Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens? In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the books stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.
Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose. Dedalus's accent--that of a freelance aesthetician, who dabbles here and there in what we might call Early Yeats Lite--will be familiar to readers of Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. But Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity) is something else entirely. Seen through his eyes, a rundown corner of a Dublin graveyard is a figure for hope and hopelessness, mortality and dogged survival:
"Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?"
Having aborted six prior reads, I approached my current reading of James Joyce's "Ulysses" with determination and resolve. That is needed. I am sixty-five years old. Twenty-four days after purchasing a New Library hardback edition, twenty-four days of struggling, I paused to glance at the page number. I had gotten to page twenty-one. Needless to say, the pace has since picked up. It took me until about page ninety to get into Joyce's writing. Three things kept me interested enough to stay with it. First, Joyce's command of the English language. Actually, I went along for some time thinking the city we were in was London, instead of Dublin, which it is. This is a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, in about 1904. The young man's banter was more British than Irish. The British Empire was high, and many Irish were profiting. Second, Joyce's command of the knowledge base of the time. He was Jesuit educated. His knowledge of antiquity is astonishing. Third, and this must be the most important thing that kept me going, is that virtually on every page there is a total mind blower. It might come in the form of a description, an impression, a story, or a plain old outburst. The game with Joyce, from my experience, is to know those nuggets are in the mine, and to persevere to find them.--Submitted by Anonymous
I have read Ulysses perhaps half a dozen times over the past 35 years. Most recently last spring, (2011) when a new commentary on it was published, Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd. I often re-read this book when a new commentary on it comes out, because I invariably learn something new. But that's the point: to approach Ulysses for the first time without a guide of some kind is like setting out to drive from New York to California without either a road map or GPS. You need a guide. When I was young, two of the best were James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert, who knew Joyce and worked with him on it. William York Tindall's A Reader's Guide To James Joyce was also a good one. New ones have come out since. Give yourself a rich treat: take the stroll through Leopold and Stephen's Dublin on June 16, 1904. But have handy someone like Gilbert, Tindall or Kiberd whom you can take by the hand. Even Dante had a guide when he walked through Purgatory.--Submitted by Kelley Dupuis, Tbilisi, Georgia. September 20, 2011
If you're a fan of the Coen brothers' depression movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? you probably loved the humour, the sense of place, the quirky but strong characterisation and the brilliant music. It might seem a totally original movie. Of course, it isn't original; it is an homage to Joyce's Ulysses, where all of those characteristics are even more strongly present. But how can a book have a musical score, you may well ask. Ulysses needs to be read as an entire work, and it may seem a labour of love, but this seminal book also provides endless pleasure when re-read in parts. One of my favourite parts is a section known as Sirens. (Rather infuriatingly Joyce did not provide chapter breaks, though the book is written in separate episodes, each episode echoing an episode of The Odyssey). In what is one of all literature's most daring endeavours, Joyce tries to make this section almost a piece of music, with the various sounds of a bar and the street outside forming a set of instruments. The result is initially cacophony, eventually a deeply satisfying terpsichorean experiment in language. But it is also deeply funny. This section, or chapter if you will, provides a clue as to how the book needs to be appreciated, for it is the rhythmic flow and lilt of language, as much as the visual signification of words, that fascinates him. But Joyce does not merely conduct solepsistic narrative experiments; he swings a camera round an early twentieth century Dublin but it is a camera which is endowed with intelligence, wit and vivacity. Some early readers, though it's hard to imagine now that they read the whole book, objected to the so-called obscenities of Ulysses. Bloom, the everyman hero, defecates, masturbates, inspects some marble statues of goddesses to see if the sculptor has been anatomically accurate. But he also reflects on the plight of animals; the misogyny and racism of his times; the opiate nature of religion, the nature of light, gravity, language and a hundred other abstractions, in ways which are both highly illuminating and refreshing, but also very amusing. Nobody writing in English but Shakespeare and Dickens has such depth, breadth and entertainment value. You may need a critical guide to help you with your first reading, for you will certainly miss a number of convoluted puns, verbal echoes and literary and historical references. That does not matter much, just as it does not matter if you fail to notice that the farmer that the Porter mentions in Macbeth is a reference to one of the Guy Fawkes conspirators. It simply means that there is plenty more to unearth on your next reading. Ulysses is that comparatively rare work of art, a work which you know you will enjoy next time and every subsequent time, like a piece of music. Or a good movie.--Submitted by Lloyd Rees
I was born in Ireland, 72 years ago, and the Christian Brothers did not teach Joyce and discouraged us from reading even The Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The best description of the book Ulysses, that I can remember is, "It is a book about all people at all times."--Submitted by Bill Funchion, Naperville, IL
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.