Early stage of Ulysses

2022-03-10 @Literature

As I’m a traveller who writes a lot, I’m sometimes expected to write about travels. But I’m not that sort of traveller, nor that sort of writer. I prefer to board other themes that might employ travel as a mere front for something I find more enticing: like the metaphysical travels of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

In vain I tried reading the text fifteen years back: could hardly endure a few paragraphs: the semantics, the language, the modernist technique were elements as alien to me as an indigenous dialect.

With the more recent and varied literary exposure, which Joyce effectively demands of the reader, I can somewhat crawl through the work now: phrase by phrase, read ultra slowly and numerously reread. Joyce’s minor works, Cortazar and Eliot’s poetry have been of incredible benefit.

I’m frequently seen with the imposingly thick paperback across the travel circle. Many question what Ulysses really concerns, aware of only its mystic reputation, that of an esoteric and barely approachable text.

I can’t really provide a satisfactory answer, as the basic argument (that of a set of events taking place in during the course of twenty four hours in Dublin circa June, 1904, lived through the mind of a handful of characters) hardly makes for a reconciling explanation.

Rather, the value is in the building blocks, the words, the sentences, the poetry, the deeper questions raised. Ulysses reads like a fractallized composition, enjoyable at limitless levels of interpretation, countless tools continuously and simultaneously used and abused. And however slow the pace, the journey still feels rather superficial. Perhaps after the first read spanning who knows how many months, we’ll see a second round.

Being the quintessential modernist opus of the 20th century, the respective techniques are aplenty: practiced by numerous 20th century modernists, yet elevated to nonparallel heights by Joyce: first/third person narration, streams of consciousness at varying levels of depth, shifting perspective, constant mode changes, elements intermingled within short confines, queues mighty subtle - if any.

Contrary to many of the academic editions of the text that exist, abounding in explanatory remarks; contrary to the experience of reading under the professor’s guidance - for the text is heavily studied in Literature courses - I’ve opted for the most naive of the editions: the Vintage edition, void of any accompanying notes: pure prose and nothing more: no anxiety over thorough comprehension or the frequent leveraging of provided aids. No such option.

And still, not an easy read, even in the sense of the most basic form of pleasure reading: negligent with the allusions, the symbols, the satire, rusty on the Odyssey framework, unconscious to the myriads of other frameworks leveraged across the chapters.

Even a primitive effort has demanded severe concentration: the mere parsing of sentences, the acquiring of context, building the sense of continuity. But what you invest correlates to what you extract.

That’s Ulysses. It’s not for the impatient. It’s not for the action-oriented film viewership. Though there are films that demand even greater concentration of me: like the works of Alejandro Jorodovsky. Yes, I’ve suddenly juxtaposed literature with film. But that’s parenthetical.

Ulysses is for that sector of readers open to reading for the sake of impactful language: bedazzling sentences, read and enjoyed strictly in themselves and of themselves, many times over.

Questions, comments? Connect.