“Who ever anywhere will read these written words? Signs on a white field.”
Fans of James Joyce know that the incredible piece of art known as Ulysses is set in the span of one day on June 16, 1904. Joycephiles celebrate “Bloomsday” annually in Dublin (and elsewhere now) to commemorate Joyce’s life and the events that take place within the novel. One of my favorite things happening right now are tweets of Ulysses in 140 character “bursts” organized by Stephen Cole (@11ysses). See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/bloomsday-bursts-celebrates-james-joyce-140-characters-at-a-time/2011/06/16/AGePgPXH_blog.html
As an English student, I was fortunate to have been able to spend a semester studying Joyce, including Ulysses. (The only one of Joyce’s works that I haven’t yet read is Finnegan’s Wake. But I will!) It was a profound moment for me when I turned the last page and felt my own heart “going like mad”. “Yes I said yes,” I finished reading Ulysses!
As intimidating as it seems, the best approach I found was to approach the novel as you would a complex poem that requires close reading. Trying to read Ulysses as if it was a linear novel will only lead to frustration. Once the words overtake you, the story and subthemes emerge beautifully. I also recommend Stuart Gilbert’s excellent study, James Joyce’s Ulysses, essentially a concordance for the novel written in consultation with Joyce.
Quite possibly the most difficult – and most rewarding – final paper I wrote was a Lacanian psychoanalytic reading of Harold Bloom’s (m)Otherness. That was an odyssey (pun intended) in and of itself!
I love my Post-it tagged copy of the novel, as well as Gilbert’s study. They occupy space in the bookcase where my favorite, most special books reside.
(Photo copyright Dana Lisa Young)