Ulysses (2)

Written 18 April 2024

I’ve now finished my second reading of Ulysses so some more thoughts.

Approach

I got myself a copy of the 2022 Oxford edition with the introduction by Jeri Johnson. This seemed like one with enough notes, explanations and a good foreword to be useful without being unwieldy. It also includes a map (which is not very legible to be honest) and the two schema. It’s got lots of typos in it as it basically replicates the 1922 edition as actually published. It could be easier on the eye print-wise but it’s a nice book.

In parallel with reading the physical book I also use the excellent RTE resources and an up to date podcast series, and it’s worth saying a bit about each.

RTE did Ulysses as a radio serialisation in 1982 and this is easily available online (https://www.rte.ie/radio/podcasts/series/32198-ulysses/). It’s really excellent and brings the text to life in a way that I simply can’t when just reading words on a page. The sound effects are helpful while not being intrusive and the acting is superb. Alongside this and released simultaneously is “Reading Ulysses” which has about half an hour on each episode led by Joyce scholars Gerry O’Flaherty and Fritz Senn. These are lovely to listen to and really helpful.

As well as the RTE serialisation I followed the podcast Tipsy Turvy Ulysses which has three Joyce scholars (Wendy J. Truran, Eric Lewis and Shinjini Chatoppadhyay) discussing each episode in turn. They take turn to lead sessions devoted to episodes in the book and structure the discussion around three headings: a part I love, a part I hate and a part I don’t understand and this works really well (it’s all rather snog, marry avoid). It’s done in a very friendly atmosphere and is very accessible. It is nice to hear full time Joyce scholars and enthusiasts struggling to understand some parts of the text.

Since finishing my second reading I have also started working my way through the excellent U22 podcast which was created to precede the launch of the Cambridge centenary edition and is led by its editor Catherine Flynn. Again this has discussions on each episode and I’m really enjoying that too. The 1967 film (available on vimeo here) and also Ulysses Unbound, which is effectively a companion to the book by Terrence Killeen, are also in progress.

Despite tackling the whole thing much more rigorously than in my earlier venture it is still an infuriating book in many ways: one simply misses so much. I missed not just obscure references but who says what, where action is taking place and so much more. Events that occur time and again in the book are unclear (e.g. the meaning of U.P.: Up (if that is even how it is written on the postcard, we are never quite sure), the Man in the Macintosh and so many more). Nevertheless, this book is amazing and brilliant, and it is heartening to come to realise that Joyce wrote it in such a way as to leave the reader with a definite job to do and I’m not just being thick. It’s probably the most significant novel I have ever read, if indeed novel it is. It leads one into considerations in philosophy, myth, reality, religion, relationships, what we can know about the world and our place in it and so much more. I have had to wrench myself away from reading it and listening to talks about it to start reading other things again.

Yes. Definitely hooked and already looking forward to reading it again and carrying on chipping away!

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