Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I am so confused. I just read the ebook (via Project Gutenberg) of Ulysses by James Joyce. This is one of those books that are so critically admired and yet I am convinced that few people have read. I was lost from the word "go". But, I read it. Not every word and not with great care because once I realized this novel made very little sense, if any, I started skimming and then picking up again to see how things have progressed. The kicker is that I have no idea what the novel was about, who the characters were (I know there is some chap named Stephen Dedalus, whom I believe is the stream of consciousness narrator), or what the big deal is. I skipped words, pages, and sections before rejoining the story and I understand that this may not officially count as "reading" Ulysses in the sense of doing a good thoughtful read, but forget that. I gave it my level best and I feel I can honestly mark this as read. I got as much enjoyment and understanding of Ulysses as I would have if I had not skipped words, and that is a sad testament to this novel. Ulysses is a turgid slab of prose. Call it experimental or what you will. I call it a mess.


Nick said...

Come on, Joe, you're disappointing me. You can call it turgid, boring, a waste of time, but it's not a mess. A mess is not deliberate, and not deliberate is far from what this novel is. You might think a Picasso is not your cup of tea, even ugly, but you wouldn't call a painting like Guernica a mess, would you?

I mean, I had a similar view of it in high school, since if a novel isn't comprehensible then what the hell is the point, right? But our English teacher sat down and deconstructed passages with/for us - which admittedly took about an hour per page - and you could see the novel is planned out meticulously. Of course it basically requires a readers guide to it, which would probably be longer than the novel, and one would probably not understand the whole thing then either.

One could argue that life is too short to bother with it, I do, but I would never say it's a mess.

jaydro said...

You guys are going to make me finally pick up Ulysses. I've read other Joyce and liked it--but is there any comparison?

Nick said...

You mean like Finnegan's Wake? Haven't read that one (not that I've read Ulysses either, really) but it's supposedly even harder to get into. Though I thought the first two pages were understandable. Once I'd read them four or five times.

Joe said...

If I need to spend an hour deconstructing what Joyce might be saying on each of the 550 + pages of Ulysses...I can't do it. I don't have the time, patience, and quite possibly the intelligence. It's beyond me.

I get that there is this supposed literary greatness behind it...but it "feels" like a mess.

And no, I wouldn't call Picasso's work a mess...but I might call Jackson Pollack's a mess. :)

Nick said...

Yeah, "beyond me" and "life's too short" is pretty much how I'd sum it up, as well.

And forget what I said about Finnegan's Wake. I must have been thinking of some other novel, because when I read it again I didn't understand the first thing. It's fun reading it, though.

"The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later
on life down through all christian minstrelsy."

That's poetry, folks.

Jackrabbit Slim said...

Someone said to Joyce, about Finnegan's Wake, that it would take him his whole life to read. Joyce responded, "But it took my whole life to write."

Jackrabbit Slim said...

Also, Ulysses might be easier to understand if you have a working knowledge of the Odyssey, since it is structured after the work by Homer (hence the name). I have an annotated version, which has the "translation" on the opposite page. It is certainly not a beach read, though.