Innovation Blog

Happy Bloomsday! How James Joyce Changed Novels Forever

By Shlomo Maital

 James Joyce,  Bloomsday June 16 

Happy birthday, everyone!   Today is Bloomsday, celebrated worldwide, June 16, because June 16, 1904, is the single day that is recounted in detail in the life of Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom, in Dublin, in James Joyce’s amazing novel Ulysses, which everyone loves but very few have read end-to-end. 

   Joyce picked June 16 for Ulysses, because on that day he and his future wife Nora Barnacle, whom he loved deeply, met, and went for a long walk. 

    Until Joyce, novels were conventional, and had plots that unfolded over time.  In Ulysses, there is really no plot, and what happens is what is known today as stream of consciousness, what goes on in Leopold’s mind. Moreover, the language is not literary, but the language and cadences of ordinary Dublin speech, including some that is very profane. (That got Ulysses banned in many places, explicitly some of the sex scenes). 

     It is still a mystery to me, why some people choose to carefully follow the rules, in art, literature, poetry, sailing, tiddlywinks or ballroom dancing, and excel, and create works of beauty, while others choose to blow the rules up, all of them, with a ton of TNT, and put years of work into their creation without being certain whether their work will be seen, read and enjoyed by anyone. (Then, and now, you need someone to publish your work, and the more radical it is, the harder it is to get a publisher).   It is these radical innovators, the ones with the TNT, who exert lasting impact on their world and on their discipline. 

    What was it that made James Joyce disregard all the rules of novel-writing, to create a masterpiece? 

   Ulysses’ last line, yes I said yes I will, is very famous.  Innovators: say it!  Yes I said yes I will… disregard the ‘rules’, break the rules, try things, yes I said yes I will.  After all, Joyce did it – and look what happened!