I was walking to work this morning, and as I am engaging in a photo-a-day type thingy this year, I had my trusted camera by my side and my eye out. One of the things which caught my attention was a poster for a play, which featured the quote “A nation is the same people living in the same place”, attributed to James Joyce.
It immediately got me thinking. Is that statement correct? Would I agree – is that the definition of a nation? I was thinking about this, and plotting a post around it and thought that I should first research the quote and find out the context in which it was written.
It turns out it is a quote from Ulysses. It is spoken by the character Leopold Bloom in a dialogue with John Wyse.
— Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it.
Perpetuating national hatred among nations.
— But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.
— Yes, says Bloom.
— What is it? says John Wyse.
— A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same
— By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m
living in the same place for the past five years.
It then occurred to me, is it totally accurate to present that line as being from James Joyce? He did actually write it, but he wrote it as the words and thoughts of Leopold Bloom. Bloom is a fictional character, and he doesn’t necessarily share the same thoughts and ideas as Joyce. Joyce wrote the dialogue from the point of view of Bloom, but by writing that line and attributing it to Joyce without any context, it is implied that Joyce believed that.
Consider the following:
I don’t want to see my country fall into the hands of German jews
If you were to see that quote printed by itself on a poster with no other context, how would it make you feel? You may well think Joyce was anti-Semitic and/or some kind of paranoid rabid nationalist.
Of course, this too is a line of dialogue from a character in Ulysses. Furthermore, the character Haines isn’t talking about Ireland, he is talking about his own native Britain. Would it be fair or honest to print that line in such a way as to suggest Joyce said it? By selectively quoting and placing the actual author of the lines name next to it, the words, their meaning and their origins are skewed.
I often wonder how many other quotes we take for granted are taken completely out of context like this and attributed to their author when in fact it is the words of a fictional person. I don’t know if I think its right to quote a line of dialogue from a fictional character and attribute it directly to the author. Of course, the author did write it…but it can imply the author endorses or believes it. Would it have been more honest for the poster to attribute the quote to Leopold Bloom?
(P.s. I think Bloom/Joyce is wrong…..)