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[P]
Is Ulysses Overrated?

By James A C Joyce in Culture
Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 02:57:31 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

With the centenary of the first Bloomsday coming later this year, the scene for a showdown between Joyceans, literary critics and generic whiners of all sorts has been set. The perennial debate regarding the worth of James Joyce's Ulysses has been sparked off yet again by a dude called Roddy Doyle.


A few days ago, a bunch of people had gathered at a Joyce symposium organised by New York University. A good number of them were surprised when one of the speakers (the aforementioned Doyle) explored Joyce's character Leopold Bloom (of Ulysses), praised Joyce's first book Dubliners and then took a swipe at the "Joyce industry", as so many do.

"They'll be serving Joyce Happy Meals next..."

A fair point, particularly in light of the fact that both Denny's sausages and Guiness are sponsoring massive Bloomsday Breakfasts for tens of thousands of people.

What really got the scholars' hackles up was when Doyle went on to allege that Jimmy J was not the best Irish writer who ever lived, to claim that "Ulysses could have done with a good editor" and to state his dislike for David Norris, a popular Joyce apologist who campaigned to restore Joyce's reputation in the public's eye.

It's probably fair to say that Ulysses was the culmination of the 20th century artistic movement known as modernism. The problem with it is that its genius (if any) is not apparent or even accessible to most readers. Ulysses has little plot to speak of, featuring two mundane characters. The first is a young wannabe artist, Stephen Daedalus, who has reached a crossroads in his life. The second is a Jewish advertising canvasser called Leopold Bloom who blunders around Dublin. A quick summary will probably suffice:

  • Stephen eats breakfast in a coastal tower with two acquaintances
  • Stephen teaches at a school and picks up his pay
  • Stephen broods on the beach
  • Bloom wakes up, makes breakfast and takes a crap
  • Bloom leaves the house, picks up a letter and a newspaper and tries to ogle a woman wearing stockings
  • Bloom goes to a funeral
  • Bloom tries to get an advert printed in a newspaper
  • Bloom eats and walks the streets, ruminating
  • Stephen talks about Shakespeare with some friends in a library; Bloom makes a small cameo
  • A series of vignettes about various major and minor characters
  • Bloom goes to a bar and gets chased by an anti-Semite
  • Bloom masturbates on the beach
  • Bloom drops into a maternity hospital where Stephen and some of his drunk friends are hanging out
  • Stephen winds up at a brothel; Bloom follows, concerned for him
  • Bloom and Stephen have trippy hallucinations and Stephen gets punched out by a soldier on leave
  • Bloom and Stephen head back to Bloom's house
  • They talk over cocoa and piss in the back garden
  • Bloom goes to bed and drifts off
  • Bloom's wife, woken by his entrance, thinks and masturbates

Not very much happens. Or rather, quite a lot happens, but it's all implied and behind the scenes. For instance, the fundamental structure of the book is based on Homer's Odyssey with Stephen cast as Telemachus, Bloom as Ulysses and his wife as Penelope. Betcha didn't notice that, eh? There are many more esoteric references featured within which are almost impossible to discover without study. There is some textual beauty here, but at times the prose is just too dense for what precious little is going on:

"Universally that person's acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitably by mortals with sapience endowed to be studied who is ignorant of that which the most in doctrine erudite and certainly by reason of that in them high mind's ornament deserving of veneration constantly maintain when by general consent they affirm that other circumstances being equal by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferent continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipotent nature's incorrupted benefaction. For who is there who anything of some significance has apprehended but is conscious that that exterior splendour may be the surface of a downwardtending lutulent reality or on the contrary anyone so is there unilluminated as not to perceive that as no nature's boon can contend against the bounty of increase so it behoves every most just citizen to become the exhortator and admonisher of his semblables and to tremble lest what had in the past been by the nation excellently commenced might be in the future not with similar excellence accomplished..." [from the opening of chapter 14, "Oxen of the Sun"]

A lot of people have a problem with the fact that Ulysses doesn't seem to be much more than a bawdy, complex matrix of allusions. Sure, it spawned a couple of film adaptations and a cottage industry, but it doesn't really tackle any "big issues" and rarely does it make any unqualified, profound statements. There are a lot of unanswered questions thrown out. These factors make it impossible to produce any kind of definitive exegesis of the damned book.

At the end of the day, is Ulysses worth it?

The Modern Library chose Ulysses as the #1 novel of the 20th century. (Two more of Joyce's books got slots #3 and #77!) And in Joyce's own words, it's a "maledettisimo romanzaccione", and has all but cast a pall over other authors. With the infamous novel (is it a novel?) having pushed all contenders from the Irish literary throne and caused the critics to go apeshit, the remaining writers seem to permanently be trapped in JJ's shadow. Flann O'Brien once commented, "I declare to god, if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob." Could Ulysses have actually had a detrimental effect on the venerable monument of UK literature?

Most would agree that this doesn't really matter as long as the book has a genuine effect on people. But Doyle denied this also.

"You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top 10 books ever written but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it."

That's the thing which really turns the whole thing into a potential problem. Nobody actually has any idea whether Ulysses (and by extension, Joyce) is worthy of such apotheosis by "those in the know". It could be that the whole thing just turns out to be a big circle jerk over a bundle of stylistic gesturing.

But what a circle jerk! Before it was even published, Ulysses was attracting attention. A friend of Joyce's, Ezra Pound, was publishing the book serially in the magazine The Little Review. Pound went as far as to snip out some bits which he felt might trigger legal action by violating obscenity laws. Nonetheless, four issues were seized and burned and in 1920 proceedings were initiated regarding chapter 13, "Nausicaa", in which Bloom wanks in public. It wasn't until 13 years later that the book could legally be printed in the US. Pretty radical. (On a vaguely related note, the 1967 film adaptation of Ulysses was the first film to feature the word 'fuck'.)

Beyond this, though, did Ulysses actually contribute to a more fruitful artistic environment? It could be argued that the legal issues would eventually have dissipated regardless. With few other objective yardsticks for gauging Ulysses, here is the point at which fact, reasonable opinion and outright conjecture muddle the issue. You have to decide for yourself: are these people right, or are these people wrong?

Since this is K5, I think now is my cue to give the story a personal touch by adding my own opinion. I read Ulysses last year in two months. (For comparison, I spent a couple of days reading the fifth Harry Potter book and a fortnight with Gravity's Rainbow; both of these are about as lengthy as Ulysses.) To be frank, I didn't find it readable. The plot didn't arouse enough interest in me to read the book on its own merits, but I managed to plod through regardless. I got bogged down for a couple of weeks in "Scylla and Charybdis" when the discussion of Shakespeare became too cloying.

Does Ulysses deserve its reputation? I'd have to say no. It's a good book, but it just feels too dry and stale in the context of now. Though it may have paved the way for contemporary literature, I couldn't honestly say that it's the number one book of the century. One of the top 10, yes, but by no means best.

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Poll
Ulysses: is it good, or is it wack?
o Good. 32%
o Wack. 67%

Votes: 68
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Bloomsday
o James Joyce
o a dude called Roddy Doyle
o campaigned to restore Joyce's reputation in the public's eye
o modernism
o a lot of unanswered questions thrown out
o the #1 novel of the 20th century
o Ezra Pound
o Also by James A C Joyce


Display: Sort:
Is Ulysses Overrated? | 120 comments (103 topical, 17 editorial, 2 hidden)
Ghod, yes. (1.73 / 19) (#1)
by tkatchev on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 03:49:58 PM EST

Worst book ever written.


   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.

