I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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A Millionaire of Words

In his essay on “Invented Languages”, the poet Craig Raine observes of the stylistic hybridity of A Clockwork Orange that “sponge-meat is better than spam” ‑ that is, the compound “sponge-meat” is a richer, more suggestive, more visceral, way of representing spam on the page than the word itself. (It is also a great deal funnier, as literary detail often is.) It is a little explosion of literature: by encouraging us to think of spam as a conjunction of sponge and meat, we see it afresh and realise that, yes, spam is actually like sponge-meat. Our ability to think of one thing as another is what Ted Cohen calls our “talent for metaphor”, and it is above all this notion that informs Ulysses. Forget all the stuff about Homer; Joyce’s great novel is a paean to metaphor, to language. A cattlewoman, her “wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs”, is seen by a field milking the “dewsilky cattle”; the kidney Leopold Bloom cooks for breakfast “oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish”; walking by Trinity College, Bloom, in low spirits following Paddy Dignam’s funeral, catches sight of the city’s trams and reflects on the transience of existence: Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same; day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out. Those two loonies mooching about. Dignam carted off. Mina Purefoy swollen belly on a bed groaning to have a child tugged out of her. One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket. Other three hundred born, washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaaa. Cityful passing away, other cityful coming, passing away too: other coming on, passing on. Houses, lines of houses, streets, miles of pavements, piledup bricks, stones. Changing hands. This owner, that. Landlord never dies they say. Other steps into his shoes when he gets his notice to quit. They buy the place up with gold and still they have all the gold. Swindle in it somewhere. Piled up in cities, worn away age after age. Pyramids in sand. Built on bread and onions. Slaves. Chinese wall. Babylon. Big stones left. Round towers. Rest rubble, sprawling suburbs, jerrybuilt, Kerwan’s mushroom houses, built of breeze. Shelter for the night. No one is anything. It is this aspect of Ulysses that Michael Wood alludes…

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