June 16 is Bloomsday, named after the character of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s huge book takes place all on that long June day in 1904—250,000 words long, that is. We are told that Ulysses is one of the most important books of the century.

We are told it is an intelligent book. But who amongst us has ever had a serious and satisfying intellectual discussion of the book? Dare we ask who has truly read it?

Ulysses seems to encourage false postures and impostors of bourgeois bohemia —those bores who eagerly call themselves “artist” and who create no art. It has also been a boon to academia, to the producers of thesis papers, and to those who hold literary conferences. There are so many theories about the book that it keeps this crowd away from the unemployment queue, enabling them to wander further around in mazes lost.

Those who seek to solve the riddle of the great Ulysses can do it with one blinding strike of the pike. You can put out the eye of that giant, dumb Cyclops by reading “An Analysis Of The Mind Of James Joyce,” a short essay in a very intelligent book by Wyndham Lewis entitled Time and Western Man. Lewis, a contemporary of Joyce, picked up the thread to lead us out of the Joycean labyrinth and examined much of what is wrong with the intellect in our age.

Therein is examined the all-in-one-day scheme, the obsession with time, the interior monologue, and the tendency of modern man to create his own reality, his own country, whose borders are the walls of his skull.

For modern man is mind m isolation. To his own peril man hovers, as Mehille said, over Descartean vortices. Heed well, ye pantheist! Joyce’s Ulysses starts with a mockery of what once united European civilization—the Mass. Soon thereafter the book, like Western culture, breaks up into solipsistic soliloquies.

Joyce took refuge from our troubled times inside his mind, creating a dream world of Victorian Dublin, Since the Renaissance and so-called Enlightenment, man has turned away from God, thinking himself not only the master but creator of his world. We have closed down the cloistered orders and have cloistered ourselves within our minds. The so-called Enlightenment and scientific method encourage us to throw out all things of tradition and human knowledge unless they can be rationally proved. The modern mind today is at the mercy of these rational experts. Yeats (whom Joyce arrogantly dismissed as someone he had met too late to help) had taken the pulse of our agonally breathing civilization. He saw correctly and was deeply troubled that—

Ancient lineaments are blotted out

Irrational streams of blood are staining earth

Empedocles has thrown all things about

Hector is dead there’s a light in Troy

Joyce posed and “pared his fingernails,” unconcerned about his country’s struggle for independence and two world wars. He cared not for his time nor for history or tradition. In Ulysses all that exists, exists only for now. The past has no significance except as the “I” imagines it.

Ulysses smashes all unities of time and space and the reader is swallowed into the vortex of the Joycean modern mind. Lewis does not deny Joyce’s skill. He does criticize the trend in Joyce and other modern writers to escape our Western inheritance and tradition of thought to wallow in the primitive unconscious.

Lewis calls the stream of consciousness a “barbaric technique, an illusion dear to man in his decadence, the belief that an impoverished consciousness may be enriched by an uprush of unconscious vitality. As a chthonic creature man hopes to be born again from the same womb. He wishes to be either pure organism or pure spirit, but he is condemned to be man.” The Joycean world is not a world of hard crisp reality or intellect. It is a vague one of timelessness and flux that conforms to the dominant ideologies of the age—Scientism, Evolutionism, Freudianism, etc. Behind it all is the dead idea that man is minutia that is acted upon like a puppet rather than a special creature who thinks and acts.

“So timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal.” This quotation from Joyce is demonstrative of the modern idea that eternity is imprisoned in its unchangeableness; God, too, is a distant prisoner of His own eternal plan. This intellectual naïveté looks at God in human terms. Eternity is thus misunderstood in a purely negative sense as “timelessness,” as the opposite to time, as something that cannot make its influence felt in time. In short, there is no Holy Spirit. This is the despair of the modern mind-set. It lends itself to feelings of extreme loneliness, uselessness, and futility. It turns the mind in on itself. This is the modern equivalent of a very ancient and destructive heresy called gnosticism. It is the fundamental problem of the modern world.

