Bad Timing and Ulysses's Failed Jokes Academic Article uri icon


  • James Joyce's Ulysses is punctuated by bad jokes. While the novel is itself comedic, the scripted rhetoric of humor throughout the narrative fails, revealing fractures in an Irish community divided by shared colonial experience. Good jokes depend on both communal feeling and participants' desire to experience time as pleasurably oriented to future gratification. Ulysses's bad jokes are symptoms of the striated and retrogressive experience of a colonized community, which is politically oriented to the past. Humor in Ulysses takes place in a nonsynchronous time (to adopt Ernst Bloch's term) at odds with the rhetorical forms of joking that are more usually associated with anticipation and futurity. The anteriority of the novel's joking is a reminder of the cultural memory in which Dublin is steeped; historical grievances, which in many ways determine each character's private grief, are set against the novel's prospective comedic form. In other words, Joyce counters the retrospective political life with his novel's comedic orientation to the future.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 1.85

author list (cited authors)

  • Eide, M.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Eide, Marian

publication date

  • November 2013