Tuesday, June 16, 2009

James Joyce's Ulysses, the product of a "great, undisciplined talent", is celebrated today, Bloomsday

Happy Bloomsday!

June 16 is the day James Joyce's fictional protagonist Leopold Bloom makes his trip through Dublin in arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century, Ulysses. It is a monumental achievement: the book took Joyce 7 years to write and is extremely difficult to read. It is said Joyce made so many references to histories and cultures that to fully annotate the text and discover all the connections will take scholars decades more of scholarship. It is because of this that many associate Ulysses with T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, a poem which has attracted critics with its wide array of references to classical and Middle Age literature such as Dante's Divine Commedy.

In fact, Eliot himself wrote about Ulysses in an article published in The Dial in November 1923 titled, "Ulysses, Order and Myth." Here, he praises the "novel" (though he questions whether you could call it a novel, although the answer to this question is inconsequential in the context of the significance of Joyce's work of art to modern literature) principally for its parallel to The Odyssey, noting that it is the use of myth in modern writing that is of central importance to the task of "controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (177). Essentially, I believe Eliot is saying that we need to borrow stories and symbols from the past to elicit meaning from our current age. So, clearly Eliot sees something of himself in Joyce, which is probably why he praises the novel so highly: "[i]t is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art" (178).

Of course, it is important to note that the construction of parallels between the modern world and those of antiquity which the moderns aim to accomplish does not necessarily imply a continuity in history itself -- or does it? Eliot seems to leave the question unresolved here, because we could interpret history of our own time as symbols from the past with or without implying there is some 1-1 correspondence between our own time and the past. All we are saying is that our own time ought to be represented through symbols.

One passage from the article is a bit confusing to me, so I am presenting it in the hopes of soliciting some responses on what you, the reader, thinks is going through Eliot's head here:

"It is here [in the context of Joyce as an artist] that Mr. Joyce's parallel use of the Odyssey has a great importance. It has the importance of a scientific discovery. No one else has built a novel upon such a foundation before: it has never before been necessary." What does Eliot mean by this last phrase, that it has "never before been necessary"? My only guess is that Eliot recognizes in his time period, the interwar period (which truly was a turbulent time in the history of every major intellectual discipline from art to mathematics to economics), a search for identity or some kind of understanding of what is going on in a world gripped by existential crisis. But, perhaps I'm being overdramatic.

Nevertheless, Joyce's Ulysses certainly does perform the function well, since it draws on so many references in a veritable chronicle of Irish culture and history through the thought processes of a few normal, everyday sorts of people-- including a doctor Malachi Mulligan, a teacher Stephen Dedalus, and of course an advertiser Leopold Bloom, and his wife a singer Molly Bloom. It ends with a long sentence by Molly which can be heard/viewed here (highly recommended): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNTlDesrY3w

I've included some links in this post that will direct you to some of the most interesting resources you can find on the novel and popularizations of it. Enjoy!

Here are some summaries of the journey taken by Mr. Bloom through Dublin, broken down chapter-by-chapter (each chapter corresponds to roughly one hour of the day of June 16):

"Cheat's guide to Joyce's Ulysses" from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3810193.stm

"Hypertextual, self-referential edition" online: http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~rac101/concord/texts/ulysses/

A really outstanding comic, done very well -- this is highly recommended: http://www.ulyssesseen.com/comic/us_comic_chapters-page.html

Funny cartoon summary: http://www.dannydries.com/Ullyses/ch1-ulys.html

A more academic resource

"Notes on James Joyce's Ulysses": http://home.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/joynote.html


Bloom: a film adaptation http://www.ulysses.ie/home/default.asp

Pitch n Putt with Joyce n Beckett (very funny): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p856CfM64w8

And again -- Happy Bloomsday!

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