Straight Dope Message Board

Straight Dope Message Board (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/index.php)
-   Cafe Society (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/forumdisplay.php?f=13)
-   -   Finally getting around to reading the classics - Ulysses (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=806413)

Knowed Out 10-04-2016 02:37 PM

Finally getting around to reading the classics - Ulysses
 
I think I tried to read Ulysses in college, but couldn't get past the first page. Now that I can read it online, I can instantly research words and Latin phrases I have no knowledge of. It's still a challenge, because there's a lot of references to old myths, Greek and Irish, as well as old philosophers I haven't studied, so context is often lacking for me. So, I have links to Cliff Notes ready to use as well, but I'm trying to parse the situation myself before consulting them. I've guessed about a quarter of them right so far, I think.

As far as I can tell, Stephen Dedalus is a young artist & teacher. There's no quotes or scene transitions, and it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between an actual conversation and Dedalus's own wandering thoughts. One minute, he's leaving school, having agreed to find a paper to publish another teacher's writings on hoof and mouth disease, then he's walking beachside, having an imaginary conversation with his uncle, interrupted with rambling thoughts and observations. Is he actually talking to somebody this time? It turns out he is. Then he's thinking other things while the other person is talking, and the two trains of thought crisscross.

Being a product of the times, I don't understand a lot of these 19th century allusions, but I do sometimes get that he's comparing an everyday situation to a historical event or mythological battle. This still requires a lot of background knowledge, and I hate disrupting the flow of the reading to do research. I keep hoping nothing epic happens while I'm not paying proper attention, so reading this is going to be exhausting.

Larry Borgia 10-04-2016 02:43 PM

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/...sses_Annotated

I cannot recommend this book enough. It turns night into day. Joyce makes very few concessions to the reader, and unless your knowledge of early twentieth century Dublin is much better than mine, a lot of the references will be lost on you. In the end, Ulysses is well worth reading. Joyce could be an asshole, but he had the genius to make up for it.

Sefton 10-04-2016 02:45 PM

You're jumping into the deep end of the pool. Ulysses is a tough read.

The Teaching Company has an excellent course on the subject that discusses each chapter of the book. I really enjoyed it.

Colibri 10-04-2016 03:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sefton (Post 19675249)
You're jumping into the deep end of the pool. Ulysses is a tough read.

At least it isn't Finnegan's Wake.:eek:

Larry Borgia 10-04-2016 03:20 PM

Yes, that's another good point. Please read Dubliners and Portrait first. It's much easier to get into Ulysses that way. "The Dead" is an amazing story with a beautiful last paragraph. (But read the whole story first.)

bonzer 10-04-2016 06:52 PM

Larry's advice to read both Dubliners and the Portrait first should not be ignored. Ulysses is, after all, technically a sequel to the latter (and it foreshadows some of the techniques).
I've never actually read the novel with Ulysses Annotated to hand, but it's a superb reference that factually nails all the explicit allusions: the people, places and quotations, etc. It's really rather comprehensive on that score. Better than trying to Google that stuff.
A good map of Dublin helps. While there are multiple books reconstructing the geographical details of Joyce's city (Gunn and Hart's James Joyce's Dublin being perhaps the most extreme), a modern street map probably suffices for most purposes, provided you realise that some of the street names have changed (usually post-Independence).

Of all the reading guides/explications of the novel, the one I've found most useful to read in parallel is Harry Blamires's Bloomsday Book (multiple editions and revisions).

My standard observation for people starting out is that it's chapter 3 - "Proteus" - that really trips everyone up early on. Get past that and Bloom's stream-of-consciousness is then immediately much more down-to-earth than Stephen's.
I personally find chapter 14, "The Oxen of the Sun", unreadable in any conventional sense. It's a brilliant Joycean stunt having the chapter imitate the evolution of English over the centuries, but I find that the continually shifting style blocks any attempt to get up any "head of steam" in just reading it. But once you're over that, you are on the home straight and the rest is comparatively easy.

Dinsdale 10-04-2016 07:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bonzer (Post 19675902)
I personally find chapter 14, "The Oxen of the Sun", unreadable in any conventional sense.

Twice I fought my way to that pile of bullshit, and threw in the towel. Life's too short to make a 3d attempt.

Knowed Out 10-05-2016 10:01 AM

Sheez, I didn't realize reading Ulysses would require such extensive research beforehand. How did it become regarded as a classic? I can't imagine typical readers at the time were both enlightened and educated enough to appreciate it. I suppose it intrigued the literary experts and artsy-fartsies, but not enough to fly off the bookshelves.

I'll try to envision the work more as a river with a web of tributaries than a single flow and hope I can recognize the spots where the narrative jumps. There might be a pattern here I can latch on to. On to part II.

