A Day in Dublin: Dispatches from a non-stop reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses

From Friday at 5 p.m. to Saturday at 3:52 p.m., twelve English students, along with their professor, Zoran Kuzmanovich, read out loud the entirety of James Joyce’s modernist mammoth Ulysses. Grace Falken gives a personal, confessional report on the experience.

—Lucas Weals, Living Davidson Editor

Grace Falken-

Thomas Chafin reads aloud from Joyce. Photo credit: Zoran Kuzmanovich

5 p.m.-6 p.m. “You behold in me, Stephen said with grim displeasure, a horrible example of free thought” (Joyce 17).

Giggles. We’re fresh and the readers are lively and funny. Maybe it’s easier to appreciate the humor with friends. Mile one of a marathon. My head hurts. I’m hating Buck Mulligan much more in this reading of the text—the way Stephen presents and perceives him is just so . . . pompous. “Usurper” (19).

6 p.m.-7 p.m. “Moi, je suis socialiste. Je ne crous pas en l’esitence de Dieu.” (35).

Let it be known, I don’t speak French.  I feel like I stumbled through “Proteus” blindly and numbly, twisting my tongue in ways it has never gone.

“Who ever anywhere will read these written words?” (40)

I wish I had a different answer to your query, my dear Stephen. I don’t really enjoy being in your head. I don’t really enjoy it at all . . . mainly I think my understanding of your mind is just on a different level than the way in which your mind is meant to operate. You’re a characterized genius and I’m a categorical fool—Do normal people also think in other languages?

7 p.m.-8 p.m. “Metempsychosis?” (52)

I don’t think I ever really wanted to smell a kidney and I don’t think I ever really wanted to observe the world through a mind like Bloom’s.  After focusing to keep up with Stephen, keeping track with Bloom seems laughably simple to the point of being uninteresting. There’s something endearing about a man who wonders about the perspective of his cat and whether it’d be preferable to grow oranges or olives (49).

8 p.m.-9 p.m. “It’s as uncertain as a child’s bottom, he said” (75)

This may be the most quotable chapter, just for the sheer magnitude a weird thoughts running through Bloom’s interior monologue.  We’re adding a lot to our quote poster. Is art in the words themselves or the experience of being engaged with them? Of being moved or humored or disrupted enough to want to remember that and write it down?

9 p.m.-10 p.m. “You can do it. I see it in your face. In the lexicon of youth…..” (111)

I’m thinking a lot about what’s driving the humor for us at this point. Is it really just the preponderance of body jokes? Word play? Joyce crafts inside jokes for himself that are pretty terrific. Referencing yourself and referencing your references. Make the reader remember, think, get it. “Clamn dever” (113).

10 p.m.-11 p.m. “Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity. They say it’s healthier” (136).

I don’t have anything to say about that other than it’s funny.

“The beautiful ineffectual dreamer who comes to grief against hard facts” (151). We’re experiencing thoughts and sounds of Bloom and Stephen’s day in all their ugliness as we would experience ourselves but never admit. Is that painful because existing can be painful? It is funny because—how else could we find ways to get through the ugliness that it is? We don’t like Stephen because when we are Stephen we know him like we know ourselves.

11 p.m.-12 a.m. “What’s in a name? This is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours” (172).

And that’s what we wonder regarding the patterns and worries we see in Stephen and Bloom. Lots of thinking about Shakespeare and Falstaff and sack. We’re definitely in the period where we still don’t understand how long this is going to be.

“Life is many days. This will end” (176).

12 a.m.-1 a.m. “The cup that cheers but not inebriates, as the old saying has it” (197).

My friends! I really appreciate those who came just to say hello, those who came just to see this weird thing, and those who came just to sit with me for a while. It’s a lonely venture, in a strange way. We as a class are a team and excited and supportive, but I also feel unattached from these people.  It’s really nice just to have someone to lean on when your head hurts and you’re thinking hard.

1 a.m.-2 a.m. “La la la ree. I feel so sad today. Le ree. So lonely. Dee” (230).

I can’t hear anything except alliteration. Cock carracarra. As people start to disappear, the party hype is dying down. People have blankets and looks snuggly.

Textual ticks keep reappearing: incomplete/clipped words (ie envel. On 230), “creamy dreamy,” Italians, music. What do I do with all of this? Whose mind am I in? Does it matter?

2 a.m.-3 a.m. “I beg your parsnips, says Alf” (248).

Cyclops has too many lists. I have nothing to say about this.“(the italics are ours)” (256). And who are you?

