Onomatopoeia. Odd, sometimes, entertaining too. Like speed bumps that make you slow down and silently mouth the letters. A slow smile at the sound it makes in your head. Alliteration. Anastrophe. Joycean wordplay.
What is that word? A neologism? Or some Irish colloquialism? An anachronism? Another language? Or more playful spelling? So many to stumble over.
Notes. Can’t read Ulysses without the notes. Too many Latin, too many French, too many Gaelic phrases for my monolinguistic brain. Too many Catholic references for my secular upbringing. Too many dips into the classics for my modern education. Irish politics. British politics. Contemporary culture. Jesuits. French authors. Greek tragedies. Lost without the notes.
But notes add to the work. From 930 pages, it expands to almost 1,200. A third larger, a third more to read.
Stream of consciousness? Misleading. That implies a beginning and an end; a source and a destination. A collective movement towards a goal, words flowing in harmony like fish spawning. A direction towards the final outcome. Ulysses is more explosive. A torrent of consciousness. A tsunami. Volcanic eruption of words.
Who would have thought the minutiae of bodily functions so worthy of literature? So many words dedicated to base biological acts.
Was Joyce’s world really so repressed? Were men really so uncomfortable with women and women’s sexuality? If this this the world my parents grew up in, it explains a lot about them – and how they handled my own childhood.
Of course, it’s set in 1904, the hump of the Edwardian era, before the Great War that would sweep away the last vestiges of Victorianism from Europe (although not the USA, where it still has hold). Literary archeology. And it’s Dublin, even further outside my cultural frame of reference than London or New York of that time.
This was banned? This was controversial? This sparked howls of outrage? My, weren’t we close-minded back then. A single episode of The Sopranos has more profanity, more irreverence, more sex. But a lot less introspection.
Who is speaking? Who is thinking? Not always clear. Joyce ignores the niceties of form and eschews formality at the expense of clarity.