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Thread: Why the hell James Joyce's Ulysses always tops the list of best novels?

  1. #16
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you, Ecurb!

    Joyce is, in my subjective opinion, massively overrated - and I believe that I am justified in saying that. I'm not setting myself up as any sort of iconoclast, but as someone who has read widely I honestly do not rate Joyce, and I find it slightly baffling that anyone else does. I accept, however, that taste comes into it - those two passages that so move you leave me feeling rather cold.

    As such, I think it's entirely possible to claim that someone is overrated, while understanding that their work will appeal to some people.
    I think you're misusing the word "overrated". It's reasonable to dislike Ulysses, based on your subjective opinion. However, to think that OTHER PEOPLE "overrate" his novels requires more objectivity than that. After all, you are not the one overrating Joyce; you dislike his novels. Instead, you are making the claim that those who rate the novels as masterpieces are making a mistake. Surely such a claim can only be reasonable if it is based on something more substantial than a vague, personal distaste.

    Here's a (long) essay from the London Times on Ulysses that I sent to a friend on the 100th "Bloomsday". It enumerates some of the qualities of the book (I would have linked it but I have a copy, not a link):

    100! Happy Bloomsday
    By Jan Morris
    As James Joyce fans prepare to celebrate the centenary of 'Poldy' Bloom's progress around Dublin in Ulysses, this writer examines why the epic novel continues to baffle, infuriate, impress and delight

    A CENTURY ago next Wednesday, on June 16, 1904, Mr Leopold "Poldy" Bloom spent the day pottering around his native city of Dublin, and so bequeathed to the world its most celebrated peregrination - so famous that thousands of people still assiduously follow the route, and June 16 is commemorated to this day as Bloomsday.

    Actually, of course, Mr Bloom meandered only through the pages of a novel, James Joyce's Ulysses, but that doesn't make him and his day's wandering any less real to countless aficionados. Whole books have reconstructed Bloomsday Dublin, and Bloom's movements have been timed to the minute. Scholars have noted every shop he passed, every pub he dropped in at, and some of the pubs have prospered by his custom ever since.

    It is perfectly possible to accompany Mr Bloom without setting eyes on Dublin - plenty of route-maps are available, some even showing the manhole cover opposite his house in Eccles Street that he was obliged to avoid at the start of his day, not to mention the direction of the Glasnevin funeral cortège that he joined later in the morning. But there are thousands of readers in the world who feel the urge to walk the same pavements, prop themselves at the same bars, and a large proportion of them will be in Dublin next Wednesday, the first centennial Bloomsday.

    Who called it Bloomsday? I don't think the word appears in the book itself, but as a sort of literary logo it exactly suits the cult that surrounds Ulysses. Its knowingness, its in-jokiness, its hint of the T-shirt or the anorak, its commercial potential - all express the nature of this worldwide enthusiasm, which ranges from the academic (eg, Ulysses and the
    Metaphysicals: A Comparative Bibliography) to the yobbo (eg, Bloomsday Bingeing by the Liffey).

    Actually the cult has two epicentres. There is Dublin, of course, of which Joyce himself said his book would be a permanent model, and there is Trieste, where he wrote much of Ulysses, and which has a school of Joyce studies and an annual Joyce symposium. Sometimes the passage of Joyceans between the two cities has a migratory air to it, as the flocks of devotees arrive in their thousands to roost temporarily at one or the other.

    The author of Ulysses and the Metaphysicals is sure to be there, the man who can recite the whole of Molly Bloom's soliloquy by heart, the couple who fly in every year from Hong Kong, scores of American D Phil thesis-writers and dozens of earnest addicts, conversant with every last metaphor of the book, who remind me rather of trainspotters. If they are in Trieste they take their coffee-break at the Caffè Stella Polaris, where Joyce was a regular; if they are in Dublin, Davy Byrne's pub is the place. In Dublin the Sandymount Martello tower, where Ulysses opens, compels them one and all; in Trieste they can do the round of the Joyce family's successive uninviting apartments (itineraries obtainable at tourist offices).

