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Hear Comes Everybloom
June 16, 2003 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Did you miss Paddy Dignam's wake? Ah well, there's still time to celebrate Bloomsday -- if you're in Dublin, you can (among many other delights) take a stroll across the newly-opened James Joyce Bridge. Or, if you have a spare $60,000, you could even buy your very own Ulysses first edition. As for me, I'll be hoisting a crystal cup full of the foaming ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. (And as for Paddy? -- Dead! says Alf. He's no more dead than you are. -- Maybe so, says Joe. They took the liberty of burying him this morning anyhow.)
posted by scody (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Stately, plump "Ulysses" is the greatest novel of all time. Amazon has a facsimile version of the first edition for US$75. I and will yes celebrate Bloomsday.
posted by 111 at 12:44 PM on June 16, 2003


Synchronicity strikes! I just started reading Ulysses yesterday. One chapter in and I'm lost but enthusiastic. Wish me luck.
posted by Marquis at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2003


One chapter in and I'm lost but enthusiastic. Wish me luck.

Good luck.
posted by Ayn Marx at 1:29 PM on June 16, 2003


One chapter in and I'm lost but enthusiastic. Wish me luck.

Note: Chapter 3 is the hardest in the whole book - but try not to let it daunt you. Look for a basic summary guide... like maybe this one by Stuart Gilbert. Also I highly recommend the collection of Joseph Campbell's writings and lectures about Joyce called Mythic Worlds, Modern Words. It's listed as out of print, but perhaps a library will have it. Campbell brings out elements of Joyce's writing that I don't see from others. Really enhanced my appreciation for them.
posted by dnash at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2003


Don't expect to get the whole thing the first time around. I've read the book a few times (the first time for a college class) and I get a little more every time.

I can't believe that I forgot that it was Bloomsday! What is a home without Plumtree's Potted Meat?
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2003


I read 30 pages and decided life was too short. I forced my way through Gravity's Rainbow, and I figure that's all of that kind of thing I'll ever need.

For those that liked it, good for you. I guess it takes all kinds.
posted by willnot at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2003


my father made me read ulysses the summer i turned sixteen. it's too tied to bad things that happened that year for me to want to revisit it anytime soon. :(
posted by pxe2000 at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2003


The Greatest book of all time? and the Bible? Both are fiction, no?
posted by Postroad at 2:39 PM on June 16, 2003


Wow, thanks for the Campbell ref, dnash. That sounds...amazing.

If you have to force your way through GR or Ulysses, you won't enjoy them and don't bother. I was warned to slog through the first 100 pages of GR before giving up because they made no sense and were 'difficult'. I was in love by the end of the first page.

So my take would be - if you don't like it yet, save yourself the trouble and quit now. It's only going to get worse...
posted by freebird at 2:41 PM on June 16, 2003


nice wording in the fpp. makes me want to crack open the joyce again--nope, gonna resist that.
posted by win_k at 2:57 PM on June 16, 2003


Flag Day, Friday the 13th, Father's Day and Bloomsday all in quick succession, with the Summer Solstice coming Saturday (it's also my Wedding Anniversary, nice way to help the guy remember, but booking the chapel was hellish). Anyway, could we have a rest from Big Days for a while so I can get some work done?

BTW, this James Joyce, is he someone you have to read books to get?
posted by wendell at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2003


My own advice: people usually say "hey, don't start with Ulysses, start with some lighter Joyce like Portrait of the Artist or Dubliners". No, I say; if you find Ulysses too difficult, try reading Finnegans Wake and you'll see what difficulty really means; it'll give you some perspective.

So get back to Ulysses keeping in mind that you'll need a guide to help you through (I recommend Blamires' Bloomsday Book; Don Gifford's book, which I never read, is also highly regarded). Before reading Ulysses, as you know, it would be a good idea to read The Odyssey.

Most important of all, while reading it you should keep in mind that this is a book where low and elevated elements are constantly intertwined in order to give the reader a true sense of beauty, as well as a sense of multiplicity regarding human experiences. Basically, Ulysses will make you concentrate on real perception of the world as it is, and love it as it is.

James Joyce was once approached by a fan who asked him "Mr.Joyce, may I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?", to which Joyce replied "no; it has done other things as well". This is the key to Ulysses.

