Ulysses – considered something of the ultimate in literary modernism, as much for its mythical remaking of everyday life as for its often impenetrable abstraction, presaging Joyce’s later linguistic kaleidoscope, Finnegan’s Wake – was, for me, utterly transformed when my brother suggested that it was actually an attempt at descriptive realism.
That is, should you want to describe a man’s walk around the city in as detailed and realistic a way as possible, capturing every minor event and instant, then you would have to include the circumstances of that walk in their often bewildering totality: every fragmentary thought process, directionless flight of fancy, and irrelevant detail noticed along the way, via a million and one dead-ends. Things remembered and then forgotten. Deja vu.
That daydream you had early today? That was, Ulysses suggests, part of the infrastructure of the city you live in.