    Have they all read the book, cover to cover? I very much doubt it. Most people who say they have are evasive when pressed, and all who claim to have read and understood it without a crib are lying through their teeth. Far from being an "accessible" work, as publishers like to claim, much of it is immediately incomprehensible. I started to read Ulysses in 1942 and did not succeed in finishing it until 1989, by which time I had acquired Mr Harry Blamires's indispensable line-by-line commentary, The New Bloomsday Book.

    For one thing Ulysses is, in my opinion, unnecessarily obscure - what's the point? For another it is often tediously ostentatious, in learning as in language. It has so many separate themes, winding and unwinding around one another, that exhausted readers may feel as though they have had one too many at Davy Byrne's - or one too few. And it intermittently purports to be related, episode by episode, to corresponding passages in Homer's Odyssey - Bloom himself being its Ulysses, miscellaneous whores and bigots representing Circe, Cyclops and the rest, and Mrs Bloom revealing herself, at the very end, as a less than immaculate Penelope.

    Joyceans are inclined to be touchy if you mention the opacity of the work, because half their pleasure comes from worrying out the meanings of Ulysses, matching texts, arguing about locations and following the Dublin street maps (though Joyce sometimes mischievously confuses even them - now and then he puts a shop on the wrong side of a road, or has somebody getting off a train at Lansdowne Road when the 10am train from Bray didn't stop there . . .)

    And yet . . . dear God, how often have I blessed Mr Blamires, ever since he first enabled me to read Ulysses all the way through. However maddening this book can be, however boring or ostentatious, I recognise it as one of the universal literary masterpieces. There! I have declared myself a Joycean, and as a matter of fact, when I opened one of my several editions of Ulysses today, out fell the packaging of a cake of lemon soap, bought years ago at the Sandymount Martello tower and sold in memory of the lemon-scented soap that Poldy bought for himself at Sweny's in Lincoln Place (page 69, line 510, 1986 edition). I have kept it for 17 years, and one can hardly get more Joycean than that.

    Actually it was the protean nature of the book that finally convinced me of its greatness. I take nothing back about multi-themes and unconvincing Homerisms, and I still feel free to skip whenever I want to. But I marvel now at that tangle of themes which used to tire me so, because it means that the book is, so to speak, many books in one, conveying many parallel messages - and many morals, perhaps.

    First and most obviously it is a book about Dublin. Lots of Dublin has disappeared since 1904, but lots hasn't, and it is still a fascination to follow that famous meander through its streets, looking out for the Ormond Hotel where the barmaid-Sirens were, or Nichols the undertakers, or hoping to buy some kidney at Dlugacz's butcher's shop (not a chance, because it is one of the few purely fictional establishments in the book). There we go, we Joycean trainspotters, with our maps in our hands and dear Mr Blamires in our capacious string bags - year after year, Bloomsday after Bloomsday, deploring still the demise of the Bath Avenue tram, rejoicing to find the coffee fragrant as ever outside Bewley's.

    Then Ulysses is also the portrait of a man - some critics say the most complete portrait of a man yet written. Bloom is a very ordinary person, except that he is a Jew. He feels an outsider always. He is more sensitive than most, more confused about himself sexually and socially, and as we accompany him around the city, all through the day, we seem to glimpse every last nuance of his character, admirable and pathetic, sad and hopeful.

    Ulysses is a study in jealousy, too, because during the afternoon Bloom is cuckolded, and knows it. It is a comedy, sometimes aspiring to farce. It is a poem. It is a play. It is a sort of @!#$ manual, because a multitude of @!#$ preferences and variations are observed, recalled or simply imagined; if Bloom exposes himself in many kinds of pornographic self-indulgence, Molly brings everything to a celebrated climax with eight pages of undiluted and unpunctuated literary @!#$. It is full of sorrows. It has a happy ending.

