Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ulysses (James Joyce)

Checked this out from the library and have to return it today to avoid late fees. I didn't get very far in, but I found it pretty fascinating so far. That is, despite being nearly and famously impenetrable, the writing is quite beautiful. The part I read is part 1, about Stephen Dedalus (sp?), recognizable as the hero of Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, now slightly more grown up and teaching at a private school of some sort, I believe. The plot is slightly hard to follow, as it involves both events and non-events, and the narration is a panoramic stream-of-consciousness, slipping in and out of thoughts and insights either had or missed by the characters. Confused yet? Wait til I get to Leo Bloom, who is the hero of part 2 (some would say antihero, but I'm reserving judgment until I've read the whole thing). I only read about 20 pages in to part 2, and the parts I read were pretty fascinating. I understand the basic premise of the book is to describe the events of a single day, keeping to a classical unity, but there are more non-events than events, which turn a classic story like Ulysses (Latin for Odysseus) on its head. Instead of a heroic battle for life and death or a string of adventures, the novel depicts ordinariness in classic detail and with modernist techniques. So we are treated to an intimate portrait of Leo Bloom's bowel movement, shocking in its own way yet somehow of a piece with the novel as an examination of ordinary life. Also, we have the funeral that Leo decides not to attend and a conversation which ends with Leo expressing his desire not to talk to the man he just ran into. Leo is therefore very much an anti-hero, but I'm wondering if there is something redeeming in his ordinariness or if it is a literary device that just expresses despair. I think it's probably somewhere in between or beyond those two poles.
Anyway, those are my thoughts so far. I'll let you know if I get any further in the novel.
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