Not much. I know James Joyce is a Great Author (Deceased), who was much given to epiphanies and who did things with the language that had never been done before, though some people say he should have left well enough alone. He lived in Dublin, I believe. My image of Dublin is a gray and dreary city—perhaps Joyce needed the warmth of his epiphanies to keep away the chill. Okay, that’s a stereotype, I admit. I’m sure that Dublin has a cheerful sunny day every few years or so.
I don’t know a whole lot more about ULYSSES, either. The novel supplied the name “quark” for one of quantum mechanic’s mystery particles. This wasn’t intentional on Joyce’s part—the physicist Murray Gell-Mann came across the term while browsing through the novel and borrowed it.
Some people say the book is best used as a doorstop or murder weapon. I understand that people in Dublin, sadly lacking in epiphanies, are fond of ripping out pages from the novel to get the fireplace going.
Several of my colleagues, in learning of my intent to read ULYSSES, suggest that I read other Joycean novels first. I don’t know. Would I want to take a whipping to prepare myself for a beating? In any case, I want to come to ULYSSES just as I am, not as a purified acolyte approaching holy scripture, and read it as I would any other novel. The more fool me, I guess.
But still. I’m sure ULYSSES is rated the century’s best novel for a good reason. I’m sure that the novels I myself write today in some way owe something to ULYSSES and Joyce’s genius in pushing the art of the novel into new dimensions never before traveled by the literary soul. Unfortunately, I suspect that such elements in my novels are the ones sternly red X’ed by my editor.
I am going to make a serious attempt at this. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
(BTW, my friend Darby Larson recounts his valiant attempts to read Joyce's FINNEGAN'S WAKE