    To my mind the glory of the thing is this: that we can read it how we please (if we manage to read it at all). I choose to find in it an elementary lesson in morality, because I believe that at its core there lies a parable of goodness. "Poldy" Bloom is as fallible a man as ever lived, a lascivious daydreamer, but he is good at the heart, and my favourite passage in the whole work concerns his passing over O'Connell Bridge at about 11 on Bloomsday morning. As he walks he scrumples up a piece of paper and throws it over the parapet, wondering if the seagulls fluttering around will think it edible. Of course they don't, but a few moments later Poldy feels sorry for those birds, feels ashamed to have tried to deceive them, and buying a couple of Banbury cakes from a nearby stall (price 1d), he crumbles them, returns to the bridge and makes recompense to the gulls.

    One could not be basically bad and do that: and my own grand lesson of Ulysses is that you can be an idler and a lecher, the most pretentious of writers, the most pedantic of scholars, the silliest of literary groupies, the drunkest of louts down at Temple Bar next Wednesday night, and still be as kind a man as Leopold Bloom.

  2. #17
    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    Yet again I'm going to challenge one of your generalisations.

    Tolstoy's war and piece is so beautifully written even style-wise but he was capable of engaging our minds with his grand thought.

    Oh no it's not. War and Peace is very very dull - in Russian and in English - and Tolstoy doesn't engage my mind at all. Who were you including when you said 'our'?

    Have you ever heard about anybody overrating War and Peace the way there is a plethora of argument against Joye's Ulysses.
    While War and Peace is great thematically and stylistically. There is a philosophy too. There is a direction.

    But Joyce is a heap of stylistic garbage, very wordy too. There is no spontaneity there and what hooks some scholastic fools is his pedantic manner.

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    Yet again I'm going to challenge one of your generalisations.

    Tolstoy's war and piece is so beautifully written even style-wise but he was capable of engaging our minds with his grand thought.

    Oh no it's not. War and Peace is very very dull - in Russian and in English - and Tolstoy doesn't engage my mind at all. Who were you including when you said 'our'?
    Wait a sec, so Blaze loves W&P and hates Ulysses, but you hate W&P and love Ulysses....maybe just maybe, this whole art thing is subjective...maybe just maybe if I hate Dickens, the logical conclusion is not that Dickens in truth sucks and it is a huge conspiracy which has given him his reputation...maybe just maybe I=Everyone else is not true.

  4. #19
    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    Reading Ulysses sucks up a great deal of time and maybe I must devote months to read and enjoy his work. I cannot do that considering my busy schedules and of course most of people too.

    I have to stop at every word and look up in the dictionary for its intricate meaning and try to analyze.

    I hate to read the textbook type these days. I do not read it just a few academics prescribe at some universities.

    This is an outdated book and in today's fast life style few want to be academically oriented and corner themselves to enjoy this book except a few old styled ones who are still living in their past ideals.

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

  5. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by blazeofglory View Post
    Reading Ulysses sucks up a great deal of time and maybe I must devote months to read and enjoy his work. I cannot do that considering my busy schedules and of course most of people too.

    I have to stop at every word and look up in the dictionary for its intricate meaning and try to analyze.
    Maybe you should put it aside until you have more of the background, so that you won't have to think about every little item.

    This is an outdated book and in today's fast life style few want to be academically oriented and corner themselves to enjoy this book except a few old styled ones who are still living in their past ideals.
    Ulysses was terribly popular book, because it requires that the reader know a great deal about literature and other things. There are many people who find things like Ulysses interesting, but no one ever thought that it was for all people. Joyce certainly didn't think that it would be a best seller. If it isn't for you, then so be it. While I enjoyed reading it, it isn't one of my favorite books.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you, Ecurb!

    Joyce is, in my subjective opinion, massively overrated - and I believe that I am justified in saying that. .
    No, you are not. Simple because you are just saying that. No justification at all. It is quite easy - as Blaze, who was someone who loves "Miltonic prose" and would save poetry - is claiming a book is bad because he dislike it.

    This way is easy. People dislike things. Those things are overrated (albeit as what, I am not sure).

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    Quote Originally Posted by MystyrMystyry View Post
    The book is bloody hilarious! There's at least one belly laugh per paragraph!
    OK. I see the book is in the local library. I'll give it a try.

  8. #23
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    If you are going to read Ulysses by yourself, I definitely recommend a "guide". I read it with the Balmires guide (The New Bloomsday Book) listed in the Times article, and it was very helpful.