Postroad, the Bible is the greatest book of all time, but it is the Word of God not a novel, so it's different.
posted by 111 at 3:36 PM on June 16, 2003


"don't start with Ulysses, start with some lighter Joyce like Portrait of the Artist or Dubliners"

I agree with your disagreeing with this advice, so to speak. Though it no doubt reveals my boorish nature, I found them a bit dull compared to Ulysses. I want poop jokes with my philosophy and cultural analyses, dammit! Poop jokes and sex. Is that so much to ask? OK, poop jokes, sex, and meta-narrative. Oh and synesthasia. OH and...sheesh, what a book, I tell you.
posted by freebird at 3:50 PM on June 16, 2003


I first read Ulysses with Blamires' New Bloomsday Book as well, so I have a great fondness for that as a starting guide too. I haven't looked very closely at the Annotated Ulysses that came out a while ago, but I know other folks who swear by it. In any case, as my first Joyce instructor said, "it's like visiting a particularly wild city in the middle of some sort of festival -- take a guidebook to get oriented, keep your sense of humor close at hand, then jump in and hang on. And if anyone offers you a drink along the way, take them up on it!"

this is a book where low and elevated elements are constantly intertwined in order to give the reader a true sense of beauty, as well as a sense of multiplicity regarding human experiences.

Beautifully put, 111. It was such an immense pleasure to discover just how screamingly funny so much of it is, as well as bawdy and tender and heartbreaking and inscrutable and philosophical and downright, deliciously weird all at once. Pondering the essence of the universe while taking a nice piss, and in the meantime the soap has started talking: good stuff! Thanks for the priceless Joyce quote as well -- made even better when you imagine him saying it in his renowned lilting tenor and dignified manner.
posted by scody at 3:51 PM on June 16, 2003


And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe's in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph the man could write. Thanks for the post and reminder, scody. I'll be reading it aloud to my wife this evening. (Note to those who find it hard going: 1) contrary to what freebird said, it does get easier, although then it gets harder again, but more fun; 2) read it aloud and you'll get a lot more out of it. Both of these apply in spades to Finnegans Wake.)
posted by languagehat at 3:56 PM on June 16, 2003


it does get easier, although then it gets harder again

Well, I'm not going to argue this point, because heaven forbid any pedantry occur here at MeFi. I just meant that honestly, if you don't like Ulysses or GR after the first 10-100 pages, I think it unlikely that you'll start when you hit 500. Wait and give it a try in a few years, or never - De gustibus non disputandum est.

This discussion of guides is interesting. I really enjoyed my Annotated Edition, but must admit to a slight feeling of guilt. I've long had a general bias against "reading guides", and associated them with Cliff's Notes and such. A good work should stand on its own, and a guide should only be for analysis and deconstruction - anything else seemed like wankery to me. While I still feel something of this nature, I have had to reconcile it with the fact that I really felt my appreciation of Ulysses was deepened by the notes.

With Joyce, I think it's easy to accept, because he so clearly *wrote* the damn book using a library of guides and references, so reading it that way is simply playing the same game as the author. It's intended to be teased apart and analyzed, and was written with this type or reader in mind. A book less "constructed", I think, is not well served by annotation.

But again, sweet baby jesus preserve me from pedantry.
posted by freebird at 5:25 PM on June 16, 2003


A good work should stand on its own, and a guide should only be for analysis and deconstruction - anything else seemed like wankery to me.

I don't think it's fair to expect a good work to exist in a cultural vacuum: every work is a product of a specific cultural context, and there's no reason to expect that a work should be crystal clear in the absence of its cultural context. For example: a European man of letters in the early twentieth century would certainly have been acquainted with Theosophy. I, however, needed my copy of Ulysses Annotated. Most of my "difficulties" in reading Ulysses, in fact, arise not from the complexity of Joyce's writing, but from the obscurity (due to distance in time and place) of the cultural references. The obvious exception would be the last few pages of the Oxen of the Sun chapter. My god, the language just tears itself apart....

There's a similar effect in Shakespeare. In the absence of the ubiquitous footnotes in modern editions, there's plenty of Elizabethan culture and language for a reader to miss.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:27 PM on June 16, 2003


Robot Wisdom's James Joyce portal.

and my breasts all pefume and Yes I will yes I will yes
posted by jokeefe at 8:51 PM on June 16, 2003


And the Brazen Head, and Ulysses in Hypermedia.

All easily found and well known, but good electronic resources for those just starting out (or apprehensive).

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
posted by jokeefe at 8:57 PM on June 16, 2003


Not to mention, of course, Ulysses for Dummies.

Okay, this probably should have been a weblog entry. Enjoy Bloomsday, everyone.

Oh, that should have been my breasts all perfume, of course.

Though it's from memory, so I could still be wrong.
posted by jokeefe at 9:04 PM on June 16, 2003


Though it's from memory, so I could still be wrong.

One of my great lightbulb-over-head moments came when I read a remark that some poet (Pound? Graves?) routinely misquoted because he was quoting from memory and didn't need to constantly look things up. Why, yes, of course, thought I. All those times I've smugly made mental corrections to somebody's quote (after looking up the correct one)... I was being a supercilious jackass. What's impressive is not being able to use Bartlett's, which any oaf can do, it's knowing it off the top of your head. Of course you'll get a word wrong here and there (unless you've studied it by rote, like reciters of the Koran or Rigveda), but that's meaningless compared to the fact that you have all that good stuff in there, part of your mental makeup. Every Russian I've known has had reams of poetry by heart, and I think that's why there's no Russian equivalent of Bartlett's -- they don't need to look up "who said that," they know.

