Presents a recording of the novel which describes the adventures and exploits of Leopold Bloom as he wanders through Dublin on a single day, June 16, 1904. Set within the context of Homer's Odyssey, Joyce uses stream of consciousness as a literary device to illuminate the internal thoughts of Bloom, his wife, Molly, and other assorted characters.
For the reading, I approached it with trepidation, as words like "unreadable" and "incomprehensible" have often been bandied about. I didn't find it unreadable. It was difficult at times—the constantly changing writing styles, the profusion of pronouns instead of names, the common use of foreign languages, the...umm, irregular?...punctuation—all make this tough sledding at times, but it's difficult to read, not unreadable.
As for the getting, I think that much of the novel simply shot right past me. I'm reasonably familiar with The Odyssey and was able to follow that macro structure of the book. However, I know that much of the allusion and innuendo simply did not register in this book about which Joyce once said he "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." I understand that there are entire books...large books...devoted to explaining what is going on in Ulysses. Well and good, but that's more work than I'm willing to put into a book I didn't enjoy that much.
And, as for that, the truth is that I like stories in my stories, and I didn't enjoy Joyce as a story teller. There's no real question he's good at limning characters. There's even less doubt that the man had a command of the English language that was not short of dazzling. However, we never established a rapport with each other as writer and reader. I would find a portion of it interesting or funny and start to immerse, only to run into twice as many pages of text that I found mind-numbing in their opacity.
Does the fault lie with me? I'm willing to concede that it does simply because I cannot judge. I don't have the knowledge or training to decipher this work. I can only say much of the reported depth escaped me, evidently lost in unseen allusions and obscured by experimental writing techniques. For those familiar with Clarke's maxim on advanced technology and magic, here is my own variant: "Any literature, sufficiently abstruse, is indistinguishable from the un-profound."
In the end, I'm glad I read it so that I have an opinion rather than just hearsay. I would suggest that readers try it and decide for themselves, even if that means invoking the 50 Page Rule—it is, after all, often billed as one of the greatest books ever. However, for me it was neither moving, nor enlightening nor enjoyable. I'm content to be a cultural Philistine on this one.
Many aspects of this book are very, very challenging, and in my opinion you may want a little exposure to Joyce (like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) before you attempt this book. The other thing I strongly suggest is the new book Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd. Kiberd is essentially THE Joycean and spells out important literary concepts for each chapter of Ulysses.
There are so many things the book brings up, but my personal favorite discussion has been the balance between art and obscenity within the eyes of the law.
I remember touring NYU when I was between junior and senior year of high school. Right there, in the middle of the Art Department main office, was a black and white photograph of a woman sitting on the toilet. I was shocked. She had a faraway look in her eyes, and she was clearly thinking about something else-- the grocery list, all the things she had to do, something overwhelming. I was... confused but mentally intrigued. I had never seen anyone on the toilet before, and it's not something I actively think about other people doing. Ulysses is a lot like that. Almost as soon as Leopold Bloom, the main character, is introduced, we see him on the toilet. It's not particularly gross or graphic, but it's a private moment and there the reader is-- hovering. The book spans the course of one day, June 16th, and we see Leopold do pretty much everything. He eats, farts, has lustful thoughts... sure, some of the lustful thoughts might be creepy out of context, but in the 700 pages of context given, the reader becomes aware that this persistent lust is mostly due to the fact that he and his wife don't get down to the hanky-panky very much since their infant son died ten years ago.
Joyce shows every aspect of life in such away that the reader realizes exactly what it it to be a human, full of conflict, obsessive thoughts and bodily needs (that goes back to the eating and farting). Just be prepared, because you have to find that beauty among a load of experimental styles and prose that can get very heavy at times.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say when Ulysses is mentioned (and I’ve heard many people say this) that no one has actually read Ulysses and everyone who says they have is just a poser, an intellectual wannabe. It’s insane, but then again, trying to defend a book like Ulysses is, to some people, like trying to show that a lunatic is sane. Having read Ulysses multiple times (because that’s how you get the most out of it, as it so happens), I’m pretty sure I didn’t spend all those hours admiring the typography of my particular edition.
Reading Ulysses is a joy. I don’t hesitate to say that. My first reading of the book was enjoyable, but it didn’t compare to my constant revisits to it. A joke or a passage that I wasn’t able to appreciate the first time round is rediscovered and Ulysses grew on me even more. And humour does abound in this book such as this typically Joycean digression:
“The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence.”
