Lesson 11: James Joyce; Does Twitter Threaten Literary Genius?

New forms of writing will bring, as they always have, new ideas and new elements of creative genius.

No, is the short answer. New forms of writing will bring, as they always have, new ideas and new elements of creative genius. Yet whether length—of a dissertation, a new novel, or the speech you deliver at your best friend’s wedding this weekend—will suffer its traditional relationship to prestige, no one knows yet. Still, is Twitter incompatible with depth? Should we care?


Twitter Takes Up Ulysses

The New York Times today announced the “Twitter Joyce” project:

“On June 16, Bloomsday for those not in the know, lovers of Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom (no relation) and Molly will have the opportunity to dip into the mind of Joyce and try to tweet his thoughts. Ulysses Meets Twitter 2011, a project created by one “Stephen from Baltimore,” invites devotees of the approximately 265,000-word work to recast the novel through tweets from start to finish within the 24-hour period that the novel’s odyssey through Dublin (on June 16, 1904) takes place.”

Twitter, Literary Product Promotion

This project will only do good things for Joyce and Joyce lovers, because this project is less art than PR, and PR is what Twitter does best, whether for products or for revolutions. If a tool allows you to promote democracy, or baking powder, or a new HBO show, inevitably someone will be employing it to promote literature. Witness this blog. But promoters should know her or his place in the scheme of things, and it sounds like Stephen from Baltimore does. If his project works, let him promote Dubliners next. We’d like to see the Twitter version of our favorite lines, Joyce’s last lines. They are:

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Joyce Is Music

If “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” makes it into the Twittersphere, that’s something. What scholars and fans love about Joyce is not only his will towards density, or his adamantine provocation of form, but his sensuality—his music. Joyce’s texts draw you into their dream. Faulkner’s do, too. Sentences become incantations, and the classic grammatical rules are present in their absence.

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