Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


General literature studies, Architectural design


“It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win.”

Bruce Springsteen (1975) Thunder Road, Track 1 of Born to Run [CD], Columbia.

“So it returns. Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

James Joyce (1998) Ulysses, p.309.

James Joyce was born towards the end of the nineteenth century, in Dublin, Ireland. He spent most of his life writing about Dublin while living in exile.

Born in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century, Bruce Springsteen has spent a career writing and singing about leaving somewhere. With small exceptions, he never actually left New Jersey, choosing instead to live and raise a family in the state of his birth.

Place is central to the writings of both Joyce and Springsteen, but for different reasons. Joyce wrote about the places that he lived in Dublin extensively in his works, as settings for events such as the short story The Boarding House in Dubliners, and the list of his former houses in Finnegans Wake. Dublin itself permeates most of his work, notably throughout Ulysses. In contrast, Springsteen writes extensively of the desire to leave somewhere.

Joyce’s Dublin is not a real Dublin, nor is Springsteen’s New Jersey. They are edited and manipulated, redesigned to suit the artist’s intentions. Constantly on the move, James Joyce writes continuously about a place he has left, while Bruce Springsteen remains in place, writing and singing about leaving, though he ultimately settles there.

Joyce is widely appreciated by people who have never visited Dublin. Springsteen is loved by people in Ireland, most of whom have no intention of leaving.

This paper asks how real are the places that artists imagine? What does place mean to the artist and their audience? If place is not real then, what is exile, and what are borders?