What do you mean, I'm digressing? This is a Joyce thread isn't it?
And he laid his hands upon that he blessed and gave thanks and he prayed and they all with him prayed:
 —Deus, cuius verbo sanctificantur omnia, benedictionem tuam effunde super creaturas istas: et praesta ut quisquis eis secundum legem et voluntatem Tuam cum gratiarum actione usus fuerit per invocationem sanctissimi nominis Tui corporis sanitatem et animae tutelam Te auctore percipiat per Christum Dominum nostrum.
 —And so say all of us, says Jack.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on June 17, 2003


I don't think it's fair to expect a good work to exist in a cultural vacuum

Well that's true mr_roboto, domo arigato.

And my purpose is not the absolute condemnation of the Annotation-Industrial Complex, because it's clear that they add a lot to many texts, especially those further from us in cultural-temporal space. It was simply a reflection on what I see as a spectrum: there are works that I feel are of a nature that is not best served by an initial reading with annotations, while at the other end are things like Ulysses that are perhaps only managable with them. My real point was actually about my realization that being from the latter end did *not* imply intellectual onanism.

Nonetheless, I will defend my claim that annotation is often overused. For example, many books less focused on games of reference and meta-narrative lose much of their power when one is constantly referring to explanatory analyses. Further, I'll see your Shakespeeare and raise you a T.S. Eliot - both authors clearly require some amount of reference to fully appreciate. Nonetheless, I and many people I know were first exposed to their work in classes where every second line is interrupted by a flipping of references books, to the detriment of the poetry. I think Shakespeare's language stands on its own, and while reference material can add to a deeper understanding upon rereading, overuse (especially initially) robs it of much of it's power. Even in reading Ulysses, I found myself annoyed by my flipping back and forth to the annotation, and would try to make myself wait to the end of a section or chapter, because I think this better serves the prose.

Lastly, lest you think me a rabid anti-annotation zealot, let me mention that one of my favorite books is Nabakov's "Pale Fire" wherein the annotation has grown cancer-like to engulf the entire book, the "real" text it annotates being a few scraps of mostly trite poetry. Glorious, wonderful stuff.
posted by freebird at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2003


and it'll be the centenary next year (I know the celebration started in 1954). I'm going, yes I will, yes I will...
posted by johnny novak at 11:05 AM on June 17, 2003


p.s. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
posted by johnny novak at 11:07 AM on June 17, 2003


Dear freebird -- You are not the first person to have ever suggested in my hearing that the poem "Pale Fire" is "mostly trite" -- or, as a professor of mine in college once smugly announced, "deliciously awful." I urge you to stop saying this in public, as you are more or less hanging a sign around your neck that says "I am an idiot." The poem "Pale Fire" may be Nabokov's best poem. It's beautiful, emotional and evocative, and partakes of Nabokov's genius in full. You really have to educate me on this. What is trite about it? Is it the simple rhyme scheme? Is it the poem's surface intelligibility? What is trite about, "I am the shadow of the waxwing slain... ?" It's brilliant, unforgettable, and stops the reader dead with beauty in the first line. I know this thread is about "Ulysses." But "Ulysses" sucks. And McNab's effort to write his own "Ulysses" -- "Ada" -- sucks, too. In fact, it's trite. But "Pale Fire"... Now you've got a book AND a poem worth writing about.
posted by Faze at 2:23 PM on June 17, 2003


Dear Faze -- You are not the first person to have ever suggested in my hearing that the book "Ulysses" "sucks" -- or, as some guy I ran into at a party once complained, "it's really hard to read, ma-a-an." I urge you to stop saying this in public, as you are more or less hanging a sign around your neck that says "I am an idiot."

Furthermore, I too think the poem "Pale Fire" encircles is not very good. Yes, the first line is nice. If you think the whole thing is a masterpiece, your ear for poetry is deficient. In the first place, Nabokov was not a great poet, though he wrote some nice lyrics in Russian while he was still ambitious young "Sirin" in Berlin; in the second place, the poem in "Pale Fire" is not "by" Nabokov. Think about how seriously Nabokov meant you to take works by his characters.
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on June 17, 2003


—Deus, cuius verbo sanctificantur omnia, benedictionem tuam effunde super creaturas istas: et praesta ut quisquis eis secundum legem et voluntatem Tuam cum gratiarum actione usus fuerit per invocationem sanctissimi nominis Tui corporis sanitatem et animae tutelam Te auctore percipiat per Christum Dominum nostrum.
—And so say all of us, says Jack.


