One of the better things about working in the internet is the surprising number of like-minded folks you can meet purely by chance. Not on myspace or in chatrooms (what you do with your own internet time is entirely your own business) but through similar tastes in politics, movies or, in our case, difficult books.
Ulysses “Seen” has inspired me to write something about my first ever encounter with “The Book.” For me, it was the right book at the right time. I can’t put it any more perfectly than that. I was finally starting to feel at home in college, and when I ran into my professor on the ferry, he told me he was teaching a class the next semester that would read it. “I only do this once in a decade, so it’s like Haley’s Comet: if you want to see it in your lifetime, it’s gotta be now.” I’m paraphrasing. Anyway, I not only took the course, I forced all my friends to take it. I lost a lot of friends that semester!
I remember there being a lot of freaky-seeming coincidences over the course of our reading it. The one that sticks with me is when we had a long, deep discussion of the significance of keys sparked by the Alexander Keyes ad Bloom is designing, and a student from an earlier class entered the room looking for his lost keys. We all laughed and freaked out; some of us actually screamed. Someone accused our prof of setting it up. The student was stunned. Then there was the time we were approximating how much money Stephen spent over the course of the day & someone out in the quad started playing Pink Floyd’s “Money” loud enough for us to hear. I know there were more, but I can’t remember them (jeez, it’s 22 years ago now!).
A huge percentage of the book flew over my head, and a lot of it still does, all these years and 6 full reads later. I really felt the characters though, and the verbal pyrotechnics are completely amazing. Not until my fourth read through it did I begin to comprehend the book as a unified whole, rather than a series of episodes. There are more priceless moments in it than I can count.
Two years ago I assembled a group of high school students to read the book aloud every week. I’ve kept my notes on those crazy meetings – a gazillion in-jokes resulted – & someday I’ll write something about that. Maybe next year 😉
You can read Stevie D’Arbanville’s blog here.
“Stately, plump”: the first line of Ulysses
by M. Thomas Gammarino
(author of the novel BIG IN JAPAN: A GHOST STORY)
First a caveat:
Ulysses is my favorite novel. I’d just as soon it be something else—I dislike bandwagons as much as the next serious reader—but Ulysses, which routinely tops the best-novel-ever lists, happens to be the one book which has most provoked and inspired me, and it’s one of very few novels I intend to reread regularly until I die. By way of evidence, I’ll cite the pilgrimage I made a few years back to the Martello Tower so that I could better feel the first chapter. And I might mention also that my own first novel, Big in Japan, pays homage to Ulysses throughout.
Another chapter read this very morning in two sittings separated by trip to the local store for bread and a newspaper! I find Ulysses less a pea-souper fog to find my way through and more an actual pea-soup to eat – tasty! I’m not sure where we are in Sirens or what time it is either – however, eventually I do fathom the position of the characters. Initially I mistakenly thought we were in a tea room with all the talk of tea, but it appears we are in a bar and the ladies I thought were taking tea are … what? Barmaids. The bronze and the gold are later joined by several of the men we have met previously and both Simon and then Ben sing a song. The blind guy who has been wandering about turns out to be a piano tuner who has mislaid his tuning fork and is on his to retrieve it. Continue reading
In a list of “most difficult chapters to read” this one would rank thankfully low – so low that it was even enjoyable. I certainly appreciated the break. This chapter consists of many smaller episodes all interlinked with each other and with the other events in the book, but most easy enough to understand the basics of what and where. That’s not to say the meaning is easy to get at but still the relief from all that stream of consciousness from one point of view is genuine.
Oddly, even though this seems once more all about structure, here I got a real sense of what Joyce’s writing may be like if he did just write straight-forward prose. Y’know, like anyone else! Without the constant drone of allusion and the layers of puzzle it might at least have been a quarter of the length. I know though, that that is not the point. I just couldn’t help saying it anyway. Continue reading
Well after the slow plough through chapter eight I expected things could only get more difficult but I fair raced through chapter nine. Why that is I don’t know because I understood less of it than any other chapter! Okay so it finally dawned on me they were in a library and Stephen was giving of his opinions on Shakespeare with particular emphasis on Hamlet. Haines has been and gone apparently. Mulligan shows up late on and appears to be his usual self – lowering the tone with his clever twisting of every ‘serious’ subject into a juvenile gag. The wandering Jew they pass at the end of the chapter must be Bloom. Having missed nearly every allusion going in this chapter I think I at least got the main thrust of it (though I may even be wrong about that) if none of the subtlety. I assume there is some – never having read any Shakespeare. Continue reading
Phew! This was a toughie as described previously. Chiefly because the ‘real’ narrative only kicks in halfway through – the first part concerned with Leopold’s internal ramblings and musing on subjects diverse! So for the first part we are taken along with Leo on a walk around the city looking for some lunchtime sustenance. I think we’re all too familiar with Mr Bloom’s quirky fondness for food and the resultant action upon his system. We won’t be disappointed here. But that’s ahead of us. First we have to ponder the what and the why as to his train of thoughts for the first sixteen or so pages of Laestrygonians. Continue reading
I refuse all help – and look where it gets me! This latest chapter is, I’m sure, no harder than the others but I think accumulation is the problem here. Part of me says “enough already” and I’m tempted to just look the bloody answers up online or in the notes at the back or in a separate book altogether. But another part of me says “what’s the point of reading a puzzle book if someone else has already filled in all the answers?” That is surely even less fun than ploughing on regardless!
Oh Jesus Christ! The chapter referred to by you scholarly types as Aeolus was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever read. Perhaps it’s no harder than the other chapters but I seem to have hit my first wall! In the struggle to find certain ground I find myself in a group of people talking way over my head – and to make matters worse ignoring me too! My post title refers to my feelings on the matter. I press on, but this chapter leaves me dizzy and I have to put it down every few pages to rest. Maybe I’m just going through a phase – can’t seem to string two words together right now – and I thought reading and writing were two different concerns! Anyhow, if a man puts a straw boater behind his red face – does that make him a tit? Sometimes Ulysses makes me wonder if I’m actually reading or just hallucinating – with words! Continue reading
This is a grim read for a Friday morning but at least it is a chapter with more elements in a reasonably straight forward manner. Straight forward for Ulysses that is, but still there is no real problem discerning the narrative – I’m almost beginning to enjoy it!
Before I forget, there are lines occasionally which seem to echo previous words, spoken or thought, but for the first time reader it’s sometimes difficult to locate and divine the meaning of the repetition, or if it even occurred at all. So before I wade through the facts and try to put them in proper order – could anyone tell me anything about the line “I do not like that other world she wrote”. Continue reading