With all his dramatization of Catholic education and talk of St. Thomas Aquinas, Joyce, the product of a corrupt Irish clericalism, did not understand the true nature of what it means to be Catholic nor the truth about grace, love, and the Holy Spirit. This is why there is a coldness and pride in his work.

Much is made of the Joycean technique of “epiphany.” But it should be understood as a secular epiphany, one trapped in time that does not see through to the nature of things. Since rejecting the Holy Spirit, modern man cannot reconcile his eternal element of being with the world, and so he creates his own world. He becomes his own God in his own mind, with such terrible consequences in this century.

Lewis sees Joyce as conforming to his time and being coldly indifferent to a modern cultural problem where things are very debased—with a universal conformity of puppet people who never think for themselves but do as they are instructed by the mass society so as to avoid thought, the exercise of free will, suffering, and all that makes a real human being. All the world—O’Connell Bridge included—is falling, falling down, falling down, while Joyce hides behind thick indifferent lenses. Patrick Kavanagh, a great modern poet and prophetic critic, said that Joyce was not building up a patrimony like Dante but was engaged in “spending our spiritual patrimony, leading us away from the Ideal to utter emptiness and futility, and that history would deal savagely with such spenders.”

Nothing heroic happens in this Ulysses. No adventures present themselves to this inner traveler. No monsters met. No Circe circumvented. Nothing! Bloom meets Daedalus. Bloom masturbates. Molly adulterates. There is no recognized home to which to return. Modern man is adrift. There is no abiding city. When the rosy fingers of dawn appear, we are assaulted by words and endless excursions into the mind. Words and sounds take the place of constructive thought and action. Words are beat, beat, beaten into you. All is awhirl like the pounding thump of modern dance, or the disorder of jazz.

For Lewis, the artist must be intelligent and stand outside the conformity of his era. With T.S. Eliot, he believed the artist should be heterodox when everyone else is orthodox in order to bring man back to the real. The artist must not be an empty cistern to be filled with the prevailing ideology but an overflowing fountain. Lewis sees Joyce as more of a technician than an inventive intelligence, saying, “There is very little going on in the mind of Mr. James Joyce.”

This past Bloomsday saw the publication of yet another edition of Ulysses edited by another Joycean, one Danis Rose, and published by Picador. The New York Times arts page reported the controversy. Mr. Rose said he sought to clarify the text by making 10,000 edits to the 250,000 words. But another Joyce cultist rose up in arms against clarity. Fritz Senn, director of the James Joyce Foundation of Zurich, said “that in trying to make the text clearer, Mr. Rose may have subverted elements that brought genius to Ulysses.” He added: “I’ve always enjoyed the passages where you couldn’t tell what the author meant.”

Another far more interesting controversy will brew with the publication this autumn of a book by Lawrence Rainey of Yale entitled Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture. A synopsis of the book’s thesis, “The Real Scandal of Ulysses,” was published in the Times Literary Supplement on January 31. It seems Ulysses and other works of literary modernism manipulate the book market with limited expensive editions bought up by dealers and speculators in order to increase demand and inflate the price. As Professor Rainey writes, “no longer confident that they could appeal to the public sphere in support of their assertions about the aesthetic value of Ulysses [they] turned instead to the workings of the market itself, taking its outcomes to be confirmation, even justifications, of their claims.” Adds the good professor, “the invisible hand of Adam Smith is not a moral or rational agent, nor can it be an aesthetic agent.” One wonders whether this is a demonstration of the third principle in the Joycean trinity of “silence, exile, and cunning.”

So perhaps your Bloomsday has been forever punctured. Not to worry. Get out that old Victorian dress, rent a horse, oil a jaunting car, and go for a drive around town. Someone will take your photograph. Everyone (well, most everyone) will believe you most cultured and intelligent. And what, after all, is mass society but solipsistic escape from reality?