Wasn't Ulysses (1.73 / 15) (#2)
by Tex Bigballs on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 03:52:02 PM EST

the greek book about the one guy who sails all over the place to kill the trojans and poseidon?

No, that was the Odessey (3.00 / 5) (#5)
by Verbophobe on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 05:19:25 PM EST

Or the Illiad.  One of those.

Proud member of the Canadian Broadcorping Castration
[ Parent ]
yes (none / 2) (#20)
by JayGarner on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 10:14:35 PM EST

and the Cohen Brothers, responsible for the American cinematic classic 'the big lebowski', made a movie loosely based on that story.

[ Parent ]
For those that don't know (none / 0) (#119)
by Scurra on Thu Mar 11, 2004 at 03:01:07 PM EST

It's O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Very worthwhile watching if you haven't seen it yet.

[ Parent ]
Decent piece, +1 (2.33 / 6) (#3)
by sanketh on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 04:28:55 PM EST

But why don't you actually try and put in something else about how you think it is? The problem with the piece as of now is that it is a bit inconclusive - you state all points of view, and these are all fairly predictable viewpoints to take for a literary work, so it doesnt work out that well in the end.

Anyway, I like the mention of Ulysses. I have been trying to get myself to read it since a year and I have got until the 4th chapter. It makes good reading in terms of individual chapters - lot of mind-reading kind of stuff, but the plot doesnt inspire you to even peek at the next chapter.


== Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

Sure, sounds like a good idea [nt] (none / 0) (#6)
by James A C Joyce on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 05:45:34 PM EST


I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

Calling it a Book is overrating it (1.71 / 14) (#4)
by RyoCokey on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 05:01:00 PM EST

Mr. Joyce's works were uniformly terrible.



The troops returning home are worried. "We've lost the peace," men tell you. "We can't make it stick
Ulysses != Odyseus (sp?)? (2.00 / 5) (#7)
by JChen on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 06:19:03 PM EST

I thought Telemachus and Penelope were Odyseus' son and wife, respectively.

Let us do as we say.
Yeah, I think they are. (3.00 / 3) (#11)
by James A C Joyce on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 07:34:33 PM EST

I always thought that Ulysses and Odysseus were two names for the same guy.

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

You're right (3.00 / 4) (#13)
by desiderandus on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 08:27:41 PM EST

Ulysses is the Latin version, and Odysseus the original Greek version.
_________
Our sins catch up to us in the worst possible way; they become part of our essential identities.
[ Parent ]
Of course Ulysses is over-rated. (2.88 / 17) (#9)
by Osama Bin Fabulous on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 06:31:45 PM EST

Anyone who doesn't love reading it is going to give up before getting 1/4th of the way through, and will then feel obliged to reserve judgement, having not completed the work. Classic selection bias.

1/4? (3.00 / 3) (#53)
by nkyad on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 09:18:09 AM EST

If I remember well, most people I know who tried had trouble getting past the first 10 pages.

Don't believe in anything you can't see, smell, touch or at the very least infer from a good particle accelerator run


[ Parent ]
10 pages? (none / 0) (#117)
by firefox on Sun Feb 22, 2004 at 03:17:17 PM EST

If you have trouble getting past 10 pages of ANYTHING, even the worst amatuer poetry written in the worst ancient sanskrit, then you don't deserve to read anything but TV guides.

[ Parent ]
yes (2.50 / 10) (#10)
by CAIMLAS on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 07:14:22 PM EST

Shakespeare is also direly overrated, as well as a slew of other literature that is required reading at the HS and University levels. All signs of relevance are lost.
--

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

Shakespeare has some good moments. (none / 1) (#55)
by waxmop on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 09:35:40 AM EST

Shakespeare wrote plays meant to be seen on a stage, not dissected in classrooms. Hamlet is a good story. And Titus Andronicus rawks. How can you not love a story that ends with the the villains being tricked into eating their own children?
--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]
Because the tricks are so damn stupid (none / 1) (#95)
by Gully Foyle on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 06:14:19 AM EST

There is no way in hell that Titus is convincing in his insanity. I hate all those bits in Shakespeare's work, and he's always bloody doing it.

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

It's overrated (2.66 / 12) (#14)
by proles on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 09:07:17 PM EST

But only because it's "rated" in the first place. Seriously, things like books and music and such were never meant to be quantified and have points assigned and put in lists. They were meant to be read and listened to and appreciated. If you like it, great. If you don't, so be it. Whether or not some self-ordained literary intelligentsia has rated it as the best book of all time won't (or at least shouldn't) change your opinion of it.
If there is hope, it lies in the proles.
My question (2.25 / 8) (#15)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 09:43:15 PM EST

How could it be so great if it is just a copy of another work?  I've never seen a remake of a movie that was really worth my time.  

Why not just read the Odyssey?  I think books are usually not rewritten for good reason.

On an unrelated note:  I heard that Joyce would sometimes make up words in his books.  Is this true?  If it is I am strongly disinclined to read any of his works.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour

nah it's just structural (2.87 / 8) (#17)
by livus on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 09:56:56 PM EST

the details are different.

If you're going to say there should be no structural copies then we should trash about 95% of books and films we already have and never make any more, because basically most things are structurally similar. Just about all Hollywood films are identical in pace and structure.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

But have you seen a movie based on a book? (none / 1) (#54)
by nkyad on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 09:24:16 AM EST

More than 2000 years of history, civilization and artistic evolution separate Odyssey from Ulysses. Joyce is not "re-writing" Odyssey but roughly using the story to brong forth a modern epic.

Don't believe in anything you can't see, smell, touch or at the very least infer from a good particle accelerator run


[ Parent ]
Well, "James A.C. Joyce" ... (2.00 / 16) (#16)
by pyramid termite on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 09:45:20 PM EST

... if Ulysses is overrated, I guess that would mean that you're overrated, too.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
Perhaps that was the point. (none / 1) (#41)
by tkatchev on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 02:20:21 PM EST

Duh

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Why are you still talking (none / 0) (#73)
by Kax on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 07:21:12 PM EST

?

[ Parent ]
Hm. (none / 0) (#80)
by tkatchev on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 11:32:55 AM EST

I'm not talking to you, so SFTU & SD.

Have a good day, dumbass.


   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

To quote Emily Dickinson (2.62 / 8) (#23)
by GreyGhost on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 10:50:48 PM EST

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry."

- Miss D You cannot place art on a top ten list or a top 100 list. It's not like a competition. I started Ulysses in college and could not finish it because it just did not grab me emotionally. Intellectually, I could appreciate it but I need more in a book than just an appeal to my my mind. I need what Dickinson alludes to for me to consider a work great. And I am not going to finish a book just to say that I finished it - as some friends of mine have done with the complete works of St. Thomas Aquinas or Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Life is to short.



But it's not. (2.42 / 7) (#24)
by Cirrostratus Clouds on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 11:39:31 PM EST

The 99th Bloomsday would be rapidly approaching if time were moving in reverse.

You seem to have a point. (none / 1) (#26)
by James A C Joyce on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 11:55:36 PM EST

Given a year of the form 1904 + x then in that year will be the x + 1th Bloomsday. (We can see that this makes sense, for when x is 0, this formula implies that 1904 was the first Bloomsday, which it is.) As such, in the year 2004 (for which x would be 100) it must be the 101st Bloomsday. So I do in fact appear to be in error by stating that the 100th Bloomsday is rapidly approaching.

Hmmm, better change it.

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

Gah (3.00 / 3) (#76)
by ghjm on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 08:25:29 PM EST

There is no such thing as the second Bloomsday. There was only one Bloomsday. A year after that, what happened was the first anniversary of the one and only Bloomsday. Which makes this the 100th anniversary.

