Ulysses

From my journal, April 29, 1981:

I have begun reading Ulysses by James Joyce. It is very difficult. I have picked up several valuable books of criticism – James Joyce by A Walton Litz (Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York, 1966).  and Joyce, A Collection of Critical Essays (Ed. Wm. M. Chace, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1974). I would be lost without the insights these books have given me. The Litz book provides “Joyce’s Schema for Ulysses.” This is a one page graphic representation of his [Joyce’s] symbolism and character function in the book. It is enlightening and helpful in understanding Joyce’s purpose. I should type out my own copy for future reference.

I must constantly remind myself, in reading Ulysses, that I am, for the most part, reading thoughts, not spoken dialogue or even spoken monologue, and as thoughts, need not be, indeed are not, intelligible. They must mean something to the person doing the thinking. They undoubtedly meant something to Joyce; had something to do with his experience and knowledge. It would, however, be almost impossible for all these random flashes of thought always to mean something to me – the poor, only surface, reader.

I am humbled and awed by Joyce’s knowledge and poetic insight, and find myself feeling stupid and dense. If I pay attention and check the definitions of words I don’t understand, though, I am rewarded. There is much in the way of sexual overtones and psychological insight to be gained if one only takes the time and examines the book closely while reading. The reader must work, and Joyce gives you nothing. You must participate.

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