Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Reading Joyce’s "Ulysses" for fun

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Very interesting review in The American Scholar by Sudip Bose:

On ULYSSES and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece by Declan Kiberd (W. W. Norton, $28.95)

Fifteen years ago, as an undergraduate at Cornell, I enrolled in a seminar devoted solely to James Joyce’s Ulysses. About 12 of us gathered for the first day of class, each anticipating a great journey, yet intimidated by the task that lay before us—for what other book was so forbiddingly complicated as to necessitate an entire semester for its study? (Finnegan’s Wake was not a course option.) Ulysses, so we all assumed, wasn’t a book to be read; it was a text to be deciphered. To discover every secret buried within, one needed to study it in conjunction with many other books, helpful guides offering explication of the impenetrable. No: mere “reading” was far more passive an activity than what we had all signed up for, eager young deconstructionists and poststructuralists that we were.

To be sure, few other books demand to be studied more closely; with its conflation of styles, experimental forms, rich allusiveness, and dense interior monologues,Ulysses requires and rewards patience. But, as Declan Kiberd, professor of Anglo-Irish literature at University College Dublin, argues in Ulysses and Us, Joyce had wanted his book to be accessible to everyone. All people in a true democratic culture, Joyce believed, should be able to read and derive pleasure from Ulysses. So how did the book end up missing its intended audience, finding favor instead with only a select group, a kind of priestly sect of the academy?

Joyce certainly didn’t help matters when he authorized the publication of detailed schemas that illuminated the Homeric structure underpinning Ulysses. These charts associated each of the book’s 18 episodes with a different character or section of the Odyssey (“Telemachus,” “Circe,” “Wandering Rocks,” “Penelope”), as well as with particular colors, artistic endeavors, scientific methods, and organs of the body. It was as if Joyce were inviting all the scholars into the fun house, tempting them with trick mirrors and trap doors. As a consequence, explication became the order of the day, and the common reader simply gave up.

Ulysses and Us is, among other things, a passionate plea for the amateur to reclaim Joyce’s epic. For one thing, Ulysses is eminently readable—something an earlier generation seemed to know better than we do. “My father loved Ulysses as the fullest account ever given of the city in which he lived,” Kiberd writes. “There were parts that baffled or bored him, and these he skipped, much as today we fast-forward over the duller tracks on beloved music albums. But there were entire passages which he knew almost by heart.” This suggests a more liberating way to read the book: since it isn’t possible to understand everything, it does no good to get mired in what frustrates us. Most important, we should not forget that the book contains deep wisdom. Joyce’s story of two Irishmen, the young Stephen Dedalus and the older Leopold Bloom, navigating through Dublin on a single day in June is an epic celebration of the common, of the everyday, of our mundane routines. And in it Joyce has a great deal to say on how to live a better life.

How to Walk the Streets

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2009 at 11:50 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

One Response

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  1. Moby Dick will have taken my boyfriend and me to a whale-watching vacation in Avalon, NJ this July; may this Ulysses reading take us to Dublin and the Emerald Isle!


    2 July 2010 at 8:35 pm

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