[ Parent ]
-1, James Joyce (1.38 / 18) (#25)
by pertubation theory on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 11:54:52 PM EST

...is a pile of turdish shit.

Just read through the titles of critical analysis of his work to see the crap that passes as scholarship amoung my liberal arts brothers. No one they can't find a job when they graduate with that shiny BA (bullshiter in arts).

----
Dice are small polka-dotted cubes of ivory constructed like a lawyer to lie upon any side, commonly the wrong one.
- Ambrose Bierce

Liberal arts majors seem to do just fine (2.16 / 6) (#34)
by GreyGhost on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 07:07:22 AM EST

Most of my friends are liberal arts majors. I myself was an introverted math major in college. They are all huge extroverts with great people skills, and that makes them very good employees in corporate environments.

Right now they are doing much better than the unemployed systems administrators and programmers and engineers I also know (although not as many), because geeks tend to suck at networking and making friends (even among other geeks).



[ Parent ]

That depends... (none / 2) (#37)
by pertubation theory on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 11:42:54 AM EST

...on what you do after the BA. Most of the people I knew who had a BA in stuff like History, Lit, Ethnic Studies, etc couldn't find a job no matter how low of a salary you were talking about. Most either went on to law school or starved until they finally found a job. And those who did find a job eventually went on to Business school for an MBA. I remember the liberal arts professors always complaining they got paid 1/2 what the engineers or scientists earned -- not to mention they usually got the crappiest offices you could find.

----
Dice are small polka-dotted cubes of ivory constructed like a lawyer to lie upon any side, commonly the wrong one.
- Ambrose Bierce
[ Parent ]
i'm working for a software company (none / 0) (#71)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 04:24:23 PM EST

... and I studied English Lit in college.  But anyway, it's rather comforting to see that this hasn't turned into a liberal arts-bashing thread.  Yet.

[ Parent ]
what I want to know (2.20 / 10) (#31)
by martingale on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 02:50:43 AM EST

Has anyone interviewed his school teacher? What did she think of his liberal use of commas?

I also wonder if he's ever met Marcel Proust. He might have learned something.

Joyce and Proust (3.00 / 3) (#109)
by Mr Badger on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 09:32:47 AM EST

They did meet once in 1922. They met at a party and shared a cab home with a couple of other folks. It seems that Joyce had never read Proust and Proust had never read any Joyce. Apparently all they discussed was health problems. Joyce's eyesight was failing and Proust always had a long list of real and imagined aliments to share with those willing to listen. At one point Joyce wanted to smoke in the cab and Proust, an asthmatic who left the party because he was having trouble breathing, panic and told Joyce the smoke would kill him.

Proust left no record of the meeting and we don't know what he thought of Joyce. Joyce thought Proust was a bit of a snob, though basically an okay guy. He heard of Proust's near shut-in lifestyle and envied the privacy it allowed him.

Proust died a few months after he and Joyce met. Joyce attended the funeral.


[ Parent ]

-1, you're overrated [NT] (1.50 / 20) (#32)
by Verbophobe on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 03:12:54 AM EST



Proud member of the Canadian Broadcorping Castration
If James were still alive today (2.50 / 10) (#33)
by fae on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 05:00:05 AM EST

He'd be humbled by your writing.

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
+1, now I don't have to read that monster (1.45 / 11) (#35)
by JayGarner on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 10:34:39 AM EST



All I have to say is... (2.77 / 9) (#38)
by GenerationY on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 11:48:16 AM EST

Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more.
A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue bloom is on the
Gold pinnacled hair.
A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castile.
Trilling, trilling: I dolores.
Peep! Who's in the... peepofgold?
Tink cried to bronze in pity.
And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call.
Decoy. Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade. O rose! Notes chirruping answer. Castille. The morn is breaking.
Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.
Coin rang. Clock clacked.
Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!
Jingle. Bloo.
Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.

...well, Joyce perhaps deserves some credit for being the original crap-flooder. IMHO, in context, it falls under the heading of being influencial without actually being that good.


No (none / 1) (#46)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 11:31:21 PM EST

The fact is the dude could put so much meaning into his words. Take Finnegans Wake - certainly looks like gibberish, but the little bits I got some sense out of or got some sense of the deeper meaning of made me marvel at how much I must be missing.

Not really a crapflooder, but perhaps one of the best trolls of his time and indeed of history, like turmeric was the best troll to ever grace K5.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

-1, misspelt Guinness (nt) (1.25 / 3) (#42)
by Mindcrym on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 06:19:33 PM EST



Sheet. (none / 1) (#43)
by James A C Joyce on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 06:40:02 PM EST

I had theese story in the edeet queue for 24 hours. Why does nobody tell me theese theengs?

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

-1, didn't like the little red robot. (1.25 / 4) (#44)
by it certainly is on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 08:20:28 PM EST

Mind you, the blue-faced girl was pretty hot.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.

I think you and I are talking at cross-purposes. (none / 0) (#45)
by James A C Joyce on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 08:34:46 PM EST

[nt]

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

No, I'm pretty sure it's the same thing. (none / 0) (#48)
by it certainly is on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 06:50:07 AM EST

Let's see, it was called Ulysses and it was kind of a modern interpretation of Homer's Odyssey, yeah? In that case, we are talking about the same thing.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

The overrating of Ullyses (2.14 / 7) (#47)
by psychologist on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 05:45:37 AM EST

I agree with you to a great extent that this particular literary work of Joyce is completely and utterly oerrated. The pleasure in the book, and the acclaim of the book lie wholly and alone in the 18th, 19th and 20th century European teahome traddition of literary analysis.

You see, there has always been a bent towards the display of intellectuallity in the European nobility and landowner class, for the former because they had nothing to do, and for the latter because they are ashamed that they actually did something when they were younger.

This intellectuallity could most often be displayed when the "new book" came out. Then the ladies would gather around and reproduce what the men had written in the evening paper, passing it off as one of their bythoughts.

The men would pace about in their study, trying to get in, that bit deeper than the next man. And the more obscure the book was, the more "intellectual" and "intelligent" it was obviously going to be.

The writers of the 19th century capitalised on this, and brought forward book upon book, stories lost behind depths of hidden references, emotions of inanimate objects, and words that had long been lost to our english language.

Joyce, the dear man, brought the entire fiasco to a head. Nobody could understand this book without a few months of study. But they all had exactly one day to read and understand it, i.e, before the  morning papers had to print their reviews.

The book was sufficiently wordy, thick and ununderstandeable for all the reviewers to acclaim it as the greatest book they had ever read, hoping of course that all the othber reviewers would do so. And oh, they did! Nobody understood it, nobody was entertained, nobody liked it, and most of all, nobody saw a story in the happennings, but everybody wrote about how they loved it.

Think about it: Joyce wrote a long winded comment about absolutely nothing, all to appeal to the ego of a few pseudo-intellectuals, and make them reply, pull them in, and make them look stupid while believing themselves to be oh-so clever. I'd call Joyce a Troll.

too cynical (none / 0) (#67)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 04:12:25 PM EST

The pleasure in the book, and the acclaim of the book lie wholly and alone in the 18th, 19th and 20th century European teahome traddition of literary analysis.
You see, there has always been a bent towards the display of intellectuallity in the European nobility and landowner class, for the former because they had nothing to do, and for the latter because they are ashamed that they actually did something when they were younger.

Strangely, there is some truth in this little reactionary huff. Trends of obfuscation or inaccessibility in the arts tend to, at least in some cases, run in parallel with popularization of the arts. Capital-R Romanticism, with its valorization of the artist as the heroic medium of Imagination, rose alongside the decline of the patronage system and the popularization of the novel with the middle class, including, yes, housewives. Later, the advent of photography would prompt a move from representation to abstraction in the visual arts. These are admittedly oversimplifications.

Having said all that, don't you think that some people might derive genuine pleasure from close textual analysis? This is a rhetorical question, and the answer is yes, because as a matter of fact, people do. The pleasure is sincere and the pretensions are no worse than any others. If that's not fun to you, simply move along and enjoy the things you do like.

Nobody understood it, nobody was entertained, nobody liked it, and most of all, nobody saw a story in the happennings, but everybody wrote about how they loved it.

Well, no, plenty of readers loved it. Its banning ensured a quick underground success. Was it "trendy" to read it? Yeah, probably, but again, you're second-guessing other people's pleasure, which is pointless, unverifiable, and not a little adolescent. Plenty of readers hated Ulysses, too, notably D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, the latter of whom labeled it "Underbred.... the book of a self taught working man," and muttered of Joyce's "cloacal obsession." The U.S. judge that lifted the ban on the book, remarked that it "somewhat emetic but not aprodisiac" (paraphrase), which I would say is damningly faint praise.

Think about it: Joyce wrote a long winded comment about absolutely nothing, all to appeal to the ego of a few pseudo-intellectuals, and make them reply, pull them in, and make them look stupid while believing themselves to be oh-so clever. I'd call Joyce a Troll.

I don't think that the James Joyce that wrote Ulysses was a troll, though he certainly carried a monumental ego. I do think that he must have been tickled at the amount of work his book would cause for readers and scholars ("I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries"), but I don't think that he was a charlatan by any means. Again, you're basing your judgment purely on an anti-intellectual bias that seems borne out of resentment.

Now, as for trolls, I think that Kuro5hin's James Joyce might fit the bill. It's hard to say, though.



[ Parent ]
Is it overrated? (2.00 / 4) (#50)
by the wanderer on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 07:45:02 AM EST

Yes. It wasn't anything pleasent to read. It was to long, to boring. It's a 1000+ pages about nothing. A 1000+ unenjoyable pages even.

I think the intellectuals praise the book so much because they are supposed to. Just like culinary experts praise oysters because that's what they're supposed to do.

I too have dragged myself through Ulysses because i wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. After finishing it, i still didn't understand.


david, the Lost Boy
the Written Pixel

quit second-guessing other people's opinions (none / 1) (#69)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 04:17:31 PM EST

Maybe the people who say they like the book genuinely enjoyed reading it. Surely your powers of imagination are sufficient to allow the possibility that experiences you don't personally enjoy may yet be sincerely enjoyed by others?

[ Parent ]
second-guessing (none / 1) (#78)
by the wanderer on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 07:25:51 AM EST

Well, if we're not allowed to second-guess other people's opinions, how do you expect this site to ever get any kind of discussion going? Disagreeing over opinions is pretty much all a discussion is made of...

And yes, there might be the odd one that truly enjoyed the book. However i believe that the number of people who really enjoyed it is far smaller then the number of people who claim to enjoy it so they can look all intelligent and sophisticated.


david, the Lost Boy
the Written Pixel

[ Parent ]
please elucidate (none / 0) (#86)
by cobra libre on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 05:05:39 PM EST

So what's your basis for this belief that people only read Ulysses because they're poseurs?  Does any exist, or you simply pulling words out of your ass?

In that spirit, I'd like to suggest that your small-minded motivation for poo-pooing readers of large books must be sad, simple sour grapes resentment.  Either that, or you're a high school student or the equivalent.  If you want to raise the bar of this discussion, feel free to chime in with some verifiable proof of your assertion "i believe that the number of people who really enjoyed it is far smaller then the number of people who claim to enjoy it so they can look all intelligent and sophisticated."

[ Parent ]

Joyce's genius & Dubliners (3.00 / 6) (#51)
by Ranieri on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 08:12:31 AM EST

While Ulysses is quite intimidating, both in sheer size and density of the narrative, I can only reccomend reading Dubliners. Composed of a dozen or so short stories, it shows that Joyce hasn't always been as longwinded as in Ulysses.
Best of the bunch is, in my opinion, the last story, The Dead. If that doesn't do anything to you, you are a bloody heartless bastard.
--
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
Pashe senorita (none / 1) (#52)
by psychologist on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 08:25:37 AM EST

n/t

[ Parent ]
And you haven't even heard about Anna Livia yet (1.75 / 4) (#56)
by nkyad on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 09:38:17 AM EST

You will die when you hear it.

Don't believe in anything you can't see, smell, touch or at the very least infer from a good particle accelerator run


Is literacy a cult? (2.60 / 5) (#57)
by IHCOYC on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 10:41:44 AM EST

Of somewhat larger concern, I think, might be the Modern Library's readers' selections for the greatest 100 novels of all time. Their top selections:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand;
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand;
(FWIW, Anthem by Ayn Rand clocks in at #7, and We the Living at #8, which suggests that even Rand fans have some standards of taste.
Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
(Didn't Hubbard write some goodpulp science fiction back in the 40s or 50s?) While Hubbard did not make the top spot, he gets three of his 1980s novels in the top ten, as opposed to Rand's four.

It would appear that there has been at least a bit of ballot box stuffing going on in the reader's poll. Still, if you wanted works of fiction that encapsulated the beliefs and aspirations of people from the 20th century, it is at least arguable that Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard will help future generations understand us better than James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald will.
--
Popoculus nauta sum; Popoculus nauta sum.
Ad finem pugnabo: spinaciam edo! Popoculus nauta sum!
--- Horace

yes and no (none / 0) (#64)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 03:40:27 PM EST

Well, not exactly. Ayn Rand, for better or for worse, has made her mark, but I don't think she will help future generations understand "us" any more than I think that the writings of Norman Mailer or Allen Ginsberg will help me understand my mom and my dad, though I may glean some knowledge of their broad cultural context. The works of Ayn Rand and L. Ron certainly don't encapsulate my beliefs and aspirations, nor would it make sense to say that they do so for the "people from the 20th century" -- we're talking about 100 years and several billion people, after all. The best you can say is that the works of those authors that manage to make some cultural impact in their time might give future generations some small but meaningful piece of the overall picture.

Meanwhile, I wouldn't discount the insight that a good "literary" author provides of his/her particular time, place, and circumstances. I'm reading Ulysses right now, as it happens, and it paints a vivid portrait of the city of Dublin and its people. Sure, it's difficult and it's not for every reader. This on its own neither makes it bad or worthless.



[ Parent ]
I saw that (none / 2) (#68)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 04:14:56 PM EST

I thought the two lists were pretty funny. On one side you have a very academic, and somewhat intimidating list of books, and on the other side you have a few popular winners in a field of Rands and Hubbards. It's good to know that the masses still like Fitzgerald and Vonnegut, and I think the Rand and Hubbard votes can be attributed to two very vocal minorities. They don't say anything about what life was like in the 20th century, aside from the fact that millions of people were completely insane. I'm sure there was plenty of popular crap in the first half of the century too, and it's mostly been forgotten. Then again, a lot of the good stuff doesn't even get recognized for years after the author dies. I don't know which current authors will win critics' hearts in the future, but I'm pretty confident that the list won't include Hubbard or Rand.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
I beg to differ... (none / 0) (#94)
by ucblockhead on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 06:54:09 PM EST

While I would not in a million years read Hubbard, and find Rand too vapid for anyone over 18, I think both say a hell of a lot about what life was like in the 20th century, though not perhaps what their authors intended.

