There is a strong argument for studying this huge and intimidating text- book list chart-topper of 100 greatest books of all time, critics’ darling, most lauded/least read, the book that many literary academics dedicate their lives to studying…but you will only know for yourself by diving in. I believe the only way to study it is with a group of hungry, curious readers who all contribute to evoking meaning—through their questions as well as their insights. The Ulysses Salon will commence with a close study of the first section. Any time spent studying Joyce leaves one a better reader- a broader thinker- even if all the references, repetitions, epiphanies and allusions are not immediately understood. Now, more thoughts as to Why do it?
Clifton Fadiman offers a concise list:
1. It is probably the most completely organized, thought out work of
literature since The Divine Comedy.
2. It is the most influential novel (call it that for the lack of a
better term) published in our century. The influence is indirect-
through other writers.
3. It is one of the most original works of the imagination in the
language. It broke not one trail, but hundreds.
4. There is some disagreement here, but the prevailing view is that
it is not “decadent’ or “immoral” or “pessimistic”. Like the work
of many of the supreme artists…it proposes a vision of life as
seen by a powerful mind that rises above the partial, the
sentimental, and the self-defensive.
5. Unlike its original, The Odyssey, it is not an open book. It
yields its secrets only to those willing to work, just as
Beethoven’s last quartets reveal new riches the longer they are
And another perspective:
Ulysses can be read with passion without intellectually understanding the text. In this case, we identify ourselves completely with the character, our imagination lays hold of his sensation, his pleasure, his reminiscences, and we live with him, we dream with him. The prolonging of the interior monologue in our imagination will provoke pure reverie…Because the interior monologue in its fragmentary incoherence includes, as we have seen before, all the logical structure and grammatical armature of thought.
“You should approach Joyce’s Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.” William Faulkner
The good news: reading Ulysses is fun. And I don’t mean in a frustrating, overly-analytical see-how much you know way- the language is amazing- even when I don’t understand it- perhaps especially when I don’t understand it- because meaning sneaks in through more than my critical faculty- meaning slides in through sound, through the lushness of the language- through the filmy and substantial images- and suddenly I find myself transported from a walk on a beach to a contemplation of the origins of man- thanks, James Joyce.