As you’ve probably noticed from most of the negative reviews below, Ulysses is an easy target. Too easy, I should think. In an age of culture illiteracy and a shrinking reading population in most Western countries, a book like Ulysses becomes the cultural pariah of the age. Like the concept of the Wandering Jew it examines so passionately, Ulysses finds it self as an artefact wandering the cultural waste land, periodically receiving kindness from its admirers, but mostly suffering at the hands of philistines, knaves and ignoramuses. An elitist jibe? You could consider it that, I don’t doubt that one would, but you could also consider something else on my side of the argument. What can a written review of this book give that you would probably not be able to receive from the opinion of the man on the street? The answer: Quotes. That’s right, quotes; the simple act of previewing the text of the book in question to the reader makes a review more valuable than what you might hear word-of-mouth. But perusing the negative reviews of Ulysses from various sites, most ultimately end up resembling the word-of-mouth about this book. And here another problem lurks
Misinformation swarms around this book. The usually rigmarole that reviewers of this book have to go through is the description, more often than not, boiled down to couple of misleading bullet points. First: Ulysses is written in the stream-of-consciousness technique. This is a very misleading description. Only the first half of the Nausicaa chapter and the Penelope chapter, with Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom featuring respectively, are written in the stream-of consciousness technique. What most readers refer to as the stream-of consciousness sections of the book are in fact Interior monologues. These are typically Leopold Bloom’s thoughts (others are heard throughout the rest of the book) and are made up of short, choppy staccato sentences representing those thoughts, finished or unfinished:
“By lorries along sir John Rogerson's quay Mr Bloom walked soberly, past Windmill lane, Leask's the linseed crusher, the postal telegraph office. Could have given that address too. And past the sailors' home. He turned from the morning noises of the quayside and walked through Lime street. By Brady's cottages a boy for the skins lolled, his bucket of offal linked, smoking a chewed fagbutt. A smaller girl with scars of eczema on her forehead eyed him, listlessly holding her battered caskhoop. Tell him if he smokes he won't grow. O let him! His life isn't such a bed of roses. Waiting outside pubs to bring da home. Come home to ma, da. Slack hour: won't be many there. He crossed Townsend street, passed the frowning face of Bethel. El, yes: house of: Aleph, Beth. And past Nichols' the undertaker. At eleven it is. Time enough. Daresay Corny Kelleher bagged the job for O'Neill's. Singing with his eyes shut. Corny. Met her once in the park. In the dark. What a lark. Police tout. Her name and address she then told with my tooraloom tooraloom tay. O, surely he bagged it. Bury him cheap in a whatyoumaycall. With my tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom.”
It should also be made absolutely clear: Ulysses is written in a vast array of styles ranging from phases of prose poetry to minute realism to precisely rendered scenes of dialogue, and everything in between, including a humorously erudite question-and-answer section:
“The visible signs of antesatisfaction?
An approximate erection: a solicitous adversion: a gradual elevation: a tentative revelation: a silent contemplation.
He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each
plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.”
Second: Ulysses is a rehash of Homer’s Odyssey. Eh, yes and no. Ulysses is obviously a rework of Homer’s masterpiece, but it diverts greatly from it and stretches far wider right into the depths of European literature and back:
“--If you want to know what are the events which cast their shadow over the hell of time of King Lear, Othello, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, look to see when and how the shadow lifts. What softens the heart of a man, shipwrecked in storms dire, Tried, like another Ulysses, Pericles, prince of Tyre?”
After writing an essay called “The Literature of Exhaustion”, the author John Barth was accused of claiming the ‘Death’ of the novel, basically, stating that everything that could be said and done with the novel as a form had been done. Barth in fact believed the opposite. In follow up to that essay, Barth wrote “The Literature of Replenishment” which pointed out a very satisfying fact: Don Quixote, a book considered the one of the first properly definable novels of Western civilisation, is itself a rehash, a parody and a homage to the chivalric prose works that came before it. In essence, literature finds its replenishment from that which precedes it and points towards the future. Don Quixote is replenishment literature and so too is Ulysses.
To read Ulysses does not require a knowledge of the entirety of Western literature, as many of the people who have read and enjoyed Ulysses will testify to. What it does require, though, is an appreciation of the breathtaking capacity of the English language. From there -- Enjoy.
Ulysses is basically an unbridled attack on the very ideas of heroism, romantic love and sexual fulfillment, and objective literary expression. This is made especially clear by the title's reference to The Odyssey of Homer (Ulysses being the Latin name for the Greek Odysseus)---and the unmistakably unbridgeable contrast between the two books, both in terms of the content of the stories, and their modes of expression.
