In his essay on “Invented Languages”, the poet Craig Raine observes of the stylistic hybridity of A Clockwork Orange that “sponge-meat is better than spam” ‑ that is, the compound “sponge-meat” is a richer, more suggestive, more visceral, way of representing spam on the page than the word itself. (It is also a great deal funnier, as literary detail often is.) It is a little explosion of literature: by encouraging us to think of spam as a conjunction of sponge and meat, we see it afresh and realise that, yes, spam is actually like sponge-meat.
Our ability to think of one thing as another is what Ted Cohen calls our “talent for metaphor”, and it is above all this notion that informs Ulysses. Forget all the stuff about Homer; Joyce’s great novel is a paean to metaphor, to language. A cattlewoman, her “wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs”, is seen by a field milking the “dewsilky cattle”; the kidney Leopold Bloom cooks for breakfast “oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish”; walking by Trinity College, Bloom, in low spirits following Paddy Dignam’s funeral, catches sight of the city’s trams and reflects on the transience of existence: