Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday

Here's a Bloomsday extract from my book Sod That: 103 Things Not To Do Before You Die... In which the message is don't read Ulysses.*

Read Ulysses

If you do as we’re all urged and take up James Joyce’s overlong magnum opus, it is guaranteed to clog up your all too short life. Banned, criticised and suppressed on moral grounds when it first came out, it thereby became far more famous and far more durable than it would ever have been otherwise. Had it been published openly originally, the book would in all probability have been openly ignored, or at least gained wider recognition for the pretentious nonsense it is. The lives of generations of English Literature undergraduates the world over would have been considerably eased as a result.

Many readers might experience a strange feeling of guilt at thus disregarding a book that has come to be considered as such an important part of the mythical literary canon. Wading through Ulysses is often regarded as a kind of coming of age. You have to get through it to prove your worth to those invisible cultural arbiters who we imagine sit in judgement of us all. You have to know what happened to Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in Dublin on 16 June 1904, even though the answer is, basically, nothing.

The other thing to remember about trying to prove your bookish credentials by knowing about Ulysses is that no one who actually possesses a wide knowledge of literature will believe you if you try to convince them you've read every word. They – having attempted to grind through it themselves – will understand what a thankless task it is and won't believe you.

OK, there are some fine qualities to the book. There’s some magnificent worldplay, some world beating writing and top class rudery. But a few clever turns of phrase and a couple of pervy passages don't make up for the fact that if you want to understand even half of it you have to lug a dictionary user’s guide around with it – unappealing when the book alone already weighs more than a small child.

The only passages that do make sense are the rude ones. So just do what everyone else does and cut straight to them. Skip the rest. Especially skip the 150-odd pages of punctuation bereft prose that starts: ‘Deshill Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshill Holles Eamus’ and ends ‘anyway I wish hed sleep in some bed by himself with his cold feet on me give us room even to let a fart God or do the least thing better yes hold them like that a bit on my side piano quietly sweeeee theres that train far away pianissimo eeeee one more song.’

Everything you need to know about this section is neatly contained in the word ‘nonsense’.

There is at least one good thing to be said about Ulysses, however. It does at least also have the distinct advantage of not being Finnegan’s Wake. Now that's a book you should die before reading.

Useless Trivia

On Ulysses’ first release the Sporting Times declared that the book: ‘appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic.’ Paper of record the New York Times opined: ‘The average intelligent reader will glean little or nothing from it – even from careful perusal, one might properly say study, of it – save bewilderment and a sense of disgust.’ The popular critic ‘Aramis’, meanwhile, correctly pointed out that: ‘Two thirds of it is incomprehensible.’

More Useless Trivia

A 2007 poll commissioned by teletext discovered that 28% of Britons confessed to being unable to finish Ulysses, making it the third most unread book in the country, following DