Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ulysses, by James Joyce


Stateless, narrow white Jason came from the doorway, bearing a bag blue plastycanvas on which an iPod touch and a laptop lay crossed.

--Come up, James Joyce. Come up, you fearful Jesuit.

He stood very solemn, and looked at the eBook. It was slender in it's bits, and in it's slenderness, less imposing then a heavy paperback.

In came Amanda, looking up over another novel, one far less imposing, one far more enjoyable, one perhaps more enlightening.

--Tell me, Jason, Amand said quietly

--Yes, my love?

--How long is Mr. Joyce to stay in this house?

A boyishness pervaded young Mister Jason Dedalus, a fearful sort of vigor, that wished to seek out truth and goodness. The book lay heavy in his palm, despite it's being only a circuit and a set of magnets switched in a predetermined pattern.

--There is a hole, a hole in my past, and a father of the modern day, and I haven't read him all through, or given him a proper chance. What if all these modern snobs are just perverting something beautiful?

--No, I don't care to hear why, Kinch. Just when is he leaving?

--Oh, god. It's so long. I don't know...


--Listen, now, kid. You've got a thick book there, and you have to know how to read it

--But Wikipedia, quoth Jason, I've read Les Miserables. Noone had to tell me how to read that.

--But, Les Miserables is different, it makes sense.

--Oh, I see.

--Now, listen, said old man Wikipedia, Ulysses isn't like that. It's different. IT doesn't make sense. IT has too much sense stuffed into it.

--Sense? Wouldn't that make it make sense?

--No! You confuse the manufacture of the thing with the containment of a thing!

--How so?

--Les Miserables makes sense, right? It makes sense in your brain where there previously was none. Ulysses isn't like that. It contains sense. All kinds of sense. It's all chopped up into pieces, and each peace has a field of art that it's like, and a type of writing technique, and a title that hearkens back to the Odyssey, and an organ of the body.

--So... it's kind of like Hermetic Magic?

--No. Hermetic magic has systems that correspond to a higher philosophy. Ulysses has systems that are, and I'm not going to tell you why they are, but isn't it lovely that they are there?


What a strange book, my foot itches. I'm going to scratch it, oh lord, and now I've forgotten where the devil this sentence started again. Everything in the world is forever changing, I love the way birds sing. Sometimes when I hear airplanes in the sky, it makes me think of birds, like they're great steel birds (why haven't I put that lawn chair away?) and they're singing some low, deep mournful song, that is so lowdeepmournful that it has one note like that samba by antonio tom carlos tom jobim antonio carlos jobim aka tom, Samba de una nota, like Bese me Mucho, except that was Spanish. I like portuguese, it's a much prettier language I think, maybe that's only because I'm always hearing it from Joao Gilberto and such, I don't know. Oh god, I'm only in section 3, aren't I? What the... o devil, start the sentence again... wait, no. I didnt' miss somethign that part just didn't make sense. I think. Sometimes they don't.

Is that because it's like real life? OR is it just because he was a heavy drinker? I never liekd that though, blaming a book on a boozebottle boozebottlebooks and needleprickbooks and snortingpowderbooks. Snorting Powder, that makes it sound so Victorian, like something in Dorothea Brooke's boudoir. You know, I really don't know what a boudoir is dictionary dictionary dictionary AH! That sounds like a song! Dictionary - tut-tut-tut lady tut bedroom tut-tut tut, it ocmes from 'sulking place.' I like that! I should have called my bedroom a boudoir for years.


Mr. Jason Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts, at least last summer when he had Haggis the first time.

--This book is getting stranger as it goes along. But, then, at least I've read the famous line that you're supposed to know to sound clever at cocktail parties.

Of course, Jason had never been to a cocktail party, but it was such a lovely day that the idea was adorable to him, anyway. He shushed the boys with a hmm-hmm to let mother sleep, and rushed them off tho school, crabbing rather more than he meant to, and wondering if that was alright, since he knew that he was doing wrong and felt contriteOn


On the bright side, thought Jason, I am one good lookin' mothuh...

