Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Half Way Point
When I knew that Ulysses was coming up, I began to prepare. I felt like Rocky getting ready to take on whoever it is that Rocky fights...Dolf Lundgren or whoever that one guy was. I don't know - I never watched Rocky. But I wanted to get it (Ulysses that is, not Rocky). I wanted to be one of those people who says, "Yeah, I read it. It was awesome." I even considered purchasing the $20 or $30 guidebooks or the Annotated edition.
I started out in earnest. If Joyce used a Latin phrase, I would look up its meaning, and write it in the margin. I read his little episode guide or whatever he called it...where it lists the title for each episode (which is not included in the books), each episodes appropriate theme, color, body organ, etc (yes, Joyce assigned each episode a body organ). I wanted to understand...I desparately wanted to come out of this feeling like I had just gone through something important. I would have dived in and come out being able to say I made it through, and yes, I got it.
That initial enthusiasm lasted, oh, I think until the third episode, where Stephen is on the beach. Oh my. All this extra stuff, the chapter summaries and analysis, the suggestions, the reviews episode by episode were only making me feel dumber. I would read what was supposed to have gone on in the episode, and go back and try to find where that actually happened...did I miss the clue? At times it felt like the summaries were written about a different edition, and I had the one for Chinese mensa members or something...or else that the summaries were written about a different book entirely.
So, I gave up. I'm still sometimes reading the chapter summaries when I feel like it, but for the most part, I've decided to do it old school. After all, those people who read it when it was first published didn't have any guidebooks, and they still got it. Right? Maybe I'm not as smart as they were. Maybe they were pretending to get it so that they wouldn't feel stupid (like I suspect everyone who has read this and considers it great may be doing). Whatever...I don't care anymore.
I've heard that a reader of this book is rewarded by multiple readings. I guess those people like a challenge. They get knocked down, but they get up again. Not me, man. Though I did say once that I would rather read Ulysses again than the Ambassadors (and I still mean it), I believe that I will only be given that horrible choice in hell, or in some unimaginably cruel future in which an evil government has decided to burn all books except those two (oh the humanities! - maybe that will be the sign of the Antichrist?)...so right now I'm not too worried about it. As of today, I am predicting that I will read Proust's In Search of Lost Time before I read Ulysses again. And I think that I have myself scheduled to read that in, oh about 2058...
But then again, I have disliked books before only to get to the last 10 pages and love it. I was wrong about Dance to the Music of Time. I was wrong about Things Fall Apart. Will I be wrong about Ulysses? Seeing as how I still have almost 400 pages left, I really hope so. It would give me much more hope for Finnegan's Wake.