On Bloomsday Eve, I’m In a Relationship with James Joyce, and it’s Complicated


Just dashing.

Tomorrow is Bloomsday, a literary holiday celebrated through the world, but mostly in Dublin, in which people follow the path that Leopold Bloom wove through the city in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. I get really excited about the celebration of any work of literature, especially a holiday that was started by Flann O’Brien (love him!). But Bloomsday brings me back to the multitude of feelings I have towards James Joyce. And they’re complicated. While I normally wouldn’t post my literary criticisms on this blog, I guess the holiday has me a little carried away. So here we go:

Joyce is pretty well regarded as the father of post-modern literature, and post modern/experimental/counter-traditional literature is pretty much at the top of my reading list (and what I try to write myself). One of my favorite authors, Samuel Beckett, worked very closely with Joyce himself. So why is it that I have always hated James Joyce for all I’m worth?

James Joyce, in Ulysses, does lots of the things that I love about counter-traditional lit—he breaks down the traditional notions of narrative, he employs stream of consciousness, his language is careening yet skillful—and still I hate it. I hate that this novel is held up as a high water mark of fiction; I hate that reading it entails 700+ pages of endless self-reference, all to end with a cliche—an orgasm–a burst of positive prose–an ending that is a bit of a cop-out, really, to the turmoil and confusion of the rest of the novel; I hate that you have to accompany it with the reading of 700 page reference book to make any sense of it. I hate it because of this endless feeling that it carries that you’re supposed to make sense of it, when I am more than happy to enjoy other counter-traditional writers as they stand, without sense or reason. I hate hate hate this book.

And, yet, when you look at all the writers that mean so much to me, at Nabokov, and Beckett, and Calvino, and Barth, and Barthelme, and Borges, they all point back to this awful, awful book as the place where all their work comes from.

I really hate James Joyce’s Ulysses. Virginia Woolfe famously summed up my feelings on his book by saying she was, “puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”   Yes, I hate Joyce. But I love his descendants. And here I am, a writer of counter-traditional literature. So isn’t he, somehow, my ancestor, too? You can hate your grandparents. You can disown them. But you can never make them not yours.

On Bloomsday, you won’t catch me reenacting anything, drinking, or reading any Joyce at all. But maybe I’ll be writing. And maybe that will be a way of celebrating Joyce in and of itself.


About thebaffledkingcomposing

Pamela DiFrancesco is a writer with a community college degree in journalism, a fancy art school degree in fiction and a penchant for community organizing. A native of Pennsylvania coal country, Pamela lives in Astoria, Queens, writes, and does whatever else it takes to pay the bills. In the past, Pamela has worked for newspapers and taught children journalism in an after-school program. Pamela's fiction can be found on the web at Cezanne's Carrot and Monkeybicycle, in print in The Carolina Quarterly (who nominated "The Chuck Berry Tape Massacre" for the Best American Mystery Writing anthology) and forthcoming in The New Ohio Review. When not writing, Pamela practices acts of love and kindness in hopes of a radically different world, and is preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse through acts of badassery.
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2 Responses to On Bloomsday Eve, I’m In a Relationship with James Joyce, and it’s Complicated

  1. mcdona13 says:

    Interestingly enough in her “Modern Fiction” (originally written in 1919, but revised in 1925–after the publication of Ulysses), Woolf praises Joyce as a “spiritual” author in contrast to lesser “materialist” authors, H.G. Wells is the only example of hers that comes to me at the moment. Isn’t the quote you give of hers from a diary entry? Perhaps it has something to do with maintaining her literary public image?

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