more people than made out to be, and the perfect book for a generation of internet-addicted, information obsessed, socially anxious half-adults, unable to sit still. Yes, it’s hard, but Mr. Joyce’s attempt at realism is a kind of art worth suffering for.   

Posted by:hothouselitjournal

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