3 a.m.-4 a.m. “Gerty smiled assent and bit her lip” (292).

We’re meeting Gerty as I write. Oh how I dislike her. Lame. Annoying. Some of us are really losing our shine.

4 a.m.-5 a.m. “I’m all of a wibbly wobbly” (332).

Matt did a heroic reading of “Nausicaa” and while Thomas finishes that out we’re getting ready to do “Oxen of the Sun” page-by-page. I’m actually excited because we’re making it more of a task of getting through as a team.

Glad to be out of Gerty’s head even if that means being back as Bloom. People are looking bitter.

5 a.m.-6 a.m. “The mystery was unveiled. Haines was the third brother. His real name was Childs. The black panther was himself the ghost of his own father” (337).

This chapter is rich with connections and references to other sections, as well as just logical absurdities that are funny and mind-bending. It’s painful but it’s amazing. And you laugh and you might want to cry but can’t and you’re feeling bad but we’re in it together so it’s good.

6 a.m.-7 a.m. “Just you try it on” (349).

One of the best lines to arrive at. End of “Oxen.” I think I really missed a lot of what went on in this chapter just because it was so difficult to focus and get through. Definitely a low point of my energy and definitely grasping for a second wind as we move on.

7 a.m.-8 a.m. “I confess I’m teapot of curiosity” (363)

I think it’s actually just funnier. I’m reminded of A Dream Play by August Strindberg. A surrealist painting where the soap in Bloom’s pocket is talking and trials are obscene and imaginary and I don’t know what’s really happening but I’m not sure if that matters. We teach a child that just because they imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I wonder.

“Wireless intercontinental and interplanetary transmitters are set for reception of message” (394).

8 a.m.-9 a.m. “colossal blubber”(419)

Thinking more about drivers of humor. Circe is so funny. Thank god that more coffee has arrived. The book has really lost me. It makes sense that Circe lasts forever. It just seems like we’re in a play driven by stream-of-consciousness and that doesn’t exactly make sense to me. Somehow Joyce makes even “can you suck a lemon?” funny. Amazing back-work that went into setting up that joke. The book is definitely better this way. One piece.

9 a.m.-10 a.m. “Fraily, thy name is marriage” (445).

We’re in a really complicated segment where a lot of issues surrounding gender are surfacing. And Boylan (Blazes villainous Boylan) appears. And we’re a pretty down-hearted group. And there are a lot of random characters I don’t understand speaking.

Things are really reappearing! Images resurface in full force and I don’t know what they mean but they’re back! From Portrait, from Shakespeare, from the Bible.

10 a.m.-11 a.m. “but he was at heart a born adventurer though by a trick of fate he had consistently remained a landlubber” (512).

I read alone for a solid 3 or 4 pages and was then benched because I’m no linguistic athlete. Nice. Merciful.

11 a.m.-12 a.m. “(which, of course, he was utterly out of)” (543)

I must say I still continue to try and fail at following what’s going on. I much more enjoyed the Joyce-screwing-with-you references and connections in Circe. I’m writing a lot of “WHY” in the margins.

12 p.m.-1 p.m. “Very gratefully, with grateful appreciation, with sincere appreciative gratitude, in appreciatively grateful sincerity of regret, he declined” (556).

We’re back to everyone reading. Unclear who’s asking/answering these questions (narratologically). You can see them revealing information about the characters, particularly regarding the relationship between Bloom and Stephen. Are they answering together? No I don’t think so. What are they talking about? No I don’t think so. Intensity has increased. We’re dropping the speed-reading hammer.

1 p.m.-2 p.m. “Compile the budget for 16 Jume 1904” (584).

It’s all about the record. So much focus there isn’t much time to journal. I feel like I appreciated this section more when I wasn’t speed-reading. Shocker. I have serious questions about Joyce’s diction. Talk about linguistic athleticism.

2 p.m.-3 p.m. “supposed I never came back what would they say” (616)

Chapter 18 is a timekeeping dream-crusher. I read a section in the perspective of Molly and I didn’t like talking about translucent shirts. Strategic. Hard to keep track without punctuation but heres just another of Joyces structural experiments. I appreciate the idea behind them, but that makes reading really unpleasant.

3 p.m.-4 p.m. “theres nothing like nature the wild mountains then the sea and the waves rushing then the beautiful country with the field of oats and wheat and all kind of things” (642)

All our voices are shaking reading Molly. I feel sick. I want to breathe real air and go on a run. I want to be out of their heads and I honestly think that’s (part of) the point.