01 June 2011

Tweeting Ulysses: Saving Space

I’ve read eight chapters of Ulysses, up to page 175 of my 735 page edition. This in preparation for my twriting (or tweading as Steve of Baltimore puts it) of a small part of the novel this coming Bloomsday, 16 June on Twitter at @11lysses. Most of this time, I have been in the mind of Leopold Bloom, experiencing his thoughts, feelings, and associations in a direct and plausible manner. After a few years of meditation followed by a few more years of psychotherapy, I’ve been able to follow my own stream of consciousness somewhat, and Joyce’s rendering of Bloom’s has an impressively authentic quality. I am appreciating the novel as a story with genuinely human characters more than before, when my interest was focused more on language experiments.

While I read, I am thinking of how I’m going to make 4 to 6 tweets of my seven pages. I want to tell the story and convey the feeling, and I want to use Twitter in a creative, experimental way. My first thought, of course, is “not enough room!” A tweet has a maximum of 140 characters, so I can use at most 840. There are different ways to respond to this challenge, many quite Joycean.

Joyce likes to agglutinate words, metaphorically glue two together to form a new word. This happens sometimes in English, but usually with a hyphen… “not-uncommon” is an example. But Joyce doesn’t use hyphens. For instance, on the page I am about to read, Joyce writes “darkgreener.” This technique saves a character, either a space or a hyphen, and gives the resulting compound word a heightened, poetic quality. It reminds me of how many computer programmers, myself included, give camel-case names to variables: “numberOfRepetitions” agglutinates three words, with the second and third words written in upper case in the midst of the compound to ease reading . “Camel-case” is named because the upper-case letters in the midst of the word stand up like camel’s humps. Perhaps it should be spelled self-referentially as “camelCase”.

Another way to save characters is the rebus, substituting a character which sounds like a word. This is common in tweet and mobile-phone text messages. “C U later” or “Me 2.” An interesting literary usage is in Alfred Bester’s SciFi novel, The Demolished Man, where two characters have the surnames @kins and Wyg&, (“Atkins” & “Wygand”.)

Abbreviations might work. I remember SpeedWriting ads from the 50’s and 60’s: “f u cn rd ths, u cn gt a gd jb.” The “u” in this example is more of a rebus than an abbreviation. This method can produce text that is quite difficult to read, and is often rather ugly.

In Joyce’s time, people sent telegrams where we use email today,, and were motivated to keep messages short to save money. So people developed telegraphic writing, leaving out pronouns, articles, and conjunctions. Example written telegraphically—words dropped, sentence shorter. At times Joyce’s stream of consciousness writing in Ulysses resembles this. But if you write telegraphically, you shouldn’t use abbreviations or rebuses, as there won’t be enough redundancy in the message to enable the reader to reconstruct it.

Another stratagem might be to use slang expressions that are shorter than their equivalents in conventional English. I’ll be tweeting part of the Nighttown section, which is in the red-light district, so I may be referring to a prostitute now and then. “Whore” is shorter, and “ho” is really short. But I’m a little uncertain about using “ho”: it’s a black American vernacular (Ebonics)or perhaps hiphop word, and it may be too wrenching to the text. I’ll have to try it out and see how it feels.

These are the experimental tweetniques (forgive me) I have found so far coming from the need to save space. Later I’ll write about some ideas that derive from different sources.


  1. MichaelSheiner02 June, 2011 20:05

    I appreciated your tweetnique ideas and your taste.Another thought is to lose the spaces between sentences.As I am doing.
    And San Sebastian is a beautiful place.

  2. Thanks, Michael. Yes,spacesAreAWasteOfSpace. After 3 years living here, San Sebastian is still beautiful; I try to see it anew each day I walk along the Concha. What a shame if it became everyday.