Reading Joyce in Dublin

Before I arrived in Ireland, a friend of mine gave me a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In some impatience, I immediately flipped to the last few pages, to the famous “Molly Bloom” monologue. The last few words have always captivated me. “Yes I said yes I will yes.” The kind of breathless cry to the interlocutor, it reminded me of my first big philosophical project, the ethics of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

It feels really charming to read Ulysses while living in Dublin because the book takes place over a single day in Dublin; on Bloomsday people across the city trace the novel’s plot throughout the town. My day is usually comprised of the following: I wake up, go to class, eat lunch on the lawn with friends, go to the gym, and spend my evenings in clubs, like orchestra or debate, and the occasional pub. More than anything, I have been grateful for the quiet time to reflect and grow. My first observation is that Americans love a fast, ruthless pace of life, yet in Ireland that is definitely not the case.

I love the green spaces around Dublin, particularly St. Stephen’s Green. Other highlights include seeing a wonderful play at a local theater, meeting Senator Mitchell, who at 90 years old, is incredibly charming, and visiting other Mitchell’s in Galway and Derry.

My time in Ireland has also been hard too. In the interest of being honest to the reader, myself, and my heart, I wish to share two realizations I have had.

The first concerns academics, particularly philosophy. Philosophy, as I study more of the analytical tradition and metaphysics, seems to be really different from what I thought it was. The 20th century move away from “transcendental” metaphysical questions to a type of metaphysics that is similar to science made philosophy less of an art form, in my opinion. At first, I felt disillusioned by this; I thought, is philosophy really just these little linguistic games? But recently, I have been able to appreciate the great art of metaphysics. Our metaphysical presuppositions scale up to mathematics and science; for example, it can change what axioms relating to Cantor’s infinite we can use in physics. I think I need to feel that the work I am doing matters in some way, and after some haze, I can see that path.

The second concern in Ireland is more social. Moving is hard. Being a young adult in a new place is really hard. At times, I am overwhelmed by the thought that I really know few people here and am away from my family and friends, yet I am reveling in the opportunity to make more friends and meet new people. At other times I feel really culture shocked by Ireland, in small ways, ways that I can’t properly remember to write here. To overcome this, I try to ground gratitude in my thinking and really appreciate the beauty of this island.

In Ireland, I truly feel that I constantly experience the kindness of strangers. Recently, on my trip to Londonderry, I planned to take a 6:00 a.m. bus back to Dublin. I was at a remote bus stand by the river in the blue-dark and no one was around. I asked a stranger who just parked his car and was going on a run. In a second, after understanding my situation, he told me I was on the wrong side of the river and offered to drive me, so I’d make it in time. This story is just one small example of the kindnesses I have experienced here.

I sometimes find myself staying in my room avoiding the cold. But I try to put forward my full force of character and presence to make the most of this amazing opportunity to study here. In my own way, yes I said yes I will yes.

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