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Louise Weiss (Journal of Reviews)


Commentary on the book “Ulysses”, by James Joyce, in the light of Burckhardt and Balzac.

Fascination surrounds the 16th of June every year. It could be any other particular date – among the many that make up our calendar. Or same; the symbolic expression of so many ephemeris of our historical existence. The sixteenth day of the sixth month of every year is an event in the world of literature and the humanities.

While the modern era spanned at least six centuries – or the time of the man of Renaissance humanism narrated in the elegant (and elitist) prose of Jacob Burckhardt, who said that they were, “the multifaceted men [of this inaugural period] endowed with true universality” [ 1] – and modern society was delineated, if we follow Hobsbawn, in the world of human comedy of Balzac [2] – the cruel monetarism of Mr Grandet, the excessive ambition of the daughters of Goriot and in the community of efficiency that crushed Luciano Rubempré – which represented the end of the 16th century and the French post-revolution in the 1904th century; the modern subject erupted on June XNUMX, XNUMX. Crises, wars, revolutions and the day of Leopoldo Bloom.

Our (modern) subjectivity has a day to celebrate: it's every June 16th. The date of an experience, tensely condensed into 19 hours. 16 hours for the most modern ones. The astonishment that fascinates is because the 19 hours of Leopoldo Bloom's life are spread across the thousand pages of Joyce's language; O Odysseus could, to the unsuspecting reader, contain the era of Burckhardt and the world of Balzac – but it is subjectivity, it is the modern subject in its persistence. It is, to the despair of conservatives and the right that wants to impose the violence of the immutable natural order (and with hierarchical gradations), what the poet Augusto de Campo called literary Bolshevism. Our age: it begins in this sweeping linguistic event that is the Odysseus by James Joyce.

It's just that the tenor of Leopoldo Bloom's walk is being woven with the wind's stings, so that the “stray conversations”[3] express the infinity of the story. All stories; it means the concreteness of the speech that makes “Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily” characters of themselves: they are narrative emergencies of multifaceted time. They are phantoms of language that, instead of emerging from beyond nature, are astonishing because they want to tell us a story. – “Tell us a story, sir.” – “Tell me, sir, one of ghosts.” With this, the form of the locution is not fixed in the register of the moderate conventions of the grammar of the salons.

Odysseus is the novel where the words belong to everyone. Now; the word, the content of each subject's history, is the transmigration of the voice in the life of time. So that, be it daytime; whether after night; in the bedroom; on “Lime Street”; at the telegraphic post office”; on “Townsend Street”; in Brady's chalets the voice, the content of oneself in the world appears as a constitutive moment of the experience of reality. So, the plot was established to which everyone could say (they should say and in fact they did…), “I have time”. Life is this overflowing time in which time has been destructured; in which he was made a human accouterment – ​​a subjective “whatever you call it” something. James Joyce broke with the non-time, the non-speech and the non-voice of the “sociable”, the “bank[s]”, the “priests”, the “gospel”.

Here we are still in the first hours, minutes, seconds of 19 pm; of when "Buck Mulligan came from the top of the stairs". The subjects who have awakened are, already, in-themselves and for-themselves in the otherness, “old people”. But an old age tense and with flowers in its hands, not an old age that carries in its hands the suitcase that one carries to mass, to the bank, to the law firm. They are the flowers and thorns of the words and languages ​​of the world – Latin, Yoruba, English, German, Xhosa/Bantu. It is the time of the old age of life, of Bloom's subjectivity, who wants to sit in any “vacant place” and narrate the celestial history of individuals, groups, classes. He wants to tell the story of Shakespeare's dramas; of Socrates' metaphysics and why not of the “man of science” as an effect of the “man in the street”.

It bursts into the fabric of Odysseus, then, the thunder of the rebelliousness of language in history. For Bloom, Dedalus, Mulligan, Gerty, Wylie, Tupper, Martha, Terry, Alf - all receive the newspapers "from Europe". (The Russians, including.) You can see in the Odysseus, thus, the poetic anguish for the expressiveness of the word as a human symbol belonging to all men and women; in the form-newspaper reveals the infinity accessible to the moderns that makes the experience something of the scope of existential temporality. In Joyce's fabulation it is possible to glimpse the immanence of a multiple language – juxtaposed, beautifully confused as an assembly of soviets – of a language that is access to the “resurrection [of] life through the facticity of all in one; in diverse thick. Therefore, for the post-Burckhardt subjectivity and against the Balzacian society “the language was certainly something else”.

