On day 39 of hand writing James Joyce’s Ulysses


Ulysses is a gigantic book. No, really it’s huge. It’s going to take me two years to write out this monster.

It takes me two times longer to write it out by hand than typing out A Portrait of the Artist. I’m not even concerned about its legibility either. If I was then add several minutes more to that tally.

Hand written text is more tactile and it feels like I’m sculpting a facsimile of a text, not just writing it. I’m more aware of how I write my letters, and as its always been with me, my handwriting style isn’t always consistent. I also had a page that was entirely cursive and another where the text was all in capital letters. I don’t really think about it. Changing things up helps with the monotony of it. I would like to do more artwork, ie. visual poetry, with it, but time constraints have me sticking to plain text most days.

I’ve also made a few marginal notes for some entries. Sometimes if I’m not at home, I like to jot down where I’m copying and what circumstances I’m writing it in. I copied once on the subway. I particularly liked that. There’s something about people milling about in their commute, feeling the trundle of the train underneath me and there I am with my huge book just copying stuff out. My handwriting is also very heavy handed, I still press hard on the page as I write. It’s a sensory thing and control of the pen thing. It makes for a nice shadow filigree on the next page or when I’m turning the pages. It feels more like sensory artwork that way.

The intro (Telemachus, Nestor, and Proteus) has never been that big with me. I’d usually scan it because my biggest interest lies in Calypso where in the first few lines where Leopold Bloom is introduced:

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

I’m not at that part yet, but when I first read that line in university, my brain sort of exploded with how visually exciting the image was and how consanguineous those lines were to my Colombian head. My ancestral kitchen utilized the entirety of a beast. It was economical and made for the most interesting edible science. Here, Joyce describes the carnage as if it were the bud of a rose or the description of a ballet. This was way before the modern day foodie appropriated such collages to make high-culture cuisine. You’re basically eating my grandmother’s “made on a dime” food. Combine all those thoughts and it’s all made level.

So I’m stuck with Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, and Mr. Deasy for a while. Dedalus’ struggles with ethics and the people around him is beautiful though and as I wrote this I just about laughed at how wonderful it was:

“His eyes open wide in vision stared sternly across the sunbeam in which he halted.

— A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?

— They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

On the steps of the Paris Stock Exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers. Gabbles of geese. They swarmed loud, uncouth about the temple, their heads thickplotting under maladroit silk hats. Not theirs: these clothes, this speech, these gestures. Their full slow eyes belied the words, the gestures eager and unoffending, but knew the rancours massed about them and knew their zeal was vain. Vain patience to heap and hoard. Time surely would scatter all. A hoard heaped by the roadside: plundered and passing on. Their eyes knew the years of wandering and, patient, knew the dishonours of their flesh.

— Who has not? Stephen said.

— What do you mean? Mr Deasy asked.

He came forward a pace and stood by the table. His underjaw fell sideways open uncertainly. Is this old wisdom? He waits to hear from me.

— History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

From the playfield the boys raised a shout. A whirring whistle: goal. What if that nightmare gave you a back kick?

— The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:

— That is God.

Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

— What? Mr Deasy asked.

— A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.

Mr Deasy looked down and held for a while the wings of his nose tweaked between his fingers. Looking up again he set them free.”


Of course, I’m still dealing with Joyce’s free massacring of grammar and syntax. It’s gorgeous and liberating to read what he does with language and allowing himself to write the word “snotgreen” when he describes the sea or a piece of clothing. The language is precise and a mixture of the internal and external. There’s order and rhythm in the surreal and beyond that, let’s murmur more and sing of our mother’s wetted ashes. Thalatta! Thalatta!

I’ve received upset/hate mail over this endeavour and I never did when I was retyping A Portrait. It’s very interesting to get emails from people telling me to do something better with my time: “Why don’t you rework Ulysses or any novel into a new novel. Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you do something more productive? You evangelize uncreative writing like it’s the only thing one should do these days”….et cetera et cetera et. ce. tera.

All they really had to do was go to my online CV here or any other tab on my site and find that uncreative writing isn’t the only thing I do. In many ways, uncreative writing has been a springboard for everything else that I do, whether those things be conceptual, lyrical, or artistic. In my mind’s eye, it’s all the same thing. Writing is experimenting with expression and somehow that expression dwells in the ever evolving sentient domain of language.

And as I finish up some verses to a collection of poetry I find that the little ghost Joyce is once again running in and out of my own text as if to say, “Two can play at that game.”

Although it’s not entirely a great thing because there’s only so much murmuring I can take.

James Joyce and his daughter Lucia.


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