Print anything

Print anything

In Brief

Reading a short story as he sits on the toilet, Bloom thinks that they will "Print anything now." No doubt he intends this as a comment on the quality of stuff published in Titbits, and his creator is probably casting a sly glance at the deliberately bad story he wrote while in school and had a friend submit to that periodical. But Joyce must also have been thinking of the monster novel he was hoping to unleash on the world. Never before had literary art featured a detailed and sympathetic account of defecation. Joyce ardently believed that all parts of human experience were fit to write about, but this choice endangered his chances of publication, since powerful forces were arrayed to suppress the printing of obscene things.

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§ When he wrote Calypso Joyce was struggling to find someone to publish his new novel, just as he had with earlier fictions. In Britain and America, publishers and printers could be prosecuted and sentenced to hard time for violating obscenity laws. In his painfully protracted negotiations with George Roberts over Dubliners, Joyce had refused to remove even single words as the price for getting his book into print. The experience evidently hardened his resolve to represent human reality as he saw it, without bowing to conventional understandings of morality, so Ulysses took up sexuality and bodily functions with a vengeance. Ezra Pound, who acted as a literary editor at Dora Marsden's magazine The Egoist in London and Margaret Anderson's The Little Review in Chicago, helped Joyce place serialized installments of his new work in both periodicals, but he felt that Joyce was taking unnecessary risks, both in terms of alienating his readers and in terms of endangering his publishers.

In a 29 March 1918 letter to Joyce, Pound explained why he had decided to excise the squirm-inducing parts of Calypso: "I suppose we’ll be suppressed. The Egoist printers wont set up the stuff at all.... Section 4. has excellent things in it; but you overdo the matter.... The contrast between Blooms interior poetry and his outward surroundings is excellent, but it will come up without such detailed treatment of the dropping feces.... Perhaps an unexpurgated text of you can be printed in a greek or bulgarian translation later. / I’m not even sure “urine” is necessary in the opening page. The idea could be conveyed just as definitely. / In the thing as it stands you will lose effectiveness. The excrements will prevent people from noticing the quality of things contrasted. / At any rate the thing is risk enough without the full details of the morning deposition. / If we are suppressed too often we’ll be suppressed finally and for all, to the damn’d stoppage of all our stipends. AND I cant have our august editress jailed, NOT at any rate for a passage which I do not think written with utter maestria."

Thus the version of Calypso published in The Little Review in June 1918 contains an obvious gap. Bloom experiences a fullness and "a gentle loosening" in his belly, decides that it is "Too much trouble to fag up the stairs to the landing," and then goes out "into the garden," but his visit to an outhouse there is entirely elided. He reads some of the story, and then suddenly he is standing in sunlight again: "In the bright light he eyed carefully his black trousers: the ends, the knees, the houghs of the knees." No details of his defecation and urination are included. Nor is the phrase "Print anything now."

In the full version published in 1922, Joyce put Bloom inside the dusty old backyard "jakes" and wove together details of him reading with details of him relieving himself: "Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees"; "Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently, that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone"; "Print anything now. Silly season. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell"; "He glanced back through what he had read and, while feeling his water flow quietly, he envied kindly Mr Beaufoy who had written it and received payment of three pounds, thirteen and six"; "He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it. Then he girded up his trousers, braced and buttoned himself. He pulled back the jerky shaky door of the jakes and came forth from the gloom into the air."

These sentences are striking not only for representing the universal human experience of using the toilet in the morning, but also for associating evacuation with reading and writing. Joyce would later make the linkage comically unforgettable in the Shem the Penman chapter of Finnegans Wake (1.7), where the unspeakably "low" artist makes ink out of his own feces and urine. But it is already on his mind in Calypso as Bloom reads his way to relief and wipes himself with Beaufoy's writing. He seems to be suggesting that excremental matters belong in print because the most elevated intellectual activities take place in dialogue with the lowest corporeal functions. This linkage may make a bit more sense today, and defecation may have lost some of its power to shock, but the passage is still arresting, even disturbing. And getting the novel published (by Sylvia Beach in Paris) was not the end of Joyce's troubles. He still faced bans, confiscations, and immolations, and more than a decade passed before an American judge declared the novel not obscene.

Thanks to John Glendening for pointing out, in a personal communication, that "Print anything now" applies to what Bloom is doing in the outhouse. To my knowledge, no one has yet remarked on this––in print, at least.

JH 2022
1922 photograph of Sylvia Beach and James Joyce seated in Beach's bookshop. Source:
Photograph of Morris Ernst (holding a book, at left), the man who successfully challenged the U.S. ban on Ulysses in 1932 and 1933, appearing in court on behalf of Gustave Flaubert's novella November in 1935. Source:
Jerry, a 1931 painting by Paul Cadmus of his lover Jerry French reading the first edition of the purportedly obscene Ulysses in bed. Source: