So for the first time in my life, I actually feel compelled and/or ready to give Ulysses a go. I have had a copy for a few years, and it’s a very readable copy, just one without notes. So I have to make a decision about that: my current one is that I will see how it goes, and then as necessary I will look online for what I feel like I need to know. I am also ok with being a little awash in confusion and find anchor points wherever I can. Besides, if I enjoy the experience, I can always try it again better prepared. And so, it being about ten days before June 12th (Bloomsday, as it were), I am going to read some every day and try to finish it by or on the day in question.
Starting off: my copy begins not with a preview of the book or the writing really, but with the US court decision that lifted the ban from the publication in the US. The judge’s basic reasoning is: yes, it contains dirty words and ideas, but it’s for art, and that’s a noble purpose. But also, those who could be damaged by the words couldn’t possibly work their way to them because the book is so difficult to read, so whatever.
1/10: Then the novel begins with Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan getting ready in the morning and working through their morning routine and entertaining a caller. From there, we switch over to our leads Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom. The way I would describe the book so far in the first 75 pages (about 1/10th) is that it’s narration style in incredibly myopically focused. It’s very close in. So at the same time we’re getting the random musings that scroll through their heads, we’re also getting closeups of chewing and breathing and dirty thoughts and everything.
This section of the book takes us out on the town as Bloom makes his way through various mundane daily errands as well as a significant event. He’s on his way to the post office when he runs into his wife’s lover, so that’s a kind of big deal…he doesn’t exactly know it, but he knows something. At the post office, he gets his own kind of love letter to sate him. Then, he makes his way to a funeral procession. As we close off, he’s in the newspaper office listening to all kinds of raucous backroom banter as he tries to place an ad.
Off to lunch! Where among other things, the defensive local “intellectuals” argue about current and classical literature. This is a good moment to think about how this book is situated in time. In one sense, it seems absolutely timeless, as if it could have been written in the 1700s or the 1700s BCE….but it places itself squarely in the 20th century with a few references outside of itself. And yet, because it’s a “weighty classic” it still feels older than it is. It was written in my grandparents’ lifetime and so, this discussion particularly is making me think about that, as well as the novel’s very own sense of where it situates itself among the Aristotle, Shakespeare, Synge, and other writers it makes reference to. It’s that weird kind of way of how Ireland of all places feels both modern and Medieval up until the 1980s basically.
Ok, so like James Joyce, I am abandoning the format I began in order to write the review I wish to to finish up. I don’t know how I “feel” about this one, given the very fractured reading experience it gives you. It’s one that might be enticing to go back to at some point, but I don’t find it a very inviting text or one that I feel like is fun to inhabit. There’s fun moments, and there’s interesting moments, but as I said before, because I didn’t want to read three or more books as I read this one to make my way through it, this was my best go. At times, I skimmed, at times I rolled my eyes, and at times, I read carefully. But the final experiences eludes me some. I think what I would really be prepared to do now would be to read this for a class that spent a few weeks on it and required me to read it 2-3 more times.