Horror Vacui: On the Maddening Pursuit of the Perfect Edition of Ulysses
June 12, 2018 4:43 PM   Subscribe

"Was Kidd one of Joyce’s prophesied professors, made so busy by the puzzles and enigmas that he was driven to literal madness? It seemed impossible to say, because not long after that newspaper article was published, Kidd simply vanished. Over the last 10 years, I would occasionally pick up the telephone, trying to scratch out some other ending to the story. I harbored this idea, a fantasy really, that John Kidd had abandoned the perfect “Ulysses” to become the perfect Joycean — so consumed by the infinite interpretations of the book that he departed this grid of understanding."
posted by Stanczyk (20 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a semester reading Ulysses in an Honors course and we barely made it through 2/3 of the book. I don't know if I have enough of a singing voice to have been a Joycean scholar and be able to sing all the songs in the text...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:03 PM on June 12, 2018

It's an interesting story. The guy is both extremely smart and super quirky, probably he would be really interesting to have dinner with as long as you were ok with talking about things he finds interesting but obviously not always a treasured colleague.

I wish they had better explained the squirrels and pigeons stuff, which clearly made such an impression on people who knew him back then.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:13 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by kimota at 5:16 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by nikaspark at 5:22 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

FTFA: Sifting through some obscure Joyce-related hits on Google, I came upon an internet figure in Central America named Miguel, who burned off a lot of blog space [...]

Surely I'm not the only one who thought of MiguelCardoso at this point in the story.
posted by glonous keming at 6:12 PM on June 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Did he move on to Finnegans Wake?
posted by sammyo at 6:37 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh Christ. I’ve been gearing up to read Ulysses again after 20+ years and a hyperlinked version that explained the pop culture, political intrigue, and songs of the day would be great, but if true scholars are arguing about the placement of periods, it seems that we are perilously close to losing all of Joyce’s intended meaning.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:51 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

For years he has been working on the first English edition of the novel “The Slave Isaura.” Kidd is translating the 19th-century book with a few rules he felt compelled to devise. The work will be in two parts, and every word in Part 1 will have its lexicographic partner in Part 2. If “cat feet” appears in Part 1, expect “cattail” in Part 2. His sense of what pairs up can get quite intricate, but that’s part of the fun, he told me. So he maintains lists of all the possible pairings and where and whether he has used one: six foot, six foot under, footing, foothills, footloose, footprint. There is a logic to the work, and the part I read resounded with the baroque tone you might expect of a translation that will obey his other rule: It will use every word exactly once.

Amazing. I love this article.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:34 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The two paragraphs on Joyces schizophrenic daughter Lucia are striking.
Joyce was well aware of his compendious cast of mind and proud to find it manifest among his children. When it became clear that his daughter Lucia was suffering a profound kind of schizophrenia, he came to see her difference as an improvement on himself. He cared for her, sometimes shelving his own ambitions to convince the world that the true genius in the family was his incoherent, troubled daughter. “Foolish fond like Lear” is how his biographer would later describe Joyce’s paternal affection.

Joyce declared that Lucia’s jarring language and bizarre portmanteau words were evidence that she was an innovator of language, like him, just in ways not yet understood. He insisted that she would be ushering in a new kind of literature. The monumental incoherence and inaccessibility of “Finnegans Wake,” it’s easy to argue, is the best evidence of Joyce’s horror vacui and an epic paean to a father’s conviction of his daughter’s genius. Lucia would eventually be institutionalized in Geneva, but Joyce was the last to let go. At one point, Joyce enlisted the help of Carl Jung, who like Joyce explored the deep channels of consciousness. Jung summed up their father-daughter relationship as “two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving.”
posted by jouke at 3:46 AM on June 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

I have the Gutenberg version on my Kindle, which I occasionally correct against the Oxford Classics 1922 text when there's a particularly obvious error. I read it for pleasure. I don't think I've ever seen any explanation of the various corrections which makes me think I'm missing a huge amount by reading the 1922 edition rather than any of the later revisions (my first one was the Penguin 1961 text, I have read the Gabler edition too). Jeri Johnson makes a pretty good case in the Oxford 1922 edition that there is no definitive text so you might as well read the first edition (there's a summary of the Gabler/Kidd argument in that edition, too).

I took my Penguin edition to university, and one of my housemates was London-Irish, immensely proud of his heritage, studying English (I was a chemist). He couldn't understand how anyone could read Ulysses for pleasure. I can't understand how anyone with a love of literature could not get pleasure out of reading it, unless they are so obsessed by punctuation that they can't see the wood for the trees.
posted by nja at 4:32 AM on June 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think of Kidd often, maybe because he was a name when I read Ulysses the first time and maybe because his career sort of paralleled my own academic ambitions. Weirdly, I had a dream about him several nights ago and then a friend posted this story to facebook. I AM SURE THIS MEANS SOMETHING.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:35 AM on June 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Any of you Joycean scholars know what chapter that giant over-sized period (big black dot) closes?

Yes an excellent article describing a positive second chance to a famous (crazy?) character that all assumed came to a bad end. There are second chances/second acts in America, or at least Buenos Aires.
posted by sammyo at 7:11 AM on June 13, 2018

Arghh Rio, he escaped to Rio de Janeiro. This is why some of us stayed away from academia, he'd have a field day with the vast number of errors I personally propagate. I do imagine him doing the samba through the stacks looking for just the right reference volume.
posted by sammyo at 7:24 AM on June 13, 2018

Any of you Joycean scholars know what chapter that giant over-sized period (big black dot) closes?

It's the end of Ithaca, the second to last chapter.
posted by felix grundy at 7:40 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a logic to the work, and the part I read resounded with the baroque tone you might expect of a translation that will obey his other rule: It will use every word exactly once.

Doug Nufer wrote a novel, Never Again, in which every word that occurs appears exactly once.* It's … tough going. The tone is not at all "baroque", but rather hectic and confusing, which makes sense, because he only uses the words "a", "the", "an" (counted separately), "and", "or", etc., well, exactly once. If Kidd's book is remotely readable, let alone baroque, I'd be very surprised if it really adheres to that constraint.

*almost; I think a few repeats made it in.
posted by kenko at 10:23 AM on June 13, 2018

Anyway it's pretty disappointing that this error-ridden edition has apparently been settled on. Couldn't they at least have fixed the errors Kidd pointed out?!
posted by kenko at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2018

Idea for graphic novel: Stephan Dedalus hunts Hitler in South America
posted by thelonius at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2018

Or maybe he just hunts for grammar nazis?
posted by kaibutsu at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2018

So at the risk of starting some sort of war...

I've never read Ulysees and after reading this kind of want to. I saw a copy at a used bookstore the other day, but I can't tell what edition/correction etc. it is. And I don't know which edition/correction I should buy. So which one should I buy?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:52 PM on June 16, 2018

I should add, given all the allusions apparently in there, I would love an annotated version with some footnotes (not endnotes) to clue me into some of the allusions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:52 PM on June 16, 2018

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