Oh and, maybe I'll go buy a bar of soap. Why not. Soap is cool. It smells good. Like me. Jumpin beans, I am freakin' HOT!


Work though, was a strange place to read. The book's oddity, by the chapter noted, was wearing off, and there was a creaking sense of meaning to it, punctuated. In the afternoon, he trudged out into the black asphalt parking lot, because of a fire alarm, and something in the black weight of the book now made him giddy and strange. He laughed, played games, made jokes, entertained, as the book weighed in his pocket.

On the way in, solemn faces asked him playfully if he had been hiding a nuclear armament beneath his desk, he responded he had not. The day was bright and oppressive, and the heat felt healthy and unwelcome.


WHAM! A ticket, and Jason ran, and he fixed it, and a progress bar here, and he read onward, and the book assembled a strange allure, an unhealthy glow of sorts, as he moed onward. The book had no particular plot but...

QUICK NOW! A CONFERENCE ROOM! GET MOVING! He padded off, the plot still percolating, the whole book was just a day, just a nothing-particular day. People mad ea lot of this, with a sort of a sneer, usualyl, as if they were congratulaing themselves onbeing able to enjoy hearing a man shave, and try to sell ad-copy. Jason, though, thought something else, and it was a said sor tof thought, like poor Joyce was lost somewhere adn (RUN QUICK, MEETING) trying to find a way to say all the thousand books eh wanted to write, AND impress women and literary petting-preener-critics, who woudl stroke and love him, altogether. James Joyce has a way of avoiding unreality at all costs, taht was maddening and endearing.

VIII)LAESTRYGONIANS - And it was just then that he began to not only masticate on the strange book, but to swallow it. The book wasn't really intended to make sense, perhaps. OR it was, but only if one was willing to read it 1000 times, and Jason certainly was not. But... it had an effect, if one simply displaced oneself into an active reader, if one tried to experience the words, rather than the effect the words produced, there were truly beautiful sections. As in:

"What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit."

It wasn't just, perhaps, that this was a beautiful line in the midst of a big muddle, but that the muddle sometimes made sense, and that part of the poetry of lines like this one came from the very muddle of the book.



--Jason Gignac, Associated Press

Though considered the greatest novel of the 20th century by many critics, Ulysses is seldom actually read by people. Or, so it seemed to Jason Gignac, of San Antonio, Texas when he began it. Overwhelmed by the masses of people who positively bragged about their ability to enjoy the novel, Gignac (married, father of three) found it difficult to believe the book was one people actually wanted to read.

"The real tragedy," Jason offered, "Is that the book could be one that we can feel somethign for, except that now you read it so that you can feel snooty and proud, while still having an excuse to go on a pub crawl. It's like Locker-room sex talk for geeks."

Like sex, Jason concluded, the book could be a lovely thing, in the right circumstance, though always messy, complicated, and full of problems that probably we'd be better of avoiding. Like sex, it would be entirely possible to live without it, and it can be a dreadful thing for a lot of people.

"The ones who don't feel dreadful," said Jason, "Should just shut the heck up about it, unless they have something nice to say about someone besides their own literarily gifted self."


Someone in Customer Service went for coffee. It was dang good coffee.

Steve Ethofer needs a database built, what will he do, he thought.

Jason was reading a book. You know, liek in the last chapter.


<i>This book sucks


Oh yes, it really does, it's just nonsensia-tra-la-la nonsense

Nonsense? How can it be? Nonsense? How can it be pretty when it's nonsense?


Nonsense! But it has some lovely and some ugly parts, and nonsense is just ignore-it-a-too-ra-loo-lai

Nonsense can be pretty, thoguh.

Then, maybe nonsense has it's place.




So, there I am, right? And I'm just 'ome from work, and a bullocksy day it was, too, and there's my wife.

--Nearly Done! Says I.

--Really? Thank god. I can't believe you're reading that book.


--Well, you keep describing it, and it sounds so arrogant...


