Jul 9, 201512:31 PMCulture
Fun and Culture in the Mid-State
If you were to write down every thought you had for an entire day, how many pages would you take up? Would you even have any sanity left at the end of it? This is exactly the premise for James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, a paradigm of the modernist movement whose 700+ pages of stream-of-consciousness is way too long for my attention span. As the title implies, the whole story – which covers a single day in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom – is a parallel to the Odyssey (in a way that’s only about as clear as anything else in the book). Let’s take a look at one short passage and then call it a day:
Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War ! War ! The tympanum.
A sail ! A veil a wave upon the waves.
Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.
When first he saw. Alas !
Full tup. Full throb.
Warbling. Ah lure ! Alluring.
Martha ! Come !
Clapclop. Clipclap. Clappyclap.
Had enough? Me too. This passage comes when Bloom is listening to a band in a bar. He’s free-associating one sound with another regardless of meaning (if any) – kind of an audible version of the old saying, “If it feels good, do it.”
Ulysses represents modernism so well because modernism is all about fragmentation. The world watched an entire generation of young men die in the largest war history had ever seen, and while many – especially in America – followed up the end of bloodshed with a decade of partying, artists everywhere had lost faith in humanity.
So this is what you get. Sounds that sound good together but mean nothing, a narrative that veers into a ditch and spins its wheels for a while before it somehow gets back on the road.