Ulysses, continued

2022-04-18 @Literature

It’s fitting to read Ulysses as one traverses the Amazon river. Both are slow journeys. Simple from the superficial vantage point. Multifaceted as you follow the hazy slopes.

Not sure if I’ve ever read anything quiet this slowly though. Perhaps Moby Dick a few years ago. Need to reread that. Especially with my increasing appetite for sea journeys.

Ulysses. Two months in, and barely 40% through. A continuous exercise of bedazzlement. Some passages transmit context with greater clarity. Some, hardly. Others, not at all.

Often I read for the mere aesthetics in the unorthodox use of language. Sometimes I struggle to construct coherent phrases from the words. Nor is there coherency in every phrase: many comprise of mere fragmentary thought.

Sometimes I feel ill-equipped to interpret a bloody thing. Then not long after the reading acquires a drastically different cadence. The experience undergoes constant mutation. Where the language and the voice are concerned, I can’t count on even the remotest sense of continuity.

It’s an unceasing surprise: one chapter, quintuple scans of each phrase for the beauty of their construction; the next, for the sheer incomprehensibility. It’s a quintuple journey across the board.

Held a conversation with a non-native speaker who listened to the entire work on audio. Judging from the humble command of English, near certainly translated. Though I didn’t raise the point in effort to retain any involuntarily scornful facial muscle movement.

And however hopelessly unreconcilable the idea of the audiobook, didn’t raise that point either. To listen to any literary text instead of read, doesn’t digest. Sounds preposterous. But nothing new in the house of prejudice and pride.

The incredulous contrasts do ultimately render the work unique. Some chapters feel like the authentic Joyce, others, a homage to other renown world literature practitioners, which, nonetheless, is still an extension of Joyce.

Be one chapter unbearably dense, Joyce then proceeds to reward the reader with a segmented narrative, more palatable to the eye, more digestible to the mind. If one chapter showcases an ultra-fragmentary stream-of-consciousness manoeuvre, brief phrases, two-worders, one-worders, the next appeals to one of the numerous prosaic styles of the Baroque, the Victorian, the heavily verbose, that which I used to heavily prefer and oftentimes still do.

As far as I suspect, Joyce indeed aims to parody certain key figures in the history of literature. I can’t help but occasionally recognize Dickens, Poe, Thomas Malory, or even Thomas Browne, all within a single chapter. And the manner, the subtlety in which Joyce juxtaposes contrasting styles further amplifies the reception.

Does this sort of read drain significant energy? Does Ulysses seem inappropriate as the only reading material to carry around long travels, apart from some poems?

Not at all inappropriate. On the contrary … sometimes twenty minutes of focused attention, sometimes an hour or more, then the energy wanes, attention saturates, then shift of gears, alterulyssean activities, and then suffice but half-an-hour for the escapade to recommence. Sustainable. Phenomenal reading value. TBC.

Questions, comments? Connect.