The History of Literature #438 – How Was Your Ulysses? (with Mike Palindrome)

438 How Was Your Ulysses? (with Mike Palindrome)

In 1922, a writer for the Observer commented: “No book has been more eagerly and curiously awaited by the strange little inner circle of book-lovers and littérateurs than James Joyce’s Ulysses.” After declaring Joyce to be a man of genius, the writer said, “I cannot see how the work upon which Mr Joyce spent seven strenuous years, years of wrestling and of agony, can ever be given to the public.” The objection then, or the fear, was that the book would wreak havoc on the morals of the general population. Today, the concern is not so much with scandal as with difficulty: annotated versions abound, prefaces fall all over themselves to caution readers. Yes, this is difficult. No, you might not finish. Please buy the book anyway. Give it a go.

In this episode, Jacke talks to Mike about the experience he had slow-reading Ulysses online in a community of readers. What were the challenges? What were the payoffs? How was it for him, and for his fellow hashtaggers? It’s a question to ask as one might ask someone after a war or pandemic or trip from a dangerous mountain. How was your Ulysses?

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James Joyce Week!

James Joyce portrait Irish writer ( Irish name  Séamus Seoighe) 2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941. Famous for his novel Ulysses  (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
James Joyce portrait Irish writer ( Irish name Séamus Seoighe) 2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941. Famous for his novel Ulysses (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

I had such a good time during this conversation with Vincent O’Neill I decided to make this James Joyce week! I’m not sure which part is my favorite, but it’s probably where he describes efforts to bring Finnegan’s Wake to the stage. Or the story about playing a gorilla. That’s hard to beat.

Hope you enjoy!



The History of Literature #55 – James Joyce (with Vincent O’Neill)


Vincent O’Neill hails from Sandycove, Dublin, where he grew up in the shadow of the tower made famous by the opening chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. After a childhood spent tracing the steps of Joyce’s characters, Vincent developed a love for the theatre, eventually becoming the co-founder and artistic director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company in Buffalo, New York. He joins Jacke Wilson for a discussion of James Joyce and the theatre, including a staging of Joyce’s play Exiles, the magic of Joyce’s language, and the long journey to bring an adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake to the stage.


Show Notes: 

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Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).


A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #13 – The Monster

I was traveling through Scotland in the dead of winter. Most of my life was spent holed up in a guest house in Inverness, sitting by the fireplace and reading Ulysses. I was content, mostly, but every day I forced myself to get out and do at least one thing.

Typically this meant I made it all the way to the pub down the street, where I drank a pint of heavy and sat by the fireplace and read Ulysses.

After about a week of this, the owner of the guest house gave me a coupon for a bus tour around Loch Ness. The Monster Tour. A stop at the Monster Museum. Kitschy, of course, but free, thanks to the coupon. And scenic. And sort of interesting, maybe.

I knew I didn’t like monsters. But I liked deception, especially self-deception, and I loved a good myth in an anthropological sort of way. There was something childlike about belief in the Loch Ness Monster that appealed to me. Something historic. Something connected to the land.

I walked down the hill to the bus depot under a cloudy sky and presented my ticket. The tour was as bad as all guided tours everywhere: bad jokes told by a guide who mixed information with spooky sound effects that even he had a hard time putting any gusto behind. As usual I sat there thinking, He says this ten times a day, every single day. Is he insane? Will he be soon?

Naturally I was the only one under the age of sixty. Most of my fellow passengers were enjoying the tour, groaning at the puns and snapping pictures for their grandchildren.

I was sitting up front, by myself. The guide seemed to recognize my likely cynicism. “Don’t worry,” he said to me, off-mike, as the wheels started turning. “We get some really good views. And I’ll point out the Led Zeppelin house. They were into the occult.”

I nodded. Two hours. Two hours to burn. Then the pub, and the pint of heavy, and back into Ulysses. It was good to be out; I liked looking at the fog and rain and green. Someone said we’ll be going high enough to feel the cold. Not a problem: I was wearing the coat I had worn in Tibet. I would survive.

And then, as we’re pulling out of the lot onto the highway that circumnavigates the Loch, the bus suddenly jerks to a halt. The guide stops his patter in mid-sentence and whirls around. Grumbling, the driver points out his windshield.

On the road, a man stands in front of the bus, holding up both arms to force the bus to stop. The man wants to join the tour.

“What does he think this is?” the driver mutters as the guide opens the door. “Tiananmen Square?”  Continue reading