Dude, Where’s My Van? Part 11: Streaming Live


Okay, here goes.

Just clear the mind and typ—*BEEp!* Oop, dryer is done.


Don’t bother with laundry now. It can wait. And stop thinking about lunch. You’re not that hungry. Just close your eyes, fingers at the ready. And focus your thoughts on. On –

Dublin, Ireland. June 16th, 1904: 

Jim Joyce, aspiring author, enjoys his first date with a fetching woman, one Nora Barnacle, a chamber maid for the Finn Hotel, recently chance met as she exited her workplace onto Nassau Street. At first, Nora had mistaken him for a Swedish sailor. Still, she agreed to a date. 

On their big day together, the two get along quite well, bonding over a shared disdain for their homeland, and for Catholic piety. The date culminates in a brief moment of intimacy, which Nora adroitly takes into her own hands. Thus begins a relationship that would endure for the rest of Jim’s life. 

“The rush of the thought is so headlong that it almost always brings us up at the conclusion before we can arrest it.

The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see the darkness.”

William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890 

—Damn. Lost my rush of thought. James. Joyce. Okay. James Joyce’s life. A wife for life. His trouble and strife. Oh wait, that’s Cockney slang. Gotta stick to –

Dublin, Ireland. February 2, 1882: 

John and May Joyce give birth to a son, James Augustine Aloysius.

James would grow up the eldest son of a large middle class household, one filled with laughter and affection, but also stricken by chaos and poverty due to his father’s drinking habits. 

He received a Jesuit education and started writing poems at an early age. Once in university, it was clear that he thrived in academic and artistic circles. Soon after, he headed off to Paris, with no intention of returning to Ireland. It was family that brought him back.

His mother was dying from cancer. Yet despite her pleas, James refused to take confession or engage in any other ceremonial rites before her passing. Atheist or not, this memory would haunt him for the rest of his days, filling him with a guilt that was decidedly Catholic.

James pushed on with his writing after her death, hoping to capture some profound truths about the human condition.

He began to work on a story, called Stephen Hero. It was to be about an aspiring young writer, like Joyce himself. The titular hero of this epic narrative would be just an ordinary man, the story’s plot a snapshot of everyday human life in the modern world. 

And then he met Nora.

They moved from Ireland to Croatia, and then to what is now Italy. Then, alas. His Stephen Hero story wasn’t getting anywhere, so he set it aside. Instead, he began to work on starkly Realist snapshots of life in his hometown, via a collection of short stories, to be published in 1909 as The Dubliners

The Dubliners was received with critical acclaim. Well, aside from the old friends and family he had turned into fodder for his stories, of course.

Don’t fault the painter for your own poor traits,” as they say. They being me. Mea maximum culpa. Sum valde doleo, mi iratus carorum.

No matter the reaction, Joyce hungered for something greater.

He wished to move beyond conventional storytelling to something newer and deeper. Something that captured the mind as a person moved through the moments of his or her life. A psychological Realism, if such a thing were possible. 

He took his discarded Stephen Hero ideas and began to completely rework them. He also changed the name of his protagonist to something more amenable to the author’s role as a master craftsmen of mythic proportions: the young Stephen Hero was now Stephen Dedalus, named after the man whose genius had imprisoned monsters and freed his son Icarus, who soared into the sky on waxen wings.

“The Odyssey is merely a story of adventure, the instinctive story-telling of a sea-faring race. So we may begin it, reading quickly in the spirit of children wanting amusement to find out what happens next. But here is nothing immature; here are full-grown people, crafty, subtle, and passionate… Penelope crosses the room; Telemachus goes to bed; Nausicaa washes her linen; and their actions seem laden with beauty because they do not know that they are beautiful, have been born to their possessions, are no more self-conscious than children, and yet, all those thousands of years ago, in their little islands, know all that is to be known.” — Virginia Woolf, On Not Knowing Greek, 1925

London, England. May 29, 1912:

Adeline Virginia Stephen writes a letter to her suitor, Leonard Woolf, to inform him of her decision to accept his offer of marriage. She has real misgivings about the prospect, which she has already shared with him several times. Not least because she doesn’t feel passion or strong desire for him.

