James Joyce’s Ulysses and modern literature

Leopold Bloom seems to think very kindly of women, but none of the females he encounters in the book would have read Ulysses. So the novel’s readers, which I assume are mostly female, are left to identify with Stephen Dedalus or Bloom himself.

The two female characters that stand out for me are Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife and Gerty McDowell. Neither of these women are very admirable. Gerty is very vain and hypocritical. Molly seems a thick animalian passion-centric person. Bloom loves her, loves her dearly as she is. But his mind and personal pleasures are more expansive than hers. And although he is far from perfect, he seems very kind.

Stephen is a cloud of artistic ambition. We begin the novel with his perspective, but transfer and stay with Bloom for the majority.

What on earth does the author intend, introducing us to these two people? I had to turn a lot of pages to seek out the answer. The story, such as it is, hangs on the desperate desire for connection between people. A connection between a soul mate. Bloom’s wife would be one manifestation of this desire, and he also spends a lot of time mourning his ten-years deceased infant son.

Good lord! Look at these horrible sentences I am writing! Whatever book I am reading can definitely infect the writing i try to do.

Bloom wants to connect with Molly, but is super conflicted because he has guilt over his baby son that died so long ago when he was so little. Molly wants to reconnect with Bloom, but doesn’t know how exactly.
Stephen wants to reconnect with an Irish soul, and with a literary tradition. He’s so young though, he is totally inept. He reminds me of a worm, who doesn’t have eyes, just light-sensitive spots on his head. he’s nosing towards an indefinable feeling of something.

It’s just a story of a day. When Joyce wrote it, it was a day in the recent past–about ten years past. A lot had happened in those ten years. The great war, World War 1, had happened, and that was a game changer.

Maybe a modern equivalent might be like writing about New York city prior to 9/11. So much changed after, that maybe it seemed weird to try to go remember a lived day in that town before the local apocalypse struck.

That’s from the perspective of the contemporary reader though. I have no impression of life before World War one.

I have, however, an impression of literature before it went modern. I like to read old books. I like to read really old books. This one, this one James Joyce wrote, is no old book.

He was doing this modernist literary experiment thing. He wanted to write in a totally new way because the world was totally new and different now. He did write a book in a way that had never been written before. That’s partly why it’s such a monster to read. It’s not fun, it’s not the immersive experience i love so much in reading. It’s disorienting, and i frequently had to remind myself why I was doing it.

Why *was* I doing it? Basically because lots of people said it was really good and that I would be glad I’d read it.

So here is my first impressions on why I am glad I read it:

Joyce was trying to write something new because the world was so very new. He wrote about the town of Dublin, it’s everday modern life.

And it felt really modern. Really really modern. He talks about telegraphs and public transportation, not new to us now. But he write about how the characters are influenced by whatever they encounter as they walk around, and Bloom and Dedalus mentally careen around different ideas of every possible type.

it made me think of smart phones, and websurfing. We do that all the time right now, skipping from searching for a coffee shop, to asking wikipedia if a coffee bean is actually a bean, to legumes, to goober peas to peanut allergies. Then a search on to allergies and autism, and all on a shuttle ride to the car rental from the airport.

We are so many extraordinary places in our ordinary modern life, and the best of them are in our minds.

I think that Joyce captures the modern life, even a hundred years later, and that is extraordinary. I think it is still still still about struggling for connection and aspiration, being lost and all too stuck.

Which is a lot of what it felt like, lost and stuck, reading this book.