I was a literature major in college, and the one book I always regretted not tackling was Ulysses. My advisor was a James Joyce scholar and I loved The Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist, and the dense quality of Joyce’s writing, that you had to read it along with an annotated guide to get half of what he was even trying to do. (These are only things 20-year-old literature majors “love.”)
So since I tackled Proust and Moby Dick last year, I decided I would do Ulysses next.
It’s been FAR HARDER, far less enjoyable and taken me far longer.
I’ve had to read Spark Notes along with each chapter to remind myself of which allusions he’s making to The Odyssey at any time, and all of the other hidden Joyce things that you only get when you are “studying” James Joyce versus reading James Joyce. I have begrudgingly had to accept that I’m not enjoying it, while I find it “fascinating” in many ways. I wish I’d read it in college when I had a professor and classmates and my “job” was to dissect it.
I’ve felt like there’s some unexplained disconnect with my younger self who loved James Joyce. Was I wrong? Why did I expect to like this book so much?
And then, I read this article and IT ALL MADE SENSE why it’s not connecting with me at this point in my life. The article is about the various white male politicians running for office and HOW THEY ARE ALL OBSESSED WITH TELLING EVERYONE HOW MUCH THEY LOVE ULYSSES ALL THE TIME. It hit me reading this: James Joyce—and Ulysses in particular—is the siren song of the “woke” white man. When I was young and a “cool girl,” of course I liked it. Now that I’m not, of course I find it whiny, self-indulgent and interminable. And of course white male politicians loooooooove it.
From the piece, written by Kevin Dettmar: “You can tell that the race for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination is getting serious because the candidates are talking about . . . James Joyce. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have gone out of their way, in interviews and public events, to embrace the Irish master; Joe Biden has been name-dropping and crypto-quoting him for years. As a Joyce scholar, I have a Google alert for the author, and the notifications typically skew plagiaristic (offering term papers on, say, Joyce’s story ‘Araby’). But, during the past few weeks, I have been inundated with stories from Vulture, the Irish Times, the Washington Post, Vogue, and Esquire discussing the candidates’ positions on ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegans Wake.’”
Go on, Kevin…
I’d like to point out that line is taken from the chapter when Leopold Bloom masturbates to a woman’s ankles. He later discovers she’s lame and thinks that he’s glad he didn’t know that when he masturbated to her. Although, maybe “oddities” like that could be a turn on, he then thinks? It’s the only chapter narrated in women’s voices and yet it’s a chapter about a woman only existing for an unknown married man’s arousal. It’s the most high falutin’ literary defense of the male gaze imaginable. And, yet, it’s just this kind of sad sack banality that Pete loves so much about Ulysses.
“Asked by a follower to name the book that had the greatest influence on him, Buttigieg tweeted, Ulysses by James Joyce. ‘People view it as this inaccessible, mysterious, complicated opus…but it’s a very democratic book about a guy going through life and the incredible depth and meaning to be found in the everyday.’”
Yes, incredible depth and meaning. “Thank God, I didn’t know she was lame before I jerked off to her!”
More from Kevin Dettmar’s piece: “In a March interview for Esquire, Buttigieg explained, ‘Here’s why I think ‘Ulysses’ is extremely relevant. People believe ‘Ulysses’ is this complex, difficult, inscrutable text full of references. And it is a difficult text, but its subject matter couldn’t be more democratic. It’s about a guy going about his day for one day. That’s the plot of ‘Ulysses.’ And, to me, that’s what makes it very touching. You’re in this guy’s head, and you’re kind of seeing life through his eyes, and at the end through his wife’s eyes. That’s how politics ought to be, too.’”
Key word: Guy.
It’s a story about two guys (Bloom and Stephen Dedalus), actually, going through life without quite as much to show from their privilege as they feel they should, feeling sorry for themselves. It is very much a story of the white male experience. Feeling emasculated, being cheated on, having mommy issues, not getting as much acclaim as they feel they deserve for their genius others don’t see. Yikes. He’s describing the erudite flip side of the average Trump voter. Is this the source material for The Joker?
Frankly, Buttigieg comes off the best of the three. At least he comes off as a guy who has actually read the book.
Here’s what Beto said: “With the help of a great professor, I was able to read “Ulysses” by James Joyce, which of course is the same story [as the Odyssey], just told in what was then modern times set in Ireland. That blew me away and was just amazing and I think the ability to tell the stories of our lives, what’s going on and connect with other people, that’s part of being human.”
It’s exactly not the same story as The Odyssey. At all. It’s a completely deconstructed version inspired by The Odyssey. That’s the point: It isn’t a grand adventure all over the ancient world encountering mythical beasts. He doesn’t seem to have actually read the book, and yet named his son Ulysses. Oh, Beto.
I’ll let the New Yorker writer sum this one up for me: “It’s perhaps too easy to suggest that O’Rourke’s political skills are on full display. Ancients? I love ’em! Moderns? Love them, too! Here’s a man who can reach across the aisle—and across the broad syllabus of Columbia’s core curriculum.”
And then there’s Joe Biden. Yep, him too. He’s claimed that James Joyce is one of his favorite authors but…
“Biden doesn’t talk about reading Joyce, nor about what Joyce has meant to him; instead, he quotes or paraphrases him. Joyce once said that when he died, ‘Dublin’ would be found written on his heart. Biden is fond of quoting this; sometimes he adds that ‘Delaware’ will be found written on his. (Which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)”
Again, I can’t say it better than the New Yorker did: “It’s a dog whistle, meant to appeal to refined impulses, to élite rather than populist sympathies. How shall we put it? Joyce is a snob whistle… The last Presidential election alerted us to the populist power of Twitter, and demonstrated its ability to amplify lowest-common-denominator appeals—with fresh reminders of that power coming our way every week. When Joyce surfaces in the tweets of Pete and Beto, it reassures us that these guys are familiar enough, and comfortable enough, with a big, difficult book to just drop a reference, casual-like.”
And yet, how much they’re running for president mostly to address the daily struggles of white guys. That doesn’t feel so anti-Trump…
This post isn’t about politics. I am a Democrat and sadly, I’ll vote for any of these men if they are the candidate next election. This is about gender. And how liberal white men aren’t nearly as aware as they pretend.
My future dating advice to my kids will be: “When a white guy says Ulysses is his favorite book, RUN. Run slightly slower than away from the guy who says Atlas Shrugged is his favorite book, but run nonetheless.”
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Advice on explaining job tax to a new employee: Parts of your job you don’t like, but have to do anyway
- I feel super un-appreciated right now. Someone say something nice