Yet perhaps this new path would take her life to some greener pastures. She desperately needed a change, after all.

At this time, Virginia was experiencing her first major artistic crisis. She had recently drafted her first novel, titled Melymbrosia, and had shared it with friends and colleagues. 

The feedback was decidedly mixed. They praised the lyricism of her writing and her construction of character, but most of them also told her that it was too raw and provocative. Such explicit sexual content and sharp political criticisms would never be published in England, they feared.

This despite the tremendous toll that writing the manuscript had taken on her health. She had leaned into the negative thoughts of her illness in order to astutely capture real pathos for the psychology of her characters- yet the ordeal nearly brought her to suicide.

Eventually, she would completely rework the draft, toning down its content. The new story focused on the struggles of a young independent woman trying to live within the strictures of married life. She would publish The Voyage Out in 1915, and it received acclaim for its narrative evocation of its characters’ inner worlds. But Virginia Woolf hungered for something greater.

“His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word, and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven;

– and at times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower.”

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916. 

Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was a meditation on his upbringing and growth into young adulthood.

More pointedly, it was the tale of a boy whose intellectual and artistic development left him feeling alienated from his struggling middle class family, his provincial home town, and even his sense of national identity.

It had the stark realism of The Dubliners, but with a looser prose style that attended to young Stephen’s inner thoughts as he navigated the world around him. 

Yet Joyce was already striving toward something grander, something far more ambitious than a mere coming of age story. Stephen Dedalus would return to readers, but as part of something completely new. Something big and bold and exciting, like a Kandinsky painting set to words.

He would finish the first few chapters of what would become Ulysses in 1918, and looked for someone willing to publish them. 

London, England. April 14, 1918:

The activist and editor Harriet Shaw Weaver visits the residence of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. She delivers some chapters of writing by James Joyce in the hope that the Woolfs will agree to publish the full novel via their Hogarth Press.

Virginia agrees to read the chapters, but soon decides that Joyce’s work is far too long. And far too indecent. She sends a letter indicating that Hogarth Press will not be able to publish it.

It is commonly said that Virginia Woolf looked down upon James Joyce’s Ulysses, based on some undeniably harsh statements she had made in private and in public.

The reality is much more complicated, and more interesting. 

To be sure, she had major problems with Joyce’s writing, particularly his frankness when it came to farts, bowel movements, and dirty thoughts. He wanted to capture life and thoughts as they were, including the rougher edges. Woolf found it all too indecent for her taste. 

But looking at the entirety of her comments on the novel, what becomes clear is that his work haunted her. And perhaps threatened her. She tried to dismiss Joyce’s writing, over and over.

But the truth is, she could not escape the vast shadow that suddenly loomed over her.

“And Gibraltar as a girl where 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.” — James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922

Here was a book that her good friend T. S. Eliot was saying was the most significant literary achievement of their time, the Great Modern Novel.

One that faithfully rendered how people really think, and even get lost in their thoughts. A book with real insights into its characters, and about the emotional predicaments of most humans in the modern age. 

In other words, the very book that Virginia Woolf was trying to write herself at that time. Yet this “underbred” man from Dublin had done it before her, in the crudest and flashiest manner possible. Her contempt for his indecency no doubt reveals some level of classism, but considering that Woolf had been persuaded to censor her own work for sexual and political content, her resentment likely also stemmed from envy. To see this man flirting with risk in a way that a woman never could, perhaps that was salt in the wound.

Most of all, I think it was a professional survival tactic.

Because she needed to get her own book written, her own modernist masterpiece.

So she distanced herself as much as she could from Joyce’s shadow, and set to write her own stream of consciousness story, in her own style.

“But they beckoned; leaves were alive; trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down; when the branch stretched he, too, made that statement.

