Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Leopold Bloom's Bookshelves

Someone has rearranged Leopold Bloom's books. You can drag them to create your own ordering or click on the encircled "i" on any spine to read about the volume and its presentation in Ulysses. In some cases, you can even read digital editions of the books (or books much like them).

In the novel, the bookshelf's contents appear in response to the questioning narrator of "Ithaca" (U 17), who commands, "Catalogue these books" (U 17.1361). The answering narrator dutifully produces a list, and the reader can imagine that the entries in the list would neatly rotate themselves, one entry per book, onto Bloom's shelves, to be read much like the words on the page.

We found, however, that creating a digital version of the bookshelf revealed the fissures in the textual representation of the shelf. Three of the entries have titles listed in "Ithaca" that would likely not be visible to the viewer: one book's title is obliterated, another book has a missing cover, and a third occupant of the shelf is a sewn pamphlet that would probably not have had a title on the spine. Even at this basic level, one cannot judge these books by their covers. Another title turns out to be a two-volume set, so one entry in Joyce's catalog becomes two on our shelf. Other books, such as Thoughts from Spinoza, seem to be generic rather than specific titles in Joyce's time, and still others are fictional.

In other words, this project might appear to be a simple translation of form, a conjuring of one page of Ulysses as an annotated visual model. In fact, working on the project made us keenly aware of the folly of such translation, or at least its necessary incompleteness, in the light of the playfulness of Joyce's approach to catalogs and lists.