Odysseus is a great man, King of Crete, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and a hero of the Trojan war. The Odyssey chronicles his heroic ten-year voyage to return home from the war to his wife and son. Ulysses, on the other hand, is about an ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a bumbling buffoon, impotent both in life and in bed. In Homer's view, man is a heroic, even God-like, being---and woman is more than a match for him. In Joyce's, man is metaphysically ridiculous, especially in matters of sex, and woman is his equal in patheticalness.
And then there is the literary style Joyce employs to spew forth this sewage. While Homer's epic poem takes the form of strictly-metered verse, Joyce switches literary mode, from straight prose to dialogue to stream of consciousness (among other things), almost at random throughout the work, though it seems to degenerate more and more toward the end.
If the point of Ulysses were to break free of outmoded and arbitrary restrictions of classicism, it would be admirable. But that's not what Joyce is doing. He doesn't offer a positive alternative to replace the Homeric values (which I think are genuine values) upon which he's pissing. He's pissing on them just to piss on them. It's pure nihilism, and it's disgusting.
Ulysses is obscene, not because of any language it uses or its obsession with sex, but because of its thematic content---the ideas it conveys. The book expresses nothing less than an all-consuming hatred of man and any positive values to which he aspires. And that is why I think Ulysses is one of the most vile and evil books ever written.
James Joyce's Ulysses is a touching love story, a universal story, a simple story told with a panoply of literary techniques, some avant-garde, that are used, not to display the author's wit and erudition, but to overcome the limitations of the written word. The common wisdom is that we know more about Leopold Bloom than any other character in literature. If this is so, it is because Joyce exposes multiple dimensions of his characters through his many-fold literary devices, equivalent to the richness of today's CAT scan brain images compared to the first crude X-rays of hand bone.
Bloomsday, 16 June, 1904, will be a turning point in Bloom's marriage to Molly. Madly in love at the time their marriage, Molly chose Poldy over all other suitors. Birth of a daughter, Milly, soon followed, then a son, Rudy. Rudy died in infancy, leaving a gap in their marriage that never closed. Milly is nearly old enough to leave the household, so the Blooms will be deciding how to live the rest of their lives. Not by family council, but through the unspoken communication between husband and wife, to close the gap if they can.
The entrace of another suitor, Blazes Boylan, forces the issue and presents other possible outcomes for the Blooms' future together. How does Bloom act in this changed dynamic? Will Molly choose Boylan over Bloom? Or just look for a bit on the side with Boylan, or with Stephen Dedalus. Oh yes, can't forget Dedalus. Ulysses opens with Stephen's story, and continues a major subplot with him. He is Wandering Aengus, who wanders into the life of Bloom for a day, then wanders out again. He will find his silver and golden apples elsewhere, aided, perhaps, by his encounter with Bloom.
In reading Ulysses, keep in mind these major themes, how Joyce introduces them, expands them, interconnects them, resolves them (if at all). Do this and you will likely enjoy the book, even if some of the wit and erudition of Joyce escapes you, because it is a very human story. What you may miss is not central to understanding and enjoying Ulysses and may have been included partly to edify the critics, as T.S. Eliot did in The Waste Land. Joyce's style captures the life of his characters as it is lived, while it is lived, and not as it might be edited, sanitized, and revised for the historical record. I finished the book caring very much for Poldy and Molly and wish them the best, for them to hear again the sweetest song of all . . . love's old sweet song.
Do pay attention to Joyce's prose, which is very lyrical and deserves to be heard. Speak the words to yourself, read them aloud to another, read aloud together with someone else. If you have the chance, listen to one of the audio versions of Ulysses. Aside from shifting the burden of vocalization to a professional, this also helps untangle the mid-sentence point-of-view shifts without having to stop to analyze the text yourself. Ulysses deserves the Robert Altman treatment as a movie, but, sadly, it is not to be on his agenda.
A month after finishing, I'm still not sure whether or not I enjoyed myself. Reading it as a novel I think I didn't, but as a collection of serialized shorts collected in book form I think I did. If approached as a grand experiment and exercise to be picked at and read in patches the process of reading feels more natural than making an attempt cover to cover like I did. It's fun to see how Joyce plays with the English language and literary forms, but at the same time his experimentation often results in the very antithesis of graceful prose. As inscrutable as his writing seems to be at times his characters are transparent and endearing. Even if I come to the decision that no, I did not like Ulysses a year from now, I will still be a big fan of Leopold Bloom.
Ultimately I am noting Ulysses at two point three stars. Dead center. I both love and hate it, recommend it to people who like a challenge and want to explore the limits of human expression, and warn everyone to stay the hell away if they can or will not spend almost as much time looking at outside sources to understand Ulysses as they do reading the book itself.