Thudlow Boink 10-05-2016 10:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Knowed Out (Post 19677255)
Sheez, I didn't realize reading Ulysses would require such extensive research beforehand. How did it become regarded as a classic? I can't imagine typical readers at the time were both enlightened and educated enough to appreciate it. I suppose it intrigued the literary experts and artsy-fartsies, but not enough to fly off the bookshelves.

I'll try to envision the work more as a river with a web of tributaries than a single flow and hope I can recognize the spots where the narrative jumps. There might be a pattern here I can latch on to. On to part II.

I haven't read Ulysses and have no opinion on it, but it makes sense to me that a Great Novel might not be all that easy to read or widely accessible. It might be one where the author put a lot into it, and the reader is required to do a lot of work or have a lot of preparation to get out all that he put in—provided all that effort on the part of the reader is rewarded.

That said, I think part of the reason Ulysses became so famous is because of its racy content and supposed "obscenity" at a time when that could make a work notorious. The head coach wants no sissies.

Have you read Joyce's earlier, more accessible A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? If not, it might be best to start with that, and/or Dubliners, rather than making Ulysses your first encounter with James Joyce.

Larry Borgia 10-05-2016 01:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dinsdale (Post 19676026)
Twice I fought my way to that pile of bullshit, and threw in the towel. Life's too short to make a 3d attempt.

I actually enjoyed "Oxen of the Sun" though I know that's a minority opinion. Again Gifford serves as a guide through the various writers Joyce is imitating, most of whom are forgotten today. Also you need to skip or skim the first two or three paragraphs, which are deliberately unparsable, and only say "Good societies make provisions for raising their children." But overall It's a stylistic tour de force as Joyce writes in more than twenty styles, all imitating famous English authors.

Voyager 10-05-2016 02:11 PM

I'm at page 200 now. Reading Ulysses is one of my retirement projects.
I have read Dubliners, but not Portrait, but the first section was about Dedalus but the Bloom sections after that are a lot more interesting.

I'm not even trying to understand all the references, but I have a reasonably good idea of what I'm missing. I can see why understanding Ulysses can be a lifetime avocation. If I want to understand it, I'll make a second pass with the research material. But it works for me as just a novel too.

Knowed Out 10-05-2016 03:48 PM

Leopold Bloom's PoV is much easier to understand. He focuses more on mundane matters in his internal thoughts.

I haven't really noticed anything "racy" about Ulysses so far, aside from a couple of subtle insinuations that somebody fooled around.

Past controversies tend to be much ado about nothing by today's standards. When I finally got around to reading Catcher in the Rye, I couldn't find anything serial killerish about it. Maybe it was the first novel to use a young adult voice in a less than Disneyesque setting, but I couldn't find what was so shocking about it to get banned from school libraries.

Dinsdale 10-06-2016 10:26 AM

I've often expressed before that I strongly disagree that U is a great novel. It was a great ACCOMPLISHMENT, as attested to by the enduring discussion/analysis it garnered. But as something enjoyable/appreciable on its own merits, in my minority opinion it is greatly lacking.

Of course, I'm not a big fan of Faulkner either, so many folk would suggest I don't know much! :cool:

Atomic Alex 10-06-2016 01:54 PM

[Father Dougal]"Its a load of big bollocks Ted"[/Father Dougal]

Just Asking Questions 10-06-2016 01:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dinsdale (Post 19679564)
I've often expressed before that I strongly disagree that U is a great novel. It was a great ACCOMPLISHMENT, as attested to by the enduring discussion/analysis it garnered. But as something enjoyable/appreciable on its own merits, in my minority opinion it is greatly lacking.

I've often wondered along these same lines.

So, say you're someone that spends time to learn and understand the references, and you follow through all the styles, and proves that you are one of those elites that finished it - is it actually worth it? Is the whole worth the exercise, or is it just the equivalent of running a marathon? Is the story good? Does it have a point? Or is the fact of finishing it enough to prove you aren't one of those that read popular novels, and enjoying it as a book is not relevant?

Thudlow Boink 10-06-2016 02:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Just Asking Questions (Post 19680160)
I've often wondered along these same lines.

So, say you're someone that spends time to learn and understand the references, and you follow through all the styles, and proves that you are one of those elites that finished it - is it actually worth it? Is the whole worth the exercise, or is it just the equivalent of running a marathon? Is the story good? Does it have a point? Or is the fact of finishing it enough to prove you aren't one of those that read popular novels, and enjoying it as a book is not relevant?

From what I've read about them, I get the impression that the general consensus is that this is true of Finnegan's Wake but that Ulysses genuinely is great literature. (I haven't read either book, so I have no personal opinion.)

Baron Greenback 10-06-2016 02:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Knowed Out (Post 19677255)
I'll try to envision the work more as a river with a web of tributaries than a single flow and hope I can recognize the spots where the narrative jumps.

That's a good way of approaching Joyce, I think. And you are spot on with the river thing: the opening and closing of Finnegan's Wake is

Quote:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:22 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.