Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Note on Reading Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

Picasso said 'The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do? . . .I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them'. Joyce is reported to have said:
For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.
Arthur Power. From an Old Waterford House.
Joyce's Ulysses is one of my all time favourite books. Although several editions have been pirated after the '22 text it still remains the most complete.* A publication history detailing the editorial changes and why they were made is given in this edition. Thus Joyce:
I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality.
Jacques Benoîst-Méchin in James Joyce. Richard Ellmann. (Oxford University Press, 1959, revised 1982). 525.
I highly recommend that this be read (yes, there are a myriad books of commentary on Joyce's Ulysses, including the copious notes in this edition) with James Joyce's Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of "Ulysses" by Frank Delaney (author of such delights as The Celts) chapter by chapter. He retraces Bloom's journey, making it timeless (as he does in Betjeman Country which incidentally I re-retraced in turn in my own 'Litel Boke' Seeking Betjeman Country). He wrote to his friend in Zurich "I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book." He also used to say that he never really finished it, thought that the book did finish off his eyesight (like Homer and like Milton who both went blind writing).

It is difficult to choose a single favourite section from the book but I would go for Molly Bloom's soliloquy wherein the book is invoked and evoked.

* The 1922 text from Oxford Classics.