Bloom and Twitter

Jun 19 2009 Published by under Internet/Media, Literature

So Leopold Bloom used Twitter, at least in the theoretical sense. The stream-of-consciousness thoughts that are sent out to us in the page of Joyce’s Ulysses contain the same fast-paced, random gems of wisdom and obsession and banality as the typical tweet.

Paltry funeral: coach and three carriages.  It’s all the same.  Pallbearers, gold reins, requiem mass, firing a volley.  Pomp of death. (Joyce 83)

Granted, not all of Bloom’s thoughts would fit in a 140-character message (though the one above does perfectly at 135). But the syntax Bloom uses–very short, choppy sentences, lots of punctuation–is quite suitable to the Twitterverse. Yes, some of the sentences are connected to one another, but there’s enough jumping from one topic to another (or one strain of a topic to another strain of a topic) to make it quite easy to cut up those streams into smaller bites.  [Moreover, as the word “twitterverse” suggests,the need for compressed language in tweets has led to the creation of many “portmanteau” words, the dominant characteristic of Joyce’s other great novel, Finnegans Wake.  But that’s a different post.]

Folded away in the memory of nature with her toys.  Memories beset his brooding brain.  Her glass of water from the kitchen tap when she had approached the sacrament.  A cored apple, filled with brown sugar, roasting for her at the hob on a dark autumn evening.  Her shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed lice from the children’s shirts. (Joyce 9)

Unlike Bloom, Stephen Dedalus’s streams (like the one above) are often precise analyses of observed events or epistemological conundrums.  The one above, early in the novel, contains Stephen’s thoughts as he remembers back to his mother on his deathbed.  His thoughts attempt to analyze her own mind in the final moments of life.  Now, a reader doesn’t necessarily need to know this context in order to understand and appreciate the ideas.  And even if the context were necessary (as it is on many occasions in Joyce’s novel), the thoughts would still make “sense” in the Twitterverse, for Tweeters often throw in random, decontextualized thoughts for public consumption.  Some get it and some don’t, but the “getting” isn’t as important as the sending.  Further, the syntax of twitter is evident in Stephen’s streams.  Again, they are short, fragmented sentences mostly.  But the paragraph above (and most other Stephenstreams) could not be Tweets for one important reason:  the ideas are too complex to fit into 140 characters.  Cutting the above paragraph into three wouldn’t work.  It’s all one idea.

Sense of smell must be stronger too.  Smell on all sides, bunched together.  Each street different smell.  Each person too.  Then the spring, the summer: smells.  Tastes?  They say you can’t taste wines with your eyes shut or a cold in the head.  Also smoke in the dark they say get no pleasure. (Joyce 149)

Bloom, on the other hand, never stays on one subject for very long–or, if he does, he includes enough randomness into the stream to allow a long one (like the one above) to be broken up nicely into many parts, like this:

Sense of smell must be stronger too.  Smell on all sides, bunched together.  Each street different smell.  Each person too.

Then the spring, the summer: smells.  Tastes?

They say you can’t taste wines with your eyes shut or a cold in the head.  Also smoke in the dark they say get no pleasure.

So there are really three ideas in the sentence, and I’ve gone ahead and broken up those ideas into tweets.  The first talks about blind people and their enhanced sense of smell, as you can probably already guess (though you’d be forgiven if you thought he was referring to animals).  The second follows from the first (smelling things differently at different times of the year), but even here, all by itself, it does make sense (though, granted, not as much sense as the two together).  The final really is a nugget all on its own, needing no context or explanation, and it is a perfect example of a Bloom tweet.  If Bloom did have a Twitter account, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have written up the first two posts but he would have no trouble sending out the third to the world to read.  In fact, just to test out my theory, I “tweeted” it myself just to see how it fit into the larger stream of messages.  Does it fit?  You tell me.  Here are some random tweets sent out around the same time I sent Bloom’s:

As their mouths succombed to desire, he ripped off her corset!  “Whoa Stableboy!” she moaned.  “My garments are more costly than yours.”

“Shouldn’t all gremlins die of dehydration?” The great comedy mind of Ben Schwartz.

steak coming on.

I would really like to rock this look at #nerdprom2 tonight.  http://tr.im/p588

http://twitpic.com/7tffi – I thought it would be good to buy a copy of the North County Times (San Diego) before I met with their Editor …

They say you can’t taste wines with your eyes shut or a cold in the head. Also smoke in the dark they say get no pleasure.

spent all night at hospital,got 40 stitches, finally left at 5am this morning, have $100 prescription and my arms HURT from all the shots

아아 @.@ 이래가지구서야 음주모바일 트윗 하겠어요 ^^;;; 술마시고 천지인 타자는 힘들어요 -_-;;;

Okay, two of those had URL links, which isn’t fair, and one is in Korean (I think), but you get the idea.  Yes, Bloom’s idle thoughts make just as much sense as everyone else’s.

that was a relief wherever you be let your wind go free who knows if that pork I took with my cup of tea after was quite good with the head I couldnt smell anything off it Im sure that queerlooking man in the porkbutchers is a great rogue I hope that lamp is not smoking fill my nose up with smuts better than having him leaving the gas on all night (Joyce 628)

And Molly?  Earlier I said that Molly Bloom would HATE Twitter.  The more I think about it, however, the more I am not so sure.  Yes, her sentences in the final section of Ulysses are each several pages long, but that’s largely a lack of punctuation.  Within each sentence are unpunctuated sentences and as much randomness as you’d find in Bloom’s thoughts or any Twitterer’s thoughts.  Take the above, which can be broken down like this:

that was a relief

wherever you be let your wind go free

who knows if that pork I took with my cup of tea after was quite good with the head I couldnt smell anything off it

Im sure that queerlooking man in the porkbutchers is a great rogue

I hope that lamp is not smoking

fill my nose up with smuts better than having him leaving the gas on all night

In some ways, all Joyce did with Molly’s streams was remove the punctuation and put them into one chapter.  Otherwise, they are just like any other tweets you’d find floating around (minus the tinyurls, of course).  In some ways, the randomness of Molly is far more intense and more intuitive than Leopold’s–and in this way, makes Molly the true “twitter elite” of her day.

In the end, though, why is any of this important?  Yes, stream-of-consciousness in Joyce’s great novel fits into the mechanisms of the Twitter world (with varying degrees of success)

Joyce’s novel is loved today (and was revolutionary when it came out) in part because he was able to find a way to render into language the randomness and complexity of human minds as they go about their daily business.  Twitter brings this same concept to the masses by allowing anyone to post their random thoughts at will.  Granted, there’s a lot of self-censorship that goes into a Twitter post: people editing their stray thoughts down to those that would be best suited to a general audience.  But there certainly was plenty of censorship on Joyce’s part when he wrote the book (otherwise, it would have taken only a day, rather than a decade, to write).  Twitter and Ulysses also share in common things like advertising, references to pop culture, jokes, random stories, flame wars, hallucinations, parody, eyewitness events, and anything else you’ll find in the everyday conversations of human beings.  In the end, then, that’s what matters: that just as Joyce’s novel is a snapshot of the lives of Dubliners on a June day in 1904, so too is Twitter a snapshot of how individuals (both famous and unknown) live and breathe and think and work in our own time.

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2 responses so far

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