Twitterers take on Ulysses

The decline of Western civilisation in 140 characters or less

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:45

Forget about Ashton Kutcher. James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the most difficult novels in English, is on Twitter.

Two devotees of Ulysses have adapted its 10th chapter to Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per post.

Called Wandering Rocks, the chapter is especially well-suited to Twitter because it follows 19 Dubliners going about their daily business.

For three years now, Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech professor, and friend Ian McCarthy, a product manager at LinkedIn, have commemorated "Bloomsday" on Twitter on June 16.

That date in 1904 is when the entirety of Ulysses takes place, chronicling the experiences of a man named Leopold Bloom.

Bogost says using Twitter "for literary performance art might help shift perspectives on the service" and get people to use it for more than self-centered musings.

"Perhaps in so doing, we can shift people's interest in social media technologies from egomania and immediacy toward deliberation and cultural reflection," Bogost wrote in an email from Australia.

Bogost and McCarthy have dubbed their performance Twittering Rocks, a play on the chapter's title that could also mean Twittering is awesome.

They have registered 54 of the novel's key characters as Twitter users, and Bogost built a software program that tweets their first-person utterances at the correct moments in the chapter.

"The result is a complex web of timed interactions between many characters," he said, "precisely the effect Joyce was aiming for in the novel."

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