Far more than Joyce does, for that matter. Beyond learning about the behaviors of the Irish townspeople in the teens, Ulysses says very little about 20th century life in particular.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Also (none / 0) (#70)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 04:17:47 PM EST

On the readers list, they seem to have misspelled Fahrenheit 451. It's just funny, because they're a book company and all.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Remember (none / 1) (#85)
by Tritone on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 04:44:13 PM EST

Keep in mind that Scientologists have been known to buy large quantities of their own publications in order to put them on the best seller lists. I wouldn't be surprised if they stuffed the ballot on this one.

--

Rick: Yeah, this is the sort of thing that Limp Bizkit would play. I'm down with him, you know. With Mr. Bizkit.
[ Parent ]
portrait of the artist as a young man (1.50 / 4) (#60)
by circletimessquare on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 02:33:49 PM EST

james joyce sucks, always did... sorry literary snobs, but his writing is undigestable crap:

http://www.bibliomania.com/0/0/29/62/frameset.html

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor's hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:

Tralala lala,
Tralala tralaladdy,
Tralala lala,
Tralala lala.

Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.

Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.

The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen's father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:

-- O, Stephen will apologize.

Dante said:

-- O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.--

Pull out his eyes,
Apologize,
Apologize,
Pull out his eyes.

Apologize,
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
Apologize.

The wide playgrounds were swarming with boys. All were shouting and the prefects urged them on with strong cries. The evening air was pale and chilly and after every charge and thud of the footballers the greasy leather orb flew like a heavy bird through the grey light. He kept on the fringe of his line, out of sight of his prefect, out of the reach of the rude feet, feigning to run now and then. He felt his body small and weak amid the throng of the players and his eyes were weak and watery. Rody Kickham was not like that: he would be captain of the third line all the fellows said.

Rody Kickham was a decent fellow but Nasty Roche was a stink. Rody Kickham had greaves in his number and a hamper in the refectory. Nasty Roche had big hands. He called the Friday pudding dog- in-the-blanket. And one day be had asked:

-- What is your name?

Stephen had answered: Stephen Dedalus.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

to each his own (2.66 / 6) (#62)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 03:22:12 PM EST

To me, that's an example of good writing, using deliberately childlike language to convey the subjective viewpoint of a child. As Stephen Dedalus's story went on, he became progressively a less sympathetic character to me, but I remain fond of the writing. Since you don't like Portrait of the Artist, I recommend that you give Dubliners a chance, as its style is more unadorned and realist, and its tone rather cynical.

[ Parent ]
You've missed the point - (2.60 / 5) (#83)
by redrum on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 01:05:57 PM EST

"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" maps the development of Stephen Dedalus (a characterisation of Joyce himself) into the artist. It begins in chapter one with a stream of consciousness as a baby, which is what you quoted, through chapter two, where Stephen enters Clongowes (part of which you quoted). The complexity of Stephen's language increases as the book progesses.

The first chapter of Portrait was what turned me onto Joyce's writing in the beginning - he expresses on paper the train of thought of an infant brilliantly. He invented the 'Stream of Conscious' technique for God's sake.

The fact that you're too ignorant to appreciate it doesn't make the literature that of a low quality. Enjoy your miserable life with Tom Clancy.

[ Parent ]

That's rich. (2.75 / 3) (#92)
by CodeWright on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 06:19:25 PM EST

Hint: Conceit != Genius

--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Sweet Jesus (none / 2) (#91)
by CodeWright on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 06:18:09 PM EST

Thanks be to all the gods that ever were that I never felt the urge to read the monumental pile of steaming shite that appears to be the legacy of Joyce.

--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
doyle controversy blown out of proportion (3.00 / 4) (#61)
by cobra libre on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 03:17:59 PM EST

This was posted to the spiral-bound mailing list a few days ago (archived articles on the Irish Times web site are subscriber-only):

Irish Times Online edition, Thursday, Febr. 12th, 2004:

How half a truth became a great lie

By Colum McCann
12/02/2004

Roddy Doyle has been accused by some papers of "slamming" Ulysses and Joyce. The truth is somewhat different, writes Colum McCann

As a participant in the Joyce symposium organised by New York University last week, I was surprised if not dismayed at the coverage the event received from the Irish and British media. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. One might learn from the title of a Heaney poem: "Whatever you say, say nothing."

Facts, as we know, are mercenary bastards. They are neatly packaged and gussied up and decorated and shipped off to wherever we want them to go. Facts make battles, if we want them to, which is sadly all too evident nowadays. They create their own contexts, especially when taken in isolation, or indeed out of their surroundings.

The symposium, a celebration of Joyce's 122nd birthday, under the auspices of Ireland House, was created as a fireside chat. Roddy Doyle, Frank McCourt and myself were invited along to talk in and around Joyce and about the condition of Irish literature at the moment.

The "truth" that has come out of this is a suggestion that Roddy Doyle set out to destroy one of the great figures of Irish literature, as if he wanted to wield the great iconic axe. This is not the truth, or at least not the truth as I experienced it, which is my only compass.

Doyle had an enormous amount of praise and respect for Joyce and his work, and he mentioned this several times. He talked about Ulysses being one of the finest books of the century. He said he had read it twice and he cited Leopold Bloom as one of the most fascinating characters in world literature.

He went on to examine the notion of Bloom's Jewishness, eventually leading to the political connotations of contemporary Irish immigration: it was a provocative, compelling argument. Later in the conversation he spent an extended period of time praising the short-story collection Dubliners.

At the same time it is true that he said that Ulysses could have used a good editor. He also mentioned that he had no time for Finnegan's Wake. He took a swipe at the cheap Joyce industry, as did we all.

The selective culling of quotes, though, is nothing new.

It doesn't make much news that Doyle had all sorts of praise for Joyce, that much of what he said was in banter, that often his comments were presented with a wry grin, that he was operating with a small audience in mind, and that other topics he confronted were presented with sparkling intelligence.

When Howard Dean recently let out his political howl - or yowl - it was caught on television cameras and the sound isolated by television microphones. The major television stations (more or less all of them are conservative and pro-Bush) went to town on it. When the Dean shout was replayed in the context of the hall, it could hardly be heard: he was reaching out to try and reinvigorate his campaign.

But for fear of letting this matter become the Howard Dean howl of the literary establishment, let's all grow up.

I find it shameful that Doyle is left to the behest of tabloid journalism, the seekers of soundbites. That the comments were further filtered down by the British media which latched on to them with a sow-eating-her-own-farrow mentality is really no surprise. Their reports were a lens filtered through a lens filtered through yet another lens - and the only intention was to cause flame.

You could almost hear the rattle at the news desk: Let's go watch the sport. It's an Irishman - a famous one - stabbing another - a really famous one - in the back. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho.

I find it all rather sad and ridiculous. I'd hope that people would be able to take this sort of thing with a rather large grain of salt.

Henry David Thoreau said that some circumstantial evidence is very strong, especially when you find a trout in the milk. The only flying fish around this week were the cheap shots at Doyle, since he's a convenient and influential target. You'd think from the texture of the reports that he was hanging out of the rafters, swinging a cudgel, like some forgotten extra from Gangs of New York.

For crying out loud - it must have been a slow news week.

Far more troubling to me is the mention of what was said about Senator David Norris. Mr Doyle is quoted as saying that the senator "should be shot".

It was in response to a question from the audience: "Gentlemen, don't you think that Senator Norris should be locked up in the boot of a car on Bloomsday?"