<>pChapter Omitted


The book grew longer longer stranger still

It felt as if it started to fulfill

Some purpose, some direction, though I'd send

A dollar to know the direction that 'twas his intent

Verily, and the book was great and heavy, and Jason's eyes grew dark and frightened.

Oh Lord! Crieth Jason, I know that I am naughty but why punisheth thoguh me with this desire to finsih this book?

And the book was strange, and thus ended the paragraph

But each chapter doth send, saith he, a meaning to the reader, and the collection thereof were filled to he who ken it. To read or not to read, then, that is the question, whether tis' nobler to face the slings and arrows of James Joyce or to

perhaps let it go. It is a well-known fact that a thick book, unread and rather important in the canon, supposedly, is in need of a reader (or a zombie-hunter, as the case might be). Mrs. Gignac grew tired, however, of Jason's constant conversation on the subject.

"Oh Mr. Gignac!" she exclaimed, "You have no compassion on my poor nerves!"

It was the best of books, it was the worst of books, it was very thick, it was very thin, it was beautiful it was hideous, it was a paean against meaninglessness, it was meaningless itself.

It wasn't ending. IT was long. Heavy. Thick. It left the reader with the empty feeling of having only a dirty glass of whiskey for breakfast. The same heaviness, the same feeling of smug superiority over the sons-of-*****es who had to eat cornflakes every day. IT was the kind of book that made you want to die. In the rain. Alone.

Roight. 'at 'as a bingins odd book, 'et woz. Wotcher gonna read next, guv? Nae, I'm gone to fin'sh it, I am. Dude, seriously, that's wacked. Y'all, 're gone jez have t'put up with me. 'sonly a few chapters lef'.


AMANDA: Look, Jason, maybe you'd like to read something else

JASON: What?

(Enter stage left, and enormous albatross with a pink pearl necklace on, singing the song that the frog always sings in the Warner Brother cartoons)


Amanda smiled.

-Come on, love, it's time for the news

Jason nodded

-Yes, I know, I'm nearly done.

It was good to have an understanding wife, gently watching television, paying no heed to the fact that her husband read his ipod while rubbing her back. The end of the day was coming, and the end of the book, and a certain peace was settling. After XIV chapters of Ulysses, one hardly knows what to do, there is nothign left to chock, and one knows by this point that Joyce is a genius. So, the scenes that feel shocking, or weird, or strange, have a sort opaque charm, a feeling like they ought to be there, though one isn't cpaable of knowing why.

Amanda's back, in the evening was strong, and rich, and it felt strange to rub it, the snag of his nail catching at her vertebrae, while the new anchor blathered on about the Riverwalk.


Was the book enjoyable?


Would the reader have recommend it to others?

The reader would have recommended it in the same way he would recommend a nice EAster Bonnet - only appropriate in select circumstance

Was it beautiful?


Was it obnoxious?

Oh yeah.



Did God inspire James Joyce?

One time, I thought I saw a fairy in an old tree, and I'm embarrased to say I don't even know what kind. Of fairy, or of tree.


heaviness always settles late in the evening and alwyas late in a book so it shouldnt shock me but it always does this heavy feeling only there are two kinds of it the kind you feel like when you have too much cake and the kind you feel when you are ready for bed and content that the bed is calling having just read Dickens it sure felt good god my foot still itches though and Ulysses isnt like that its very different because you feel heavy but its like a heavy all inside yourself one you cant quite put your finger on i dont know if id ever read this book again and i hope the answer is no but i think im glad i did though i may hcange my mind in a month and i dont think its one ill tell all my friends to read but i feel so much more complete having read it and its so warm in texas isnt it and i dont know what to do with warm anymore its like when youre young you can read and read and read and it doesnt matter because your mind is floating around wild eye above oyu the whole time and then when youre done you float down and everything is right there where you left it but when you get older you dont have enough left you spent up so much like millays candle except you only burned at one end and im a terrible littel candle reading ulysses reminds of the feeling of wanting to die its this feeling that is so many things at once its a horrible miserable thing that you never want but if you cant imagine it you can never feel alive and when you love someone when you really love someone in every sense there is acloseness tot hem you feel in a shared sorrow that you dont feel in a shared joy because one feels so inclined to share joy so happy to do it where a sorrow is different and ulysses is like that because you do feel proud at the end but not arrogant or at least i dont or i hope not and i hope noone thinks im being priggish writing so long but its like feeliing proud in the way youre proud when youve held your wifes hand all the way through childbirth like you didnt really do anyhting nothing in the whole room was you you were this lump of flesh doing nothing but smiling and encouraging and probably not even being heard but you feel happy anyway because your wife is glad you were there and maybe james joyce all lonely and still not sure if anything in the world is good or bad or pretty or ugly or anything is glad you were there too