The sparrows fluttering, rising, and falling in jagged fountains were part of the pattern; the white and blue, barred with black branches. Sounds made harmonies with premeditation; the spaces between them were as significant as the sounds. A child cried. Rightly far away a horn sounded. All taken together meant the birth of a new religion—

“Septimus!” said Rezia. He started violently. People must notice.”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1928

In the end, we are left with two modernist masterpieces, both employing new prose techniques for the sake of psychological realism. Both centered on a few characters moving about the moments of a single day, barely interacting with one another. Both using humdrum details of everyday life to mask deeper, more poignant truths about the characters.

If Joyce was Kandinsky, Woolf was Hilma Af Klint, attempting to ascertain the secrets that lay behind our conscious thoughts.

The authors themselves never interacted directly. James Joyce died from surgery complications in January 1941, just a few years after publishing his impenetrable final book, Finnegan’s Wake. Upon reading news about his death, Virginia wrote some conflicted, but mostly complimentary words about Joyce in her diary. Unfortunately, struggling once again with mental illness, she took her own life two months later by walking into a river with her pockets full of heavy stones.

“Let any one try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs.

Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.”

William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890

Our lives are defined by the inexorable passage of time.

We grow older, our priorities change, our relationships change, and the world around us changes, sometimes beyond our recognition.

There is real wisdom in the art of appreciating the moment to moment, on reflecting on the nature of reflection, of thinking about the passage of time, and what it means for us as we rush along with that roaring current.

My heartfelt thanks to Joyce and Woolf, and all the others who have opened our eyes to the stream before us.

Paris, France. Some Lost Time, 1914: 

Marcel Proust writes an angry letter to me and sends it into the future:

“Hey, what am I? Chopped liver??”

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Phylum of Alexandria

Committed music junkie. Recovering academic. Nerd for life.

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JJ Live At Leeds
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JJ Live At Leeds
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September 12, 2023 5:23 am

I didn’t know about the connection between Joyce and Woolf. Illuminating stuff, especially the impacts on Woolf. Persuaded to tone down her own work and to then be presented with someone else who rather than toning it down took it to extremes.

I haven’t read any Virginia Woolf, another to add to the list to put right.

I have read Ulysses. I read quickly. Given a clear schedule I’ll get through a 300 page book in a day. Which was a problem when I was travelling; lots of down time on buses, trains, planes and not enough literature to keep me going. So I decided to give Ulysses a go in an attempt to slow me down. It worked.

Bought it from a 2nd hand book store in Sydney that itself was an impenetrable chaotic presence. Narrow aisles, shelves all the way to the low ceilings strewn with uncategorised books and the floorspace further taken up by piles of books reaching upwards. It was like charting a course through an unexplored cave.

Ulysses accompanied me for two months across the whole of Australia, I only finished it on the 3 day train journey from Perth back to Sydney before I flew home. By that point my backpack had taken its toll on it. The cover had long since departed, the binding was coming away, earlier pages falling away and in a state of distress. On finishing it there was no option but to commit the cardinal sin of putting a book in the bin. The remains of it anyway.

I can’t say I enjoyed it as such but I appreciated the creativity that went into it. Never read anything so dense that required so much concentration to really take it all in. I felt a sense of achievement on finishing it, especially after getting past that final unending block of text.

I’m happy to leave Finnegans Wake unread.

JJ Live At Leeds
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September 12, 2023 1:42 pm

I’ve considered Proust as well but like you say….. I’m not sure I can commit. If I ever have another couple of months with nothing to do then I might go for it. That’s retirement taken care of then.

Have you read Ducks, Newburyport? Ive seen it unfairly classed as the housewives Ulysses. Another gargantuan effort with 1,000 pages of stream of conciousness of a middle aged mother’s internal dialogue over the course of the day. Definite parallels with Ulysses but this one plays out on an interminable loop as the same thoughts repeat over and over. Nothing like as rich in dialogue which in this scenario fits the character but it read to me as a very effective take on the constant activity of the mind. Leaping from thought to thought, sometimes midstream and unfinished and then looping back as the mind wanders.

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September 12, 2023 9:15 pm

There is a Gilligan’s Wake.

