Physics of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Ulysses The first edition of his work was published in 1922.

Enlarge / First edition of one of Dublin’s most famous literary masterpieces: Ulysses Published by James Joyce in 1922.

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UlyssesJames Joyce’s groundbreaking modernist novel celebrated its 100th anniversary last year; first published on February 2, 1922. The poet TS Eliot proclaimed the novel “the most important expression the present age has found” and Ulysses it has amassed many other fans over the ages since then. Among those admirers is Count Harry Manos, a professor of English at Los Angeles City College. Manos is also a physics fan—so much so that he penned an article published in The Physics Teacher in December 2021 detailing how Joyce interspersed multiple examples of classical physics throughout the novel.

“the truth is that Ulysses It shouldn’t be surprising that it includes so much classical physics,” wrote Manos. “Joyce’s friend Eugene Jolas observed:” [Joyce] It was a broad topic that was a pleasure to discuss… [including] certain sciences, especially physics, geometry and mathematics.’ Knowing physics can improve anyone’s understanding of this novel and enrich its entertainment value. Ulysses exemplifies what physics students (science and non-science majors) and physics teachers should realize, namely that physics and literature are not mutually exclusive.

Ulysses It chronicles the life of an ordinary Dublin man named Leopold Bloom over a single day: 16 June 1904 (now celebrated as Bloomsday around the world). Although the novel may seem unstructured and chaotic, Joyce modeled her narrative on the ‘epic’ of Homer’s epic poem. Odyssey; The 18 “chapters” generally correspond to the 24 books in Homer’s epic. Bloom represents Odysseus; his wife, Molly Bloom, corresponds to Penelope; and aspiring writer Stephen Daedalus – the main character of Joyce’s semi-autobiographical book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) – Represents Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope.

In his article, Manos states that the fictional Bloom imagines himself as a man familiar with science, but Joyce’s cunning protagonist’s knowledge shows that he is essentially an amateur from the popular science books available at the time – this would certainly explain some of the misunderstandings Bloom had . . For example, when Bloom invites Dedalus to his home, the observer tries to impress the young man by saying that it is possible to see the Milky Way during the day “if placed at the lower end of a 5000 ft cylindrical vertical shaft”. [sic] sunk deep from the surface to the center of the earth.”

James Joyce with Sylvia Beach, owner of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, in March 1930.  beach, <em>Ulysses</em>He was the first to publish it in 1922.  ” src=”×446.jpg” width=”640″ height=”446″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica .net/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/joyce2.jpg 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / James Joyce with Sylvia Beach, owner of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, in March 1930. Ulysses in 1922

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This is of course wrong; Manos writes that Rayleigh scattering will render stars invisible even from the bottom of a cylindrical vertical shaft or a tall chimney. Where did Bloom get this error from? Manos notes that Sir Robert Ball, then director of the Dunsink Observatory, just north of Dublin, published two popular books. Dedalus sees one of them, The Story of HeavenIn Blooms’ library, The other’s name Star LandHe talks about being able to see the stars in daylight from the bottom of a mine shaft or a tall chimney. If Bloom had the first book, he probably would have read it too. Star LandThat’s why it’s wrong.

Other examples of physics reflect the accepted science of the time, although later developments would disprove this science. For example, Bloom ponders how heat is transferred by convection, conduction, and radiation when boiling water for tea, and talks about how the Sun’s radiant heat is “transmitted through the ubiquitous luminous diathermenous ether.” At that time, some physicists still believed in the existence of a luminous ether that served as the medium through which light passed. It was eventually disproved, thanks to the famous Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 and Albert Einstein’s development of special relativity and his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect (his). annus mirabilis). However, Manos notes that a high school textbook contemporary with the novel’s 1904 setting still refers to the ether as a scientific fact.

In Episode 15 (“Kirke”), one of the characters says, “You can call me on the solar phone any time” – a phrase that also appears in Joyce’s handwritten notes for the episode. While Manos cannot trace a specific source for the term, there was a similar device invented about 20 years ago: the photophone, which Alexander Graham Bell co-invented with his assistant, Charles Sumner Tainter.

A photophone transmitter that shows the path of reflected sunlight before and after it has been modulated.
Enlarge / A photophone transmitter that shows the path of reflected sunlight before and after it has been modulated.

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Unlike the electric telephone, the photophone transmits sound with a beam of light. Bell’s voice was projected through the instrument into a mirror, causing similar vibrations in the mirror. When he directed the sunlight to the mirror, he caught and reflected the vibrations of the mirror through reflection; these are then converted back to sound on the receiving side of the projection. Bell’s device never found immediate application, but it is likely the ancestor of modern fiber optic telecommunications.

There are several other physics examples (both true and false/old) mentioned. Ulysses, including Bloom’s misunderstanding of x-ray science, according to Manos; confusion about parallax; Trying to find the source of buoyancy in the Dead Sea; reflect on Archimedes’ “burning glass”; seeing rainbow colors in a spray of water; and thinking why he heard the ocean when he put a seashell in his ear. Manos believes in promoting literature Ulysses Taking physics classes can be a boon to non-majors, as well as encouraging physics and engineering students to learn more about literature.

In fact, Manos notes, an earlier 1995 paper posed a useful introductory physics problem involving distance, velocity, and time. Ulysses It opens with Stephen Dedalus and his roommate Buck Mulligan standing in the Martello tower overlooking a bay in Sandy Cove. Mulligan shaves and performs an “apparent miracle” insidiously: he whistles, and a few minutes later a passing mail carrier whistles. At that hour of the morning, Mulligan had seen the mail ship about a mile away, making its usual two-tones from the shaving mirror.

Using a simple equation (t = d/v), “Students can easily calculate that at the speed of light Mulligan will see steam at 5.4 × 10.-6 s, along with the whistling sound,” Manos wrote. The heavens (the mail ship’s take-off whistle) will answer, thus performing its apparent miracle.”

DOI: Physics Teacher, 2021. 10.1119/5.0028832 (About DOIs).

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