Amanda said...

I'm going to read this later, but I thought I'd award you for the longest book review ever written.

Amanda said...

Yep. Well, I skimmed the post. Sorry, that was the best I could do, Jase, if you're going to imitate each section of Ulysses. I still say the book is a pretentious piece of crap. I feel that way even more the more you talked about it over the last month or two.

Rebecca Reid said...

Wow, absolutely amazing review, I think. I love how you tried to capture the confusion of reading the book; great way of capturing the complicated hate-it-but-glad-I-read-it feeling.

"its like feeliing proud in the way youre proud when youve held your wifes hand all the way through childbirth like you didnt really do anyhting"

great line. Even if the book (and this review?)is all "pretentious piece of crap", I'm still interested because of how reading the book would be such a bizarre experience.

Julie said...

Jason, you definitely write book reviews like no one I've ever known and it is cleverly entertaining, dauntingly creative and major awesome!

Of course, I have to point out my favorite line you wrote:

Sometimes when I hear airplanes in the sky, it makes me think of birds, like they're great steel birds (why haven't I put that lawn chair away?) and they're singing some low, deep mournful song...

hamilcar barca said...

Amanda, my son gave me a book with a excellent way to read Joyce's Ulysses in it. It's by Greg Nagan, and has been sitting on my TBR shelf since Xmas. i have 2 long flights to/from Columbus, Ohio next week; so maybe it's time to read this one.

Amanda said...

It took Jason about six weeks to read this book...

hamilcar barca said...

i'll be done with Nagan's Ulysses in about 5 minutes.

His book is called (something like) "The 5-Minute Iliad & Other classics". A whole bunch of high-brow lit, distilled down to about 5 pages each.

And each is written in the style of the novel, which Jason would love.

Amanda said...

Hrm, I wonder what he'll do for the "style" of Ulysses, considering Joyce made every chapter a different style (from what I've heard Jason say). Like this review.

Unknown said...

5 pages? Heck, one sentence!

Leopold got up, ate a kidney, blah blah blah, went to bed.

No, no, not quite right. Maybe two sentences...

Leopold got up, ate a kidney, blah blah blah, went to bed. My mother's fish is a red-furred donkey hurrah for too-ra-loo Parnell and lots of other irish guys.

hamilcar barca said...

that sounds more like HHGTTG than classic literature, Jason.

Unknown said...

Wait. You consider that two separate categories?

Amanda said...

Okay, I'm lost. This is probably a stupid question, but what the heck is "HHGTTG"?

hamilcar barca said...

LMAO, Jason.

"Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", Amanda. Douglas Adams didn't die. He just transmogrified into Monty Python.

Amanda said...

Ah, got you.

L said...


Emily said...

"It left the reader with the empty feeling of having only a dirty glass of whiskey for breakfast."

Yes! Excellent.

Love Ulysses, love this review. You make me want to revisit it again, believe it or not.

Julie said...

Hi Emily,

Thanks for coming by and taking an interest to read reviews. I liked the quote you pointed out from Jason's review. We miss his wonderfully unique book review style around here but I don't want you to miss what he's currently writing about. So, here's his blog so you can enjoy more of what he says about Ulysses there:

Thanks for your comment. :)

Jillian said...

LOL. Now I'm REALLY afraid and intrigued to read this. Ever read Faulkner? :P