Someone whispered that it depended on what type of car. No, I said, I'd much rather him be sitting in the front seat of the car, but not necessarily driving. Doyle's joke - and it was a joke, though maybe not a good one - gave the audience (especially those who know and revere Senator Norris) a laugh.

I have been, in the past, a full-time newspaper reporter. I understand the economic forces behind report and inquiry, but what I do not understand is the tilting of the moral compass.

Texture is far more interesting and instructive than selected and selective memory. This creates a difficulty when one talks to a newspaper reporter. One tries to give full vent to human loves and disappointments and ends up becoming a smart-ass.

Half a truth can result in quite a large lie.

Finally - and for the sake of us all - Doyle did not say that Jennifer Johnston was a "superior writer" to James Joyce, as has been widely quoted. Most writers know - and Doyle most certainly knows - that we're not competing in some sort of ridiculous literary Olympics. The function and purpose of writing is not to be "better", but to be true, or as true as one can be.

What in fact Doyle said was that Jennifer Johnston deserved the same sort of examination that Joyce does, that she is one of Ireland's finest writers, that he knows of very few who can craft a better sentence, and that it was a crying shame her books were not more widely available in the US. It was meant as a kick in the teeth at a myopic American publishing industry, and nothing else.

By the way, Frank McCourt had lots of interesting things to say also. So, I hope, did I. That won't make page one or page five or any other page - and it damn well doesn't deserve to.

Despite all appearances it takes a lot of volume to fill out the truth.

Colum McCann's most recent novel is Dancer


OT: Ulysses Copyright (none / 3) (#63)
by freestylefiend on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 03:34:10 PM EST

Joyce's writing returned to copyright in his native Ireland in 1995, having become public domain four years earlier.

Meh? (2.40 / 5) (#72)
by jmzero on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 05:05:46 PM EST

Joyce is great at... something.  In high school I decided I was all intelligent and started reading Finnegan's Wake.  About 3 pages into the commentary for the first paragraph, I decided I'd intellectually wank to something else.

What he built is something that I can't really appreciate, something very few people will ever  really "get".  Scrap that - nobody will ever fully appreciate Finnegan's Wake except Joyce.  It's like a 6 dimensional crossword puzzle with Tibetan letters doing some gymnastic routine on uneven bars.  Let it be said: Joyce was good at something.

Is it a great novel?  I suppose that depends on your criteria.  I'll never finish Finnegan's Wake, and I'll never read Ulysses again.  I'll also never watch Citizen Kane again.  Honestly, I can't think of any way in which I prefer Citizen Kane to Starship Troopers.  I suppose it was probably "more influential".  Maybe that's what we're rating now.  I don't know.

The article never really decides how to define "great".  It wastes some time giving opinions from random literary people.  If random literary people are the decider "what is great", then how could Joyce be overrated?  It wastes some more time reminding us that Ulysses is wierd.  If "having a good plot" and "not being wierd" and "not being dry" is what's great, then Ulysses fails, and I don't think we really needed the argument.  If the criteria is "What is James AC Joyce able to read quickly and enjoy?", then the article could have been a lot shorter.

And if "great" is some mix of a bunch of things, tell us what you think those things are.  Otherwise, we're all pissing in different directions.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife

Citizen Kane (2.75 / 3) (#77)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 12:59:56 AM EST

That is a good movie.  In that movie, Wells invented a lot of great cinemotography techinques that you've seen copied countless times.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
[ Parent ]
I guess.. (none / 0) (#87)
by jmzero on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 05:08:41 PM EST

invented a lot of great cinemotography techinques that you've seen copied countless times.

And that's great.  And I will happily give it my "Best Cinematography" mental Oscar.  Heck, I'll give it a lifetime achievement award while "Wind Beneath my Wings" plays in the background.  But I'm giving "Best Picture" to something else.

.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

One point only (2.37 / 8) (#74)
by esrever on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 08:09:38 PM EST


user@bash$ echo "Universally that person's acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitably by mortals with sapience endowed to be studied who is ignorant of that which the most in doctrine erudite and certainly by reason of that in them high mind's ornament deserving of veneration constantly maintain when by general consent they affirm that other circumstances being equal by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferent continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipotent nature's incorrupted benefaction." | wc -w
    118

So, he managed to put 118 words into a sentence.  On the surface, that seems to me to be art, a sort of high-intellect literary 'hack'.  But upon closer examination, the sentence doesn't actually make any sense, and doesn't follow the rules for English structure/grammar ("...is esteemed very little perceptive...").  So, what we really have is a crapflooder being acclaimed because nobody understands him.  If you or I were to present this book in its entirety to an editor today, we would be laughed off the face of the earth.  And that, I think, shows the true measure of Joyce's writing and its relevance in today's literary universe.

:-)

Audit NTFS permissions on Windows

i agree (none / 3) (#82)
by Cackmobile on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 11:40:44 AM EST

its not just him but modern art and some movies as well.

[ Parent ]
talk about a snap judgment (none / 2) (#88)
by cobra libre on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 05:31:09 PM EST

I'm currently reading the book and haven't yet reached the oxen of the sun chapter, so I'm unfamiliar with the context to which that sentence belongs. You would be advised, too, to reserve judgment on a fragment stripped of its context. Additionally, the fact that the original poster explicitly used this example to illustrate Joyce's excess should indicate to you that this sentence may or may not be representative.

Anyhow, it's more than likely a stream of consciousness representation of a character's thoughts -- thus the run-on sentence and the deliberately incorrect grammar. Note that "...is esteemed very little perceptive..." may not be grammatical, strictly speaking, but luckily your brain doesn't follow prescriptive textbook grammar, so you should still be able to parse it. Are you familiar with the (unfortunately cliched) phrase poetic license, or is it meaningless to you?

From what I've read so far, the book ranges through a wide variety of styles. It is at times straightforward, and at times devilishly difficult. I find myself referring to an exegetical text to help me with unfamiliar names and references -- I would love to instead have the companionship of a professor or a knowledgeable reader. The difficulty, however, doesn't faze me any less or any more than a long run would faze an athlete. The characters are rich and human, and the setting is vivid and overwhelming. Reading this book is fun. It's not a literary prank, and it's not a 'crapflood.' You may not understand it (especially having read only one sentence), and you may not enjoy it, but don't assume that nobody else can.

[ Parent ]

Joyce is to literature... (2.16 / 6) (#93)
by CodeWright on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 06:23:44 PM EST

...as the international obfuscated C competition is to software engineering.

In other words: a self-referential wankfest

--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
lame... (2.25 / 4) (#97)
by cobra libre on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 01:14:41 PM EST

Say, good job on moderating my comment as a 1 simply because you disagree with it.

Thanks be to all the gods that ever were that I never felt the urge to read the monumental pile of steaming shite that appears to be the legacy of Joyce.

Why do you people insist on holding forth your strong opinions on topics you've never even attempted to understand? Odd how you don't have any basis for even contributing to this discussion, but you insist upon it anyhow.

[ Parent ]

Hrm. (none / 2) (#98)
by CodeWright on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 01:21:11 PM EST

I think that "3" equals "encourage" while "1" equals "discourage".

How else am I to rate your comment if I disagree? I certainly don't want to encourage the sort of tripe you spout.

Would you rather I gave you a zero like I'm going to give this particular whining comment?

--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
wrong (2.66 / 3) (#100)
by cobra libre on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 01:38:43 PM EST

A good moderator encourages thoughtful responses, regardless of whether or not he disagrees with them. A good moderator discourages pointless comments that add nothing to the discussion.

Meanwhile, you have nothing to contribute to this discussion because you've never read Joyce. You haven't a leg to stand upon! What exactly are you doing here?