    There's no doubt that Ulysses is difficult, and that it takes some effort to get through it. It's also funny, charming, infuriating, moving, and enlightening (which makes the effort worthwhile). For those who have never read Joyce, I'd recommend trying some short stories or Portrait of an Artist to see if you have a taste for him before wading into Ulysses, which does take some effort.

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    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    Wait a sec, so Blaze loves W&P and hates Ulysses, but you hate W&P and love Ulysses....maybe just maybe, this whole art thing is subjective...maybe just maybe if I hate Dickens, the logical conclusion is not that Dickens in truth sucks and it is a huge conspiracy which has given him his reputation...maybe just maybe I=Everyone else is not true.
    I didn't say I loved Ulysses. I didn't even mention Ulysses.

    And my point was that Blaze didn't suggest that his mind is engaged by War and Peace. He insisted that ours is. But, as you say, we all don't find that to be the case. My mind, for one, is not engaged.

    Should I ever suggest that we all love Dickens, then we'll have an argument. As things stand, I think we agree with each other.
    Last edited by MarkBastable; 04-28-2011 at 06:18 PM.

  10. #25
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I think you're misusing the word "overrated". It's reasonable to dislike Ulysses, based on your subjective opinion. However, to think that OTHER PEOPLE "overrate" his novels requires more objectivity than that. After all, you are not the one overrating Joyce; you dislike his novels. Instead, you are making the claim that those who rate the novels as masterpieces are making a mistake. Surely such a claim can only be reasonable if it is based on something more substantial than a vague, personal distaste.
    Well, I suppose this is more of a semantic argument than anything else. I do, however, think it is perfectly acceptable to voice a personal opinion that something is overrated. It is not even really to do with enjoying the consumption of it - I don't dislike Joyce's work, I would say my feelings are more neutral than that.

    I fully accept that many people consider Joyce a great artistic genius - an opinion they are fully entitled to. As it happens, I disagree - an opinion I am fully entitled to.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo
    No, you are not. Simple because you are just saying that. No justification at all. It is quite easy - as Blaze, who was someone who loves "Miltonic prose" and would save poetry - is claiming a book is bad because he dislike it.

    This way is easy. People dislike things. Those things are overrated (albeit as what, I am not sure).
    I'm not quite sure I follow what you're saying here, but I think you're making the same point as Ecurb? In which case, my answer stands. I am entitled to my opinion.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    In the same vein we tirelessly admire James Joyce but I do no think anyone really can enjoy reading this mass of nonsense.
    You destroy any argument you are trying to make by crass generalisations like this. There are many people who have enjoyed reading Ulysses for its playful use of language and bold originality. The fact that it doesn't appeal to you is neither here nor there - it is unlikely one reader's opinion is going to turn the tide against Joyce.

    I have tried to read his Ulysses with a dictionary in front of me but I always found it arduous job and I realized I have been a wastrel.
    In a nutshell you have demonstrated why you will probably never appreciate or enjoy this masterpiece. If you constantly have to refer to a dictionary while reading it then it's unlikely to prove a pleasureable experience. But I hardly think Joyce's literary standing hinges on your ability to cope with his verbosity.

    H

  12. #27
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    If you are going to read Ulysses by yourself, I definitely recommend a "guide". I read it with the Balmires guide (The New Bloomsday Book) listed in the Times article, and it was very helpful.

    There's no doubt that Ulysses is difficult, and that it takes some effort to get through it. It's also funny, charming, infuriating, moving, and enlightening (which makes the effort worthwhile). For those who have never read Joyce, I'd recommend trying some short stories or Portrait of an Artist to see if you have a taste for him before wading into Ulysses, which does take some effort.
    The library doesn't have that guide, but there are a few others. I'll just pick one that feels useful when I get there this evening. I plan to wade at least as far as blazeofglory did which I guess was 3 chapters.

    I'm curious to see what the problem is. Also I hear that Joyce is a "modern" writer rather than a "post-modern" one which might be interesting (or not).

