James Joyce’s lyrical, sensual literacy legacy: Why so many novels steal from Ulysses

Salon (June 15, 2014)

In the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses, Tom Kernan and Leopold Bloom discuss the explosion of the passenger steamboat General Slocum in New York’s East River that happened the previous day—the greatest loss of life to occur in New York prior to 9/11. Referring to the ineffective lifeboats and fire hoses and the panicked trampling of passengers on the steamboat, Kernan states, “And America they say is the land of the free. I thought we were bad here.” To which Bloom responds, “America … What is it? The sweepings of every country including our own. Isn’t that true? That’s a fact.”

Joyce, and particularly Ulysses, continue to influence the distinctive hodgepodge that is American popular fiction and culture in massive, invisible ways. Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” has an episode in its recurring “Lives of the Cowboys” spoof where special guest Martin Sheen plays James Joyce in a gunfight with Clint Eastwood. While English and Irish rock musicians, notably Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World” and the Clash’s “Jimmy Jazz,” pay homage to Joyce and his works, one can hear the popular New Orleans-style jazz band, Ulysses, Saturday nights at the James Joyce pub in Santa Barbara, California. While Van Morrison croons “Been too long in exile/ Just like James Joyce, Baby” in “Too Long in Exile,” Jimmy Buffet sings, “My life’s an open book/By James Joyce and Agatha Christie” in “If It All Falls Down.”

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