I Can Confess Now: Yes, I’ve Read Joyce’s Uylsses.
I know, this is a blog about noir fiction and writing. I just… just needed to get this out of my system.
I’ve read Uylsses. No, I do not think it was good. Why did I read it? Well, it’s the book everyone talks about but I never could find anyone but one person who ever read the damn thing. You see, I had just finished reading Joyce’s short story, The Dead. I can lay the blame for my decision right at the feet of this very paragraph, perhaps one of the greatest paragraphs ever written by anyone, ever:
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
I mean, look at that thing. It’s a work of art. That incredible alliteration: soul swooned slowly. It’s lovely. The entire rhythm of, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling…” isn’t just literature, it’s poetry, man. It’s really so incredible, it chokes me up to read it.
So, I figured, yeah… I can do Uylsses.
Wrong. Now, I’m well aware of the reams of paper written on this novel. I came to it completely aware of its place in the canon. I opened it knowing that people have even graphed out the journey that Bloom and Dedalus take on that fateful day. I got that it was based on Odysseus. But, people, this book is just… well, the most convoluted piece of work every committed to paper. I had, in preparation for my journey, bought the Cliff Notes to go with it. Hey, I’m not proud, but when even Clif Notes tells you something along the lines of, “Well, even we cannot be sure what this chapter is supposed to mean, or its relation to Odysseus’s journey”, you know you’re in for it. Outside of a few parts of the novel, including the final section from Molly’s POV, the book is one of the most self indulgent things I’ve ever come across in art, and that includes The Phantom, Andy Warhol, and Guns n’ Roses’s Use Your Illusion 1 & 2.
However, that aside, I do feel it really is one of the most important things ever written. I can hear everyone throwing drinks at their screens, taking this blog off of their bookmarks, etc. Hear me out. It came to me one evening when I was ranting about the thing to my wife:
The book is not in and of itself great, but it is great because of all the doors that it opened for those that came after it.
Think about it. We wouldn’t have Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Bukowski, etc. No Virginia Woolf or Getrude Stein, either. No novels that pushed boundaries, both in form and content. Joyce really blew the door in, and he did it at just the right time. Good? No. Watershed? Most definitely yes.
Anyway, I’ve read it. Now at least I’ll always have something to talk about at parties.