Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 13.3 (James Joyce)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Joyce, James

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course on this book, and this book alone. I would say that if I ever performed in my artistic and intellectual life what Olson famously termed a "saturation job" on a literary subject, that is, performed a sustained act of study so that my knowledge of that one thing not only taught me everything I need to know about learning but also lead me into every other field I could think of, then I performed mine on Ulysses.

I can recall preparing for the course by reading Homer and Hamlet and Dante over the Christmas break and then methodically working my way through each chapter, week after week, over the course of the spring semester.

I would begin by rereading the corresponding chapter from the Odyssey, followed by a synopsis of the chapter in Ulysses. I would then read the chapter once by itself and read it again, a copy of Allusions in Ulysses by my side, attempting to record and remember every single one. I would also try to read as many critical articles as I could, then go back and read the chapter again on my own.

It's been almost twenty years since I read Ulysses, but most of the information from the book still feels fresh in my mind in a way that information from few other books still does. It was a very useful process for me, but one on the other hand that left a small feeling of regret -- that is, I wish now that I had just sat down and tried to read the book once through on my own, before my mind became overloaded with all the various schools of interpretation that have grown up around Joyce and his work.

Criticism, though it can be helpful, often takes the fun out of literature. It's sort of like the guy who never laughs at the punch lines of jokes, but instead explains to you why they are funny. My professor told us on the first day of class that we if we weren't often laughing out loud while reading Ulysses then we weren't really getting it. And he was right. I feel like I worked over the text to such an extent that I understood all the jokes without every really taking pleasure in their humor.

from Ulysses

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle's phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind's darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.

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