    EDIT: At least I'll find out which pubs to go to if I ever get to Dublin.
    Last edited by YesNo; 04-28-2011 at 03:22 PM. Reason: Additional info

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    Quote Originally Posted by blazeofglory View Post
    Reading Ulysses sucks up a great deal of time and maybe I must devote months to read and enjoy his work. I cannot do that considering my busy schedules and of course most of people too.

    I have to stop at every word and look up in the dictionary for its intricate meaning and try to analyze.

    I hate to read the textbook type these days. I do not read it just a few academics prescribe at some universities.

    This is an outdated book and in today's fast life style few want to be academically oriented and corner themselves to enjoy this book except a few old styled ones who are still living in their past ideals.
    So, basically, you're saying the novel is too hard for you. Don't come in with silly nonsense like 'its outdated', Ulysses is so ahead of its time that if it were to be written tomorrow but appropriate edits placed to preserve the time period, it would be called 'decades ahead of its time'. The problem you seem to have is that you don't realize the novel's subtleties. Yes, it takes months to study and read, but after being read, there will not again be a need to read another novel ever.

    This isn't just some group of professor's favorite boring old book, its a complex literary project whose appreciation can only come with careful dedication. Its a book for people tired of reading normal novels, as Ulysses basically utilizes the whole of the literary world to communicate itself. The amazing thing about Joyce is that he was so advanced he didn't go about trying to communicate this like some kind of pretentious prophet, instead, he did it with mockery and humor. Bloom literally is James Joyce when he wrote Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is him when he was younger - uninvolved, in the library, thinking philosophically, and looking down on everyone else. He meets Bloom on June 16 1904 - which on that date the real Joyce met Nora, who he said "made a man out of me". Joyce, when he wrote Dubliners as Dedalus, envisioned himself how he would be if he stayed in Ireland in the last story - dead on the inside and possibly outside after learning his wife cheated on him. In Ulysses, Bloom is portrayed as not only accepting his wife's promiscuity, but enjoying it and himself around Dublin.

  14. #29
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post

    I fully accept that many people consider Joyce a great artistic genius - an opinion they are fully entitled to. As it happens, I disagree - an opinion I am fully entitled to.

    .
    The question, however, is whether your personal indifference to Ulysses is sufficient reason to reasonably hold the opinion that Joyce is not an artistic genius. If your opinion is based on something other than personal distaste, you have yet to reveal your reasons. Surely it is possible to recognize the "artistic genius" of someone whose works don't appeal to you personally, is it not?

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    Quote Originally Posted by blazeofglory View Post
    In the same vein we tirelessly admire James Joyce but I do no think anyone really can enjoy reading this mass of nonsense.
    These really are the most ignorant statements one can make. Just because you don't understand it or enjoy it, no one else can? You really have a high opinion of yourself.
    James Joyce' s main motive is to startle his reader with his elegance art.
    Possible, but arguable. And, even if this was his main motive, what's the difference? His motives don't change the piece of art he produced. For example, Sinclair's main motive for writing The Jungle was to promote socialism. Does this take away from the wonderful story that is told? No. (Well, maybe a bit towards the end, but I think you get the point I'm trying to make.)
    Joyce' is a paragon no doubt as a novelist but we need to read and read and read at least 10 times each sentence or else he is such a bore and of course repulsive.
    Repulsive?
    I have tried to read his Ulysses with a dictionary in front of me but I always found it arduous job and I realized I have been a wastrel.
    To me, the fact that you had to use a dictionary so arduously is a further testament to Joyce's genius.
    Quote Originally Posted by blazeofglory View Post
    Have you ever heard about anybody overrating War and Peace the way there is a plethora of argument against Joye's Ulysses.
    Most great works spawn plenty of detractors.
    But Joyce is a heap of stylistic garbage, very wordy too. There is no spontaneity there and what hooks some scholastic fools is his pedantic manner.
    Pejoratives will only hurt your argument.

    I've tried reading Ulysses twice and failed both times. I wasn't ready. Still, I couldn't help but see the genius that it had to take to write such an intricate and complex novel. Works like Ulysses boggle my mind. To even think a human mind can come up with something so complicated, and yet so cohesive when analyzed, is just astounding.

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