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I CONFESS THAT I don’t understand either one, but I believe there’s an argument that Donald Trump has been channeling James Joyce. In particular, consider this Irish author’s masterpiece, Ulysses.
Just to be helpful, I begin with a brief discussion of James Joyce and his place in English literature.
James Joyce is regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century. His novel Ulysses, published in 1922, is best known for its “streams of consciousness” sharing characters’ thoughts and feelings as they occur.
For those familiar with Homer’s Odyssey …. No, strike that; I’m writing this exposition for those who aren’t.
Homer, the blind Greek storyteller (not the Simpson dad), told of Odysseus and his return trip from the ten-year Trojan War. Others in the epic poem include Penelope, his wife (not without suitors), and Telemachus, his son.
James Joyce took Homer’s tale and transformed it into the novel Ulysses set in early 20th-century Dublin with Leopold Bloom, his wayward wife Molly and Stephen Daedalus; this last character, Joyce’s alter ego/Telemachus/Hamlet.
Rest easy. All of this is open book.
Not that Joyce’s Ulysses is easy going. The novel is filled with obscure allusions, dense literary references, subtle puns and those stream-of-consciousness memory dumps. Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, at the book’s ending, is a sample of this last feature. Here are Molly’s thoughts streaming as she lies in bed with her husband and recalls, er, earlier goings-on:
“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Joyce’s novel Ulysses was initially thought to be obscene, just like Trump’s grabbing proclivities described to Billy Bush on the TV set of Days of Our Lives.
For years now, Ulysses has been considered a masterpiece of 20th-century English literature. It has yet to be decided whether Trump’s streams of consciousness will one day be similarly admired.
Here’s a G-rated Trump example, from his campaign speech in Sun City, North Carolina, July 21, 2016:
“Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT. Good genes, very good genes, OK? Very smart: the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart. You know, if you’re a conservative Republican—if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican, they try—oh, do they do a number. That’s why I always start off: went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune. You know, I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged. But you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me: it would have been so easy—and it’s not as important as these lives are. Nuclear is so powerful. My uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power—and that was 35 years ago—he would explain the power of what’s going to happen, and he was right. Who would have thought? But when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners— now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three. And even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger: “Fellas,”—and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so you know it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so … And they, they just killed, they just killed us.”
This particular attempt at making English great again was brought to my attention in a February 24, 2017, article of The Huffington Post discussing a peripheral but interesting issue: Japanese Interpreter: Translating Trump Word For Word Makes Us ‘Sound Stupid,’ by David Moye.
As I noted earlier here at SimanaitisSays, pity the simultaneous interpreter. He or she must convey from one language to another more than simply a speaker’s words. Also important are the speaker’s meaning, nuances, even eloquence—should there be any.
The Huffington Post quotes a French interpreter Bérengère Viennot saying Trump is not easy to translate because he seems “not to know quite where he’s going.”
Tokyo-based translator Chicako Tsuruta told The Japan Times, the country’s largest English-language newspaper, “[Trump] rarely speaks logically, and he only emphasizes one side of things as if it were the absolute truth. There are lots of moments when I suspected his assertions were factually dubious. He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid.”
James Joyce’s Ulysses has been translated into more than 20 languages. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017
A lot of people have asked, why is it you seem so calm?
And what I’ve tried to say often — and a lot of times this gets discounted in the press — is that the experience of having traveled throughout this country; having learned the stories of ordinary folks who are doing extraordinary things in their communities, in their neighborhoods; having met all the people who put so much energy and effort into our campaign; having seen the ups and downs and having seen how Washington was always the last to get what was going on, always the last to get the news — what that told me was that if we were willing to not do what was expedient, and not do what was convenient, and not try to govern based on the polls today or tomorrow or the next day, but rather based on a vision for how we can rebuild this country in a way that works for everybody — if we are focused on making sure that there are ladders of opportunity for people to continue to strive and achieve the American Dream and that that’s accessible to all, not just some — if we kept our eye on what sort of future do we want for our kids and our grandkids so that 20 years from now and 30 years from now people look back on this generation the way we look back on the Greatest Generation and say to ourselves, boy, they made some tough decisions, they got through some tough times, but, look, we now have a clean energy economy; look, our schools are revitalized; look, our health care system works for every single American — imagine how tough that was and how much resistance they met from the special interests, but they were still willing to do it — if that was how we governed, then I figure that the politics would take care of itself.
Barack Obama April 1, 2010
Interesting. However, it fails as an example of “Ulysses” stream of consciousness complexity: There’s coherency here, albeit expressed in a run-on sentence.
My point is that whatever the criticism of Trump, there was equal opportunity to criticize Barack Obama. Obama, it appears, was untouchable, where Trump is a target. To a Trump supporter this is unfair but not all together unexpected.
For the record, I enjoy your articles. I was an avid reader of Road & Track back in the 1960s and 1970s. The breadth of your interests and experiences is impressive.
I should add that although Trump’s line of thought often jumps around, it also lacks the complexity of the Penelope chapter.
Thanks for your kind words. They’re much appreciated.