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James Joyce Quarterly 44.3 (2008) 523-538

Win a Dream Date with James Joyce
Tim Conley
Brock University

I don't care this fig for contempt of courting. (FW 145.16)


Would you describe yourself as lonely? Do you find it difficult to meet people? Is there no one who seems to understand you? If so, there is hope for you in modern literature, for all of your dating problems are addressed in the works of that "moist moonful date man aver" (FW 347.07), James Joyce. With some understanding of his groundbreaking work in contemporary courtship, you too can meet that special someone.

The proposition is not so ludicrous as it first seems. Consider the following personals ad found in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail for 27 September 1997:


for Ulysses? Could be. Receptive, creative woman, slender and very alive in my 40s. Seeking earthly gentleman, 48+, with unaffected style and grace. Please call for details.

Unfortunately, my youth and fierce doubts about my earthliness have prevented me from calling for those details, but the temptation is obvious; and what is more, such an advertisement represents a salient hint at the extent to which Joyce has been absorbed into a significant field of popular consciousness, by which I mean what I am going to describe as "romantic culture." Richard Ellmann's conviction (shared by many and here crudely summarized) that love is the overarching theme of Ulysses is as popular as it is almost unassailably general. I—perhaps a softie—am vulnerable to such arguments, but for the purposes of this discussion a greater focus is needed: after all, love is not a small concept. While much has been said and written of marriage in Joyce, comparatively little has been made of the equally polymorphous, though rather less tangible, problems of courtship. The theory and practice of "dating," the sometimes confusing ritual [End Page 523] of modern love ("love's young fizz"—FW 462.08-09—we shall see, is as marketable as Pepsi: "the choice of a new generation"), are part of the dedicated overturning of romantic ideals found to occur in Joyce's works. "You love a certain person," Ulysses assures its reader (U 12.1499-1500). What are you going to do about it?

One of the most unusual—if not altogether unlikely—commodifications of Joyce is this assimilation into popular romantic culture, a phenomenon that itself represents an economic commodification. This paper examines the protocols and probabilities of dating in Joyce's time, within Joyce's work, and (strangest of all) how they have been affected by Joyce, the cultural phenomenon. Put another way, I propose to trace here the salient but previously unexplored connections between two public and commercial institutions: the reading of Joyce and the modern rites of courtship. In an entertaining essay titled "The Joycean Unconscious, or Getting Respect in the Real World," Vincent J. Cheng reflects on the currency of Joyce in popular culture and relates a personal anecdote about a time "when I was dating a young woman who happened to be named Joyce":

My friends (and I myself) found this Joycean serendipity very amusing, but Joyce herself did not—since she had no idea who this James Joyce I kept talking about was. And yet I discovered, as I got to know her better, that her responses to some Joycean names or concepts I would sometimes bring up were neither completely clean slates nor random Rorschach tests: for example, she had heard of the name Molly Bloom and associated it vaguely with female sexuality. This made me start to wonder about the ways in which Joycean terms and concepts might enter the popular consciousness at unconscious, subliminal levels—and what those effects would be, even effects that could be used and manipulated to sell products.1

Cheng does not tell us how things turned out with Joyce, but the use of the past tense is suggestive, and the essay turns out to be bizarrely un-self-conscious as...


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