Friday, August 24, 2012

Ulysses

I decided, about a week ago, to read Ulysses (which I did not finish when I tried it 30 years ago.)  Finished it.  Glad to have finished it.  Can cross that off the list.

May be a work of genius.  I'm reminded of Asher Lev, who had to master the basics before going beyond.  There's enough great writing in there to say that Joyce clearly mastered the basics.

Not a great novel, not in the usual meaning of that term.  When you finish a great novel, do you need to go find a commentary to explain to you what just happened?  No.  An exercise in writing technique, some of which works, some of which doesn't, and all just piled together.  Apparently there is a structure, which may or may not have been more evident in the original serialized version.  I will go back to it, I suspect, in places and pieces, but not often and not all.  Could Maxwell Perkins have turned it into a great novel by cutting half of it?  I doubt it.  The parts that are fascinating are balanced, or more than, by the parts that are frustrating. 

Are there parts that would have been less frustrating, more accessible, to a reader in early 20th century Ireland and/or England, due to cultural context?  Certainly.  Enough to tip the scales?  Not certainly, but possibly.

Is it obscene?  No.  It's almost relentlessly vulgar, but I'm not sure I've ever read anything less titillating.  As obscenity, it's an epic failure.

Would I recommend it?  Very seldom, and to very few.  I suspect its appeal, like Spinal Tap's, grows "more selective..."



Oh, and let me say one more thing - the famous "eight sentences" aren't. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. They're just long stretches of non-punctuated text.

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