[ Parent ]

I can respect that. (none / 2) (#103)
by esrever on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 05:11:13 PM EST

But it's worth noting that the reason we have language at all is to communicate.  The way we communicate is with symbols that we call language.  These symbols have generally understood/assigned meanings.  If you deliberately use symbols in such a way as to ignore or confuse these meanings, then you aren't attempting to communicate.

Instead, you are creating something that only you will understand, and forcing others to do exactly as you (the reader) are, which is to pore over the text like some old cuniform tablet, without even the benefit of a 'rossetta stone', in order to decipher the meanings that have been arbitrarily assigned to the symbols you have used.

So, in light of this, I also have a great deal of respect, and lean heavily towards, the opinion expressed by many other posters on this thread that this indicates a self-gratifying 'intellectual circle-jerk'.

Nevertheless, as you rightly point out, there is a whole book out there, and the author of the article only highlighted this one paragraph.  So it's possible the rest is much more clear.  But this doesn't seem likely from your comment about wanting a companion text (ie, rossetta stone).

Regards,


Audit NTFS permissions on Windows
[ Parent ]

those meanings are not fixed (none / 1) (#107)
by cobra libre on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 09:19:27 AM EST

With all due respect, that's a reductive view of how language is used in art and literature.* Remember that one of fiction's roles is to entertain, so think of the book as a puzzle, if you like. The pleasure of reading the book comes from the fact that it isn't straightforward, that it ranges over a considerable stylistic and thematic terrain, that it brims with allusions to Catholicism, Irish history, or Western literature from Greek to Italian to Irish to English, that particular passages may yield several meanings, and so on. It is densely packed with information, and it can be hard to unpack that information. In fact, a single reader will probably not 'get' every aspect of the book; this might seem infuriating, but it leaves the possibility open for new discoveries upon the next reading. I guess all I can really say is that some people embrace this as a challenge; they think it's fun. Perhaps that turns you off, and that's fine. (Personally, I like many authors that some of my friends would consider difficult, but I haven't made up my mind about Joyce yet. I certainly like his more straightforward early work.)

* - And in everyday life, too. Think about how slang used by young people seems deliberately obfuscated to the older generations. Or think about how the language used by specialists such as academics and scientists seems incomprehensible to laypeople, when in fact that language is simply an efficient means of communication for its intended audience. In the case of Ulysses, the language does not allow for efficient comprehension, but again, this creates a satisfying challenge.

[ Parent ]

That's a very good description, thanks (none / 1) (#111)
by esrever on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 03:39:55 PM EST

I can accept that perspective.

I guess that from my POV that just doesn't make it 'great literature' (whatever that's supposed to mean anyway :-)

Thanks for the alternative viewpoint; very helpful :-)

Audit NTFS permissions on Windows
[ Parent ]

But there is a Rossetta Stone! (none / 1) (#116)
by acramon1 on Sat Feb 21, 2004 at 03:53:47 PM EST

The Rossetta Stone for Joyce's Ulysses is the set of all literature before Ulysses. (Really!)

[ Parent ]
The fundamental conceits (3.00 / 10) (#75)
by johnny on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 08:17:39 PM EST

I'll confess to being a big Joyce fan. I've read Dubliners a few times, and Portrait. I've read Ulysses at least twice; thrice I think. (But the most recent time was twenty-five years ago, so discount my opinions accordingly.)

I thought Ulysses was nearly unbearably beautiful for two main reasons: first, its celebration of the English language as the genius of the Irish people. That in itself is a profound conceit, and it is perfectly realized in the novel. Second, its casting Leopold and Molly Bloom--two heartbroken, weak, flawed and barely-getting-by-in-this-world lost souls, sinners-- as heroes for the ages, the equal if not the better of Odyssyus (sp?)and Hercules, is a beautiful, generous, and at the time completely new contribution to literature. Joyce gets credit for modernism, which people sometimes eroneously equate with fancy literary techniques. In fact, Joyce's most permanent contribution to modern sensibility wasn't his word tricks. It was the notion that an average Joe, on a average day, doing nothing in particular other than surviving, with decency, was a hero for the ages. We fail to recognize the originality and ferocity of the modern idea because we live in the modern world and take it for granted.

I don't know how you could have had a Raymond Chandler, to cite one of hundreds of others, if you hadn't had a Joyce first.

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Che

Ancient Greece. (2.50 / 3) (#81)
by tkatchev on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 11:37:00 AM EST

Methinks you misunderstand Ancient Greece.

Hellenic culture is a celebration of the sweaty, garlic-eating, monobrow Mediterranean boy-raping & chauvinist lifestyle.

I hardly see what's so heroic about it.


   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Heroes old and new (none / 1) (#84)
by clark9000 on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 02:59:07 PM EST

That's an interesting interpretation of the Bloom-Odysseus comparison. The way I saw it, in the Odyssey, Odysseus kicks everybody's ass, comes home, kicks more ass, and reclaims his rightful place at the throne with his wife who has remained faithful over all the years, even though O was probably dead. In Ulysses, Bloom, our modern-day "hero" is broke, impotent, friendless, and cuckolded by his wife Molly. So it's about how modern-day life is so empty and broken as compared with the old days of great conquering heroes.

Not to say that your interpretation isn't perfectly valid.

At any rate, I loved Ulysses, I found it that it operates on so many different levels, on so many themes. When you try to analyze, you keep digging deeper, and then doubling back and then flipping over and then inverting -- it can be frustrating of course, but so what.

But I think you have to read it with a companion volume that explains, line-by-line, what all the references are (or at least what scholars believe them to be). And a good knowledge of the Odyssey is important too.
_____
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.

-- E. Dickinson
[ Parent ]
pretty much the only people (2.66 / 6) (#79)
by the sixth replicant on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 08:11:30 AM EST

who i've known that have adored this book have been classic historians, historians of the middle ages and people well versed in latin and ancient greek.

what they got out of every single sentence in that book is something to admire and be envious of

since a lot of people here are technical i think we can appreciate that we are very well versed in some things and are puzzled by those we aren't....this is one of those times

you can call it crap, but you can do the same by picking up any maths journal in the library or finding a page at random in the Astrophysical Journal (if you can lift it!). sometimes you have to admit the road you travelled has made choices in what you can appreciate and contribute to culture (not telling people to limit their choices but Ulysses is Category Theory of literature - takes five years just to understand the definitions)

ciao

Too technical for *anyone* (none / 2) (#90)
by pla on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 06:12:55 PM EST

people well versed in latin and ancient greek.

And English and German (lots of german) and French, and probably a few other languages. Joyce apparently loved puns, and packed so many into his work, in quite a few languages, as to make it all but unreadable (in the sense that very very VERY few people will get all his clever little wordplays).


you can call it crap, but you can do the same by picking up any maths journal in the library or finding a page at random in the Astrophysical Journal (if you can lift it!).

In a way, I agree with you. However, I think we also need to stop to consider the entire purpose of literature - To communicate ideas. I will certainly grant that Joyce had total mastery of the technicalities of language, but he quite simply sucked as a writer. He completely failed to write in a style that conveyed more than a jumble of impressions, with no real consistency. His defenders often claim that as his intent, but even considering him from the "stream of consciousness" style of writing, he still makes very little sense (which does not surprise me, since I do not speak a dozen languages fluently - Nor does 99.9999% of the humans on this planet).


Personally, I tried reading "Ulysses" at least half a dozen times, because "everyone" says I should (I don't personally care about reading most "classics", but I figured perhaps Ulysses actually had something in it worth reading, if I put in the effort). The first two times, I gave up after around ten pages. The next time, I tried skipping in about 50 pages, and still only managed a handfull of pages before giving up. Every time since then, I've opened to a random spot, and had no more luck than my first few tries.

