Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Can't a fellow read ULYSSES just for the enjoyment, I plaintively ask?

Segur, a most learned person about things Joycean, gently points out in his comments the errors of my ways and assumptions in my previous posts.

Still, I’d like to plaintively ask, is it possible to read ULYSSES these days just for the enjoyment of it, without needing a commentary to understand it?

I guess that depends on what I mean by “enjoy.” Me, that means being able to follow the text and the story without any undue labor. The parts of the writing that aren't accessible to me are piling up. I admit I’m biased both by reading habit and I guess some genetics – growing up in Bali most of my reading were whatever novels tourists and travelers left behind. Vacation stuff. Don’t get me wrong, by reading great literature I am growing into an appreciation of great literature, but so far, upon page 18, ULYSSES isn’t growing on me.

Consider this passage: Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.

Reading that snippet aloud, I enjoy the rhythm and cadence, but damned if I can understand it. If that makes me a literary philistine, then philistine I am.

But still, I do like Buck Mulligan, fluttering his hands at his side like a cherub and reciting The Ballad of Joking Jesus. If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine/He’ll get no free drinks when I’m making the wine

On, on! I shall not fail!


Blogger Segúr 95.20 said...

Sorry - just trying to help ... thought you might appreciate the 'blood and ouns' business, being from a missionary background - the parody of Roman Catholic transubstantiation...'a little trouble with those white corpuscles'...

It's difficult not to respond when you express confusion at a particular passage. Perhaps if you don't want helpful comments, or even unhelpful comments, you might simply consider reading the book the old-fashioned, non-interactive way like the rest of the world seems quite happy to do.

If you are 'reading just for the enjoyment', why the interactive blog? Why the big 'production number'?

4:20 AM  
Blogger Richard Lewis said...

I did appreciate that, Segur. Apologies if I sound flippant -- that's the trouble with seeing only the text and not the person. While I can't help my humor, and enjoy it when others are humorous in their writings, I am in fact taking this seriously. By the time I finish this book, I hope to know something about literature (and maybe even the writing of it) I didn't know before.

Good question why the blog. I'll have to think on that instead of giving you a quick answer that risks sounding flippant.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Richard Lewis said...

Oh, when I wrote "commentary" (as in needing a commentary to understand the novel) I was thinking very specifically of my father's shelves of Bible commentaries (which are in fact needed to understand the historical and cultural context of the Biblical text).

I wasn't at all making slight of your explanatory comment on blood and wounds, Segur. But nonetheless, the question I ask I reckon is a valid one: can (should?) the average reader, the Stephen King with maybe some Coetzee or Updike thrown in type of reader, be able to read ULYSSES and enjoy it? Or is this a matter of personality and reader's taste as well as past exposure/education to literature?

6:34 AM  
Blogger Segúr 95.20 said...

Well, the book was written in the early years of the last century, so I think that makes it more difficult for people for starters. There are references to contemporary songs all through the book that we might not recognise so well now. And also current or recent events like the Boar war etc. So that might make it difficult. And that's quite apart from the very difficult, experimental writing (Chapters 3 and 14 are quite tough) - some of which is willfully obscure, some of which can actually work quite well if the reader is generally well-read enought to make the connections required. I reckon the general reader can understand and enjoy most of the book, especially chapters 3 to 13. But some parts of the book would probably be too difficult for the general reader. But hey - it is a bit of a rijstaffel as you say...

6:45 PM  

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