It is this consciousness that makes even most gifted writers kneel before its altar:
There is a story about how George Orwell was depressed after reading this. He wrote that how impotent he felt before the might of this book, that everything he ever wrote or read seemed like a speck of trivia.
And when Scott Fitzgerald met Joyce, he kneeled and sobbed like a smitten teenager asking him 'How does it feel to be great genius Sir?
Also, It has my favourite sentence in all english literature:
Love loves to love love. (Love-subject, object, verb, everything in the universe)
YES, Ulysses is not a book, its a Kingdom, love it or hate it, but deep down we all know English literature is simply divided into BU and AU- Before Ulysses and After Ulysses.
Definitely a rereader. I might give it another crack someday. But even my 60% comprehension first pass had its rewarding moments, such as the Nighttown sequence, or the cathecism parody in "Ithaca".
Much of this novel is written in the language of the daydreamer, not restricted to interior thoughts that move a plot forward but open to capturing every thought that might pass through the consciousness of these characters as they go about their day. The sheer volume and range of this delivery turns a nothing-special morning and afternoon into an epic. Joyce is lambasted for writing over most people's heads, but he isn't doing it in a bullying or non-inclusive way - else why are there enough body function references to entertain a toddler? Some of his characters' thoughts, particularly Stephen's, can be learned in the extreme but are interspersed with the most casual, mundane passing fancies. Everything and nothing is important. All people are capable of every kind of thought up and down the scale of decorum, and all of us are riding that scale on a daily basis. These are the most realistic characters ever put to paper, and I'm ready to believe nobody will ever do it better.
What I don't believe is that Ulysses is worthwhile reading for anyone who doesn't come to it of their own volition. Forget the critics, the professors who are paid to help you appreciate it. It's only good reading if you think it is. Approach Joyce via Dubliners and Portrait first to see if you can enjoy him at all, and catch up on Homer's epics. If those are a hassle or boring (and whether you understand them is beside the point), don't trouble yourself any further because all you're going to miss here is an exercise in frustration with his madness (exactly why I'm not going to read the Wake). But if you liked all of that and what Joyce can do, his prior work pales next to the technical feats he pulled off with Ulysses.
I think that this book is really a book for literature students, rather than people who like reading. I mean, the parts of it where I understood all the references, or could see what was going on with the writing style parodying something or paralleling (?) the story or something, those I really enjoyed. But there were other parts which just completely made no sense to me whatsoever, full of references to things I don't know about but made too obliquely for me to be able to look them up.
Also I really didn't like that the last 30+ pages had no punctuation whatsoever. That just gave me a headache.
Plot-wise, I mainly enjoyed it. The fact that this entire book only records the events of one day amused me, and the way that every detail (particularly the boring ones) were recorded meant you still got to understand the main characters pretty well.
I don't get how they managed to make a film of this book without completely missing the point of it, but I haven't seen any adaptation of this, so... I guess I can't really comment.
I'm not sure what Joyce was aiming for with the audience for this book but it isn't your average reader and I'm sure it wouldn't be the average reader of the times. Extremely challenging to follow and I think listening to this read on audio may make a big difference.
Thanks Phollando for your comparative analysis. You're right of course but can we expect another James Joyce any more than another Shakespeare? Joyce is possibly unsurpassable in the novel.
I know that it's a classic, and realize that many people consider it to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century.
I was constantly amazed by what Joyce could do with words, and there were many times when I re-read lines, paragraphs, or entire sections just so that I could savour the beauty of the language.
But I have to admit that there were at least as many sections that I had to re-read because my eyes had glazed over, my attention had floated away, and I was bored.
On the whole I enjoyed and am glad that I finally got around to reading this book, but once was enough.
Truth is: From my small-brained point of view there are brilliant passages and chapters that I devoured (if one can devour in baby-spoon portions, as this is the only way this book can be read I suppose), sometimes poetic, sometimes hilarious, sometimes just mind-bending.
There are other chapters my brain appreciates for the intellectual stunt they are performing but they aren't necessarily a pleasure to read. In fact they are hard, painful labour. And then there are chapters that might have caused irreversible damage to my brain.
To me, this book is the crazy, courageous, very clever and sometimes - yes it has to be said - extremely tiring attempt to turn every piece of dust on the streets of Dublin into a cross reference for the entire cultural history of mankind in general, and that of Ireland in particular while changing literary style chapter by chapter. Chapeau.
I am not sure this book is for reading though. It might be for studying, and one could do so for the rest of a lifetime. One day, when I am old and wise and have gained an unearthly tolerance to 400 out of 1122 pages of complete incomprehensibility I might pick this up again. Maybe sooner. For now I will happily lift the 1785g of German Annotated Ulysses back into it's shelf and watch it from a respectful distance.