Leopold Bloom understood his language at 19 pm on June 16, 1904. He is the one who enunciates in the Odysseus, rather, he who impels Stephen Dedalus to recognize that heaven may not exist for the human personality. “– I believe it is in heaven if heaven exists”. If the sky (transcendent and immutable) is likely not to exist for the subject of modernity, then what remains to be done? It remains to live the overflowing derision of the “Almighty God”. In this it is possible for us to contemplate the meaning of James Joyce's narrative; in his excerpts will pass the desire of the truly universal language to give “enough” in the past. Poetry will tell the present that flourishes in Spain, England, Ireland, Russia, Congo, the Americas, the North and Latin America.

The literary form of this Joycean perception, of Leopold Bloom's existential urge in Dublin in 1904, is condensed in the incendiary warning phrase: "Tell me who made the world". And in the allegorical plot of the Odysseus the understanding of who made (and makes) the world is reoriented by invoking the negative of creation. The world is the sip of man, of woman. Of the not that “one subject tells the other and so on” conforming the disruptive voice of the coming community. So that the no that the subjects tell and narrate to one another is that “mixing within” of Joyce's poetics that rejects the “Habsburg” empire; the European “elite”; the “municipal chief sheriff”; the “President of the Court of Appeal”.

Now Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan and modern subjectivity are the mockery of the past; they are the real-life joy of a talker who wants the “cheapest meal [for everyone] in the world” – they want and say with stylistic boldness, “Alegria: Ate: joy”. This is the caesura of the now in non-identical verbalized (comi…) structure, since it is the freedom of all in the one/diverse that constitutes the form of the narrative of the Odysseus. It's 19 hours of “Me. And me now”.

With this, James Joyce wants to face not time: but the natural being in time. The avant-garde novel-form incites the undoing of conventions; it brings down the content of the beyond-world – of transcendence, of divine natural superiority – and recreates the voice. (It recreates speech, the speech of ourselves in radical multiplicity and open community; “But [speech] acts. Age speaks […] Forward.”) Saying speech acts is to say that the novelistic of literary experience, of living of language in the real, conforms the plot by which "all sides of life should be represented" so that in the Odysseus the smile of life had to be an event “for all sides equally”.

This is why time, time as a challenge to customs, habits, the cynical formalities of a Guermantes salon or a legal process (Proust and Kafka) and imposed norms is disturbing for conservative and traditionalist dispositions. Joycean, the modern subject knows that to bring down the “heavy curtain” our poetic lucubrations cannot extend “for many days, day after day”.

That the “outside world” inverted in the power of the Self has to transfigure time as a daily path, into a lyrical and sweeping temporality that undoes established beliefs – it is the time of today, the temporality of the present, which makes nations bow before the eruption of “(a national immorality [which is done] in three orgasms”). In effect, having orgasms – we are still in the middle of the day – is talking to the “priests” who pretend peace, it is talking like an incandescent fuse that we praise ourselves as gods: “Let us praise the gods”. It is our condition; condition of a “long enough to walk” for minutes that shake history; mission time in Petrografo, Bavaria, North Carolina, Haiti and Bahia. so although Odysseus narrates Leopold Bloom's one-day walk, his poeticity lays bare a possible way of life – to come as a future social experience. It is the experience of a (free) experience that can go to the opera without ball gowns; and also “no money either” is needed for this.

For it is a strong existence, with names said and spoken; a circumstance of language in relation to which subjectivities have to say – “a healthy girl…” and that the “son[of the general] of the regiment” is a non-Irish and must be removed from “near the water tap” beer". This can be felt in the novel's insurrectionary warp. O Odysseus it is the aesthetic representation of the raising of the voice: “Ai-ai!” some will say. It is that “the voice rose, sighed, modulated: strong, full, brilliant, audacious”. So it is not a time of man, but of “I. He. [She]. Old. [Elderly women]. Young"; it is the temporality in which 19 hours passed from Finland to April, it is the Joycean moment of the “flow, effusion, fluid, joyous spurt, pulse. Hey!”. It is the time of the “love language”, “–… ray of hope”. Conservative despair. It is “Bloom Time” – he and “we are standing here”[4].

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.


[1] Jacob Burckhardt The Culture of the Renaissance in Italy, P. 152. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1991 (

[2] Eric Hobsbawm. The Age of Revolutions. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 2009 (

[1] All phrases, expressions and words (with the exception of Burckhardt's which is already referenced and the excerpt from Jacques Rouman's poem) between quotation marks are from the Odysseus by James Joyce. I used in the article the consecrated edition of Editora Civilização Brasileira with a translation by Antônio Houaiss. There are more recent options for translations, such as the one by Caetano Galindo (Companhia das Letras).

[2] This passage is from the poem Sales Negre by Jacques Rouman who inspired the title of Les Damnes de la Terre de Frantz Fanon. See the excellent book by Deivison Mendes Faustino Nikosi – Frantz Fanon: A Particularly Black Revolutionary, Continuous Editorial Cycle, 2018 (

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