When someone asked recently what am I reading, I told about my morning routine to read a bit of Joyce’s Ulysses while my family is still asleep and the house is dim and quiet. “That’s like pouring whiskey on your breakfast cereals!”
There are many legends surrounding this big Greek-blue book and they cocoon it in a foggy cloud: what a massive higgledy-piggledy tangle it all is. “Will you really read it?” asked the cashier, when my friend handled her Ulysses. Yes, even Hemingway probably didn’t finish it, only the first pages of his copy were cut apart. Who knows. I can try to imagine that someone finds the text of Ulysses difficult or even unpleasant to read. I can try, but – how do you say it – I just don’t f***ing care. Because Joyce is such a joy for me.
I didn’t know much about Ulysses – except these sobs and sighs from many different people – and didn’t know almost anything about James Joyce before I started my Ulysses voyage. I just had a note that it is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey about Ulysses sailing home and that’s why I wanted to read it after finishing Homer’s epics. I’m glad that I did! I have discovered a wonderful world, an outstanding text and such an amazing personality. James Joyce was a shy, gallant, a bit clumsy old school gentleman with an un-pre-ce-den-ted creative freedom that he stood up for.
The text of Ulysses is notoriously famous for hundreds of allusions and hidden references, and most readers can’t stand walking on a mine field. But for me it is a beautiful book full of hidden gems. I can enjoy it both ways – with and without any maps. The text by itself is very cinematic, I can see so vividly how the camera makes close-ups and zooms out, how it travels from person to person, how the narrator reveals the interior monologue of main characters and then turns back to real-time dialogues. I could imagine Guy Ritchie bringing Ulysses on screen. Very contemporary, although in 2022 it will be a hundred years old story.
(In fact, after visiting Europe for the first time, James Joyce was determined to bring cinema to Ireland and together with some friends in 1909 opened first cinematograph in Dublin and whole Ireland.)
The way how James Joyce thinks and writes is one of the many gems I treasure. As a skilled mosaic artist he started with a broad schema and painstakingly filled it with elaborate details that he searched for anywhere – in the streets, cafes, friend’s gestures, conversations, libraries, encyclopedias. In one chapter a cat meows, and I read that Joyce once wrote down in one of his many notebooks – how did it really sound, when a cat greeted him.
Here it is in Ulysses: Mrkgnao!
There are many critics of Joycean methods, but I really admire his uncompromising love for his big bad baby that was born in Paris amidst a crazy global censorship. James Joyce just didn’t f***ing care, if only his baby could see the daylight, and he had the most wonderful midwife – Sylvia Beach.
“… from the point of view of the author of “Ulysses” (ipse dixit!), it hardly matters whether the technique in question is “veracious” or not; it has served him as a bridge over witch to march his eighteen episodes, and, once he has got his troops across, the opposing forces can, for all he cares, blow the bridge sky-high.”
James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study by Stuart Gilbert. 1930, 1955
For some James Joyce’s Ulysses is a bitter pill to swallow or an intellectual vitamin to make your bookshelf glow.
For me it is – a candy.