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September 12, 2023 10:57 am

I started reading Ulysses in a library and put it back on the shelf after half an hour. I may be in the majority on this but it’s just way too dense. However, Joyce was a big influence on Hemingway, so there’s that.

Still, give me Vonnegut and Seuss any day.

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September 12, 2023 11:55 am
Reply to  Virgindog

I’m with you. I tried Ulysses and gave up only a short way in. I enjoyed Dubliners, but my tolerance of Joyce ends there. The first thing I read of Virginia Woolf’s was Orlando. Wow. That led me further into Woolf, whose work I enjoy much more than Joyce.

However, I prefer Vonnegut or Hemingway to either of them. And Dr. Seuss, well, just classic all day every day.

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September 12, 2023 9:04 pm

From Jane Campion’s In the Cut.

Frannie: Where are we going?

Detective Rodriguez: To the lighthouse.

Frannie: You ever been there?

Detective Rodriguez: To the lighthouse.

Frannie: I teach that book.

Detective Rodriguez: I fish there.

This is where Jane Campion loses her audience.

And maybe, it got harder for Campion to get her movies financed. In the Cut went into wide release. It was a thriller that wasn’t all that thrilling. She made an art film on the studio’s dime.

I’ll make this brief. This is what I remember from narratology class.

Male narrative: action.
Female narrative: talk.

Campion made a feminist thriller that prioritizes talk over action.

A lot of chit-chat between Meg Ryan and Jennifer Jason-Leigh.

In the Cut is due for a reevaluation.

At some point in people’s scholastic lives, isn’t everybody assigned Ms. Dalloway?

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September 13, 2023 8:55 pm

I quite enjoy the Spike Lee/Quentin Tarantino feud. I like Lee and Tarantino equally. And they both have a point. Arguably, Samuel L. Jackson’s endorsement of Tarantino is the tiebreaker. Tarantino might be a jerk in real life. Evidence: He shed himself of all his old friends. Uma Thurman has injuries that persist to this day. But I don’t agree with Lee implying that Tarantino is a racist. Just guessing here. But I think he took Lee’s argument seriously, and tried to answer the criticism. Jackson’s character in Django Unchained has an arc I didn’t see coming. Wow, I thought, quietly. The butler has the agency. Everything in a Tarantino film has a film reference. Stephen, however, could be an outlier. My best guess is Tarantino read the 2004 Pulitzer-winning novel The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

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September 14, 2023 2:28 pm

Oh, no. “That’s cool,” is not how I’d describe it. Way, way, way too flippant. Imagine the reaction by Paul Schrader’s Calvinist parents. The mother must’ve been thinking: This is why we didn’t let Paul watch TV. The dialogue is essential to establishing time and place, but I’m not going to lecture anybody if they want to cancel it. Conversely, the language in The Irishman is too sanitized.

I wonder what a Norman Jewison-directed Malcolm X would have looked like. I suspect it hurt Jewison. He made The Hurricane. In Crooklyn, I like that one kid who refuses to watch The Partridge Family.

True Stories is thematically similar to American Utopia.

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September 15, 2023 10:03 pm

I didn’t think you were.

I have to defend that scene.

Banning films. It’s coming. How could it not? Or, maybe, like in Cinema Paradiso, films will be recut.

Quentin Tarantino films aren’t known for its emotional depth.

His films work best in a crowded theater.

Tarantino’s own collaborators don’t like him. Enrico Morricone, before his death, sounded as if he regretted working with him.

One of the characters in Paul Schrader’s latest film, the underrated Master Gardener, wears a t-shirt that reads: All people should be feminists. Since First Reformed references Taxi Driver, and Master Gardener is almost a remake of First Reformed, I interpreted the t-shirt as Schrader’s apology for that scene. (The mixed reviews for Master Gardener drives me crazy.)

I’m a little uncomfortable with how Tarantino rewrites history. I just know there are people out there who will insist that Sharon Tate is still alive. Now they have “proof”. I say this, because people believe National Treasure is real.

Jordan Peele is a better post-modernist filmmaker, in my opinion.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x