Jeez, languagehat, if you did that from memory, I'll.... *cough*

The actual quote I referenced is of course I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

And it gives me chills just to type that.

raise you a T.S. Eliot - both authors clearly require some amount of reference to fully appreciate.

Of course there's the probably apocryphal story of Pound adding the annotations to WL so that it could be stretched out to pamplet size, and therefore sold for a higher price?
And Pale Fire isn't really a case of annotation gone wild: Kinbote's notes are formally annotative but are, in fact, the spine of the narrative.... the "real" events have to be constructed by the reader.
Pale Fire: I love that book.
posted by jokeefe at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2003


OK, I must admit to a certain ambiguity when reading Pale Fire wherein I would at times find myself thinking "wow, actually, this poem is kinda nice...but surely it's not meant to be taken seriously...". So I am perhaps being a bit arch when I say it's mostly trite and I apologize for not making this clearer to you, Faze.

Nonetheless, and to bring it back closer to Topic, I would compare it to the "purple prose" news section of Ulysses, where Joyce is clearly writing over-the-top, satirically overheated prose. Yet, portions of it are very, very beautiful, despite the fact that the whole is intentionally "bad". My feeling about the poem in Pale Fire is that Nabokov intends it to be illustrative of the character of its author, which certainly includes a certain amount of self-absorbed wankery.

Nabakov is a great enough writer that the poem itself ends up at least interesting, but he's also a great enough writer that he can intentionally write silly things. And I think the poem is meant to be at least somewhat silly, because the entire book is constructed to have the poem eclipsed by the annotations.

As to whether in the end the poem stands on it's own as great poetry, I'll stick with my original claim - there's no accounting for taste. I think it's intentionally, brilliantly silly (yes, 'deliciously awful' is a perfect phrase IMHO), but I haven't actually read Pale Fire for some years. Now I have to go hoem and check it out again, maybe I'll revise my opinion then.
posted by freebird at 5:16 PM on June 17, 2003


jokeefe: No, no, sorry if I gave that impression! Pure cut and paste, I assure you.

freebird: You said it much better than I did (probably because I was so annoyed by faze's comment). Nabokov is a master (as was Joyce) of impersonation, pastiche, and all manner of verbal legerdemain; it's never safe to assume he's writing in his own voice and intends you to take what he's saying "straight." Even the famous chapter of "The Gift" attacking Chernyshevsky (which Sovremennye Zapiski, the Paris literary magazine that published all his novels in the '30s, refused to print, causing a huge blow-up with the outraged author), though it reflects Nabokov's own views in general, is deliberately tendentious, reflecting the youth and passionate engagement of the young writer who creates it in the universe of the novel. I'm sure Nabokov would have been pleased if you praised the Pale Fire poem as a clever creation in verse, with many incidental beauties; I suspect he would have chuckled to himself if you told him it was a "great poem."
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on June 18, 2003


languagehat, I agree with you that "Pale Fire" is a "clever creation in verse, with many incidental beauties" (and I would add "profundities"). I also agree that Nabokov himself wouldn't have considered it a "great poem." But "trite" it ain't. Alll my best... faze.
posted by Faze at 9:01 AM on June 18, 2003


Hey, here's another point: One of the things that makes John Shade's murder poignant to the reader, is the fact that we've been brought close to him through the moving and accomplished autobiographical verse of "Pale Fire." If the poem is supposed to be kitsch or poshlust, Kinbote's crime consists of a mad writer killing a bad writer -- and becomes that much less tragic.
posted by Faze at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2003


But that much more interesting to Nabokov. Nabokov never in his life wrote anything that could be considered a "tragedy" in the commonly accepted sense. However, I agree with you that the poem is neither trite nor kitsch. It fulfills its function in the novel beautifully; if it were a great poem, oddly, it would do so less well.

And thanks for taking my earlier nasty remarks so well— you're a tolerant person!
posted by languagehat at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2003


I'm enjoying this discussion so much that I can't help throwing this in: the first Canto of Pale Fire, the poem, begins with the image of reflection, of the fatal mistaking of the image for the real, of the "waxwing slain/by the false azure of the window pane", and continues:

And from the inside, too, I'd duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass.


Nabokov invites to join in with the joke, the fantasy, a suspension of disbelief, and warns us about what we're getting into right in the first few lines.

Dang you all, now I'm rereading Pale Fire instead of working. I hope you all feel badly about this.
posted by jokeefe at 11:28 AM on June 18, 2003


My work here is done.

I admit my label of "trite" was over stated - as I said, it's one of my favorite books so clearly I don't really think it's truly trite. We can argue forever about whether the poem stands on its own or as brilliantly constructed sillyness, but it's very well done, noone's arguing that. And it warms my heart to see everyone so worked up over my man.

And hopefully MeFi will continue to let me know when I'm hanging my "I am an Idiot" sign around my neck and my social life will improve commesurately.
posted by Voivod at 8:12 PM on June 18, 2003


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