Now, I don't claim myself as a god of reading or anything, but in my youth, I easily read a book per day. Even now, I read at least one book per week. I have a serious interest in linguistics, and though I wouldn't call myself fluent in anything but English, I "know" four or five languages, including two non-romance languages (Hebrew and Esperanto), to the degree that I can read them with occasional consultation of a dictionary. Yet, I simply could not stand Joyce. Dry, no real plot, untangleable phrasings - Overall, just a huge mess of babble.

I have to agree with another poster - I believe Joyce meant most of his work as what we now would call a troll. He didn't intend it to have any real literary merit - He just wanted to piss people off. Either that, or he wanted to see how many pretentious pseudo-intellectuals would call his work "great", after failing to get more than the basic chain of events out of it.

"Impossibly difficult" does not mean "Great". In almost all cases, the exact opposite holds true. The writers most people consider "great" used a style that anyone could appreciate. That also doesn't mean an author needs to dumb-down their work, but they do need to make it accessible to more than a few dozen people on the entire planet.


[ Parent ]
Joyce was not a troll (none / 2) (#99)
by cobra libre on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 01:28:54 PM EST

I have to agree with another poster - I believe Joyce meant most of his work as what we now would call a troll. He didn't intend it to have any real literary merit - He just wanted to piss people off. Either that, or he wanted to see how many pretentious pseudo-intellectuals would call his work "great", after failing to get more than the basic chain of events out of it.

People here have certainly latched on to this idea, but it's incorrect. Joyce was not a troll. He sincerely believed that his work was good and worthy, and he hoped for genuine success, as all writers surely do. The impression I have from reading short biographies of the man is that, unlike a troll, he would have been more angry and disappointed than anything else by people who didn't like his work. If you want to insult the man, you could label him an egomaniac, and you probably wouldn't be lying -- Joyce regarded himself as a genius.

Whether or not you think he was the genius that he and others thought he was, well, that's subjective, and you're certainly entitled to your opinion, because unlike most of the commenters here, you've at least tried to read his work. All I can say for certain is that I think he was a notable talent.

I was an English literature student. I agree that "impossibly difficult" does not mean "great." I typically prefer a book with a minimal, straightforward style; however, I won't necessarily dismiss a book simply because it's difficult to read. Personally, I like much of Joyce's prose. This is entirely subjective, but I find his command of language to be at times breathtaking, delirious, and musical, like good poetry. At times, I'm also frustrated and annoyed. I'm not bothered that I cannot appreciate every allusion; I simply enjoy what I can. I haven't made up my mind about Ulysses yet, but I do know that I'm enjoying the challenge of reading it.

[ Parent ]

joyce is a troll (2.25 / 4) (#89)
by Work on Tue Feb 17, 2004 at 05:47:08 PM EST

i attempted to read finnegan's wake. its unintelligible garbage made for the literary masturbators who can pick out its allusions.

For the same reason that trolls try and impress each other with their trolling threads, joyce follows the same suit.

Though I must say, he was a master at it. Its difficult enough to read it - can you imagine trying to write that?

Well, I for one (none / 2) (#113)
by o reor on Fri Feb 20, 2004 at 07:33:46 AM EST

am a literary masturbator. And when Stephen Daedalus asks his friend about a comparison between the Mabinogion and the Upanishad, at least I know what they're talking about.

Masturbators exist in other domains than literature too, like IT, but they are usually referred to as "geeks". I don't consider myself as a 1337 reader though. But j0yce r0x0rs !!!

BTW, anyone else interested in creating a literary equivalent of Slashdot ?

[ Parent ]

Literary equivalent of Slashdot? (none / 0) (#114)
by James A C Joyce on Fri Feb 20, 2004 at 04:31:03 PM EST

But there's no literary news worth posting online nowadays! Or would it be a retrospective wankfest?

I bought this account on eBay
[ Parent ]

Bloody Hell! (3.00 / 7) (#96)
by HereticMessiah on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 11:12:18 AM EST

A few points:
  • If I hear somebody describe Irish literature as 'UK' literature, I'm going to scream.
  • You have to read it out loud in a city-centre Dublin accent. It makes a hell of a lot more sense when you do.
  • Yes, it's overrated, but I don't know a piece of literature that isn't. Even Shakespeare wrote some godawful crap.
  • I don't like westerns, my father loves them. I like sci-fi, my father thinks they're bunk. Taste is subjective. Some people will grok Joyce and others won't. Get over it.
  • People make up words all the time.
Thanks for reading. Normal service will resume shortly.

--
Disagree with me? Post a reply.
Think my post's poor or trolling? Rate me down.
IMVHO: (none / 0) (#118)
by vyruss on Mon Feb 23, 2004 at 04:00:46 PM EST

Shakespeare wrote mostly godawful crap, much of it ripped off from Greek & Roman tragedies.
Also, neologisms and not being able to stop writing, even about insignificant events (logodiarrhea?) are hallmarks of mental illness.

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert (none / 2) (#102)
by daigu on Wed Feb 18, 2004 at 03:13:53 PM EST

All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. Ulysses is a difficult book. In my opinion, it is also an excellent book.

I had a great deal of difficulty getting through Ulysses the first couple of times I tried it. I then read about Stuart Gilbert's commentary in the New Lifetime Reading Plan. It follows Ulysses chapter by chapter - so you can alternate between the two books. I found that reading one chapter in Ulysses - which would lose me totally - followed by the relevant chapter in Stuart made it an enjoyable read. When done this way, it also helps you to see why James Joyce is brilliant.

Case in point: Every chapter is associated with a color, a organ of the body, a science/art, etc. and about ten other things. It roughly follows Homer's tale. There is a chapter that demonstrates every form of rhetoric. Textbook, novel, you name it, Ulysses is a major achievement. The reviewer - and anyone who has been turned off by the book - should give it another try.



I wonder (none / 1) (#106)
by ElChineseTourist on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 03:31:56 AM EST

how many high school English teachers would flunk Joyce for writing as he did in said book

Pertinent (none / 0) (#115)
by proles on Fri Feb 20, 2004 at 06:38:27 PM EST

My own reaction upon finishing the novel. Most of my other diary entries around that time were regarding Ulysses as well.
If there is hope, it lies in the proles.
Joyce anticipated all this (none / 1) (#120)
by HollyHopDrive on Wed Apr 14, 2004 at 08:11:01 AM EST

I'm currently a few miles away from my copy of "Portrait" so I'll have to do this from memory. But recall, if you will, the scene in which Stephen suddenly feels his calling to become a great artist and, in a frenzy of artistic inspiration, views a woman paddling in the water and starts comparing her in his mind to a bird - her drawers are the bird's down, her bosom plumage, or words to that effect. It goes on extensively.

Heaven forfend Stephen should merely be ogling her tits, arse and knickers. No, no - for our hero, it is a manifestation of his literary genius calling him.

Joyce is taking the piss. His books mix beautiful language with an acute awareness of the ease in which self-absorbed writers fall into pomposity and snobbery, the artist paring his fingernails. The genius of "Portrait" is that it can be told entirely from Stephen's perspective while another consciousness invites us to disregard a lot of what Stephen perceives to be true. Stephen's treatment and perception of women in particular isn't at all what the book actually presents. The genius of "Ulysses" is that it could experiment so much with exactly how one can tell a story.

I make too much sense to be on the Internet.

Is Ulysses Overrated? | 120 comments (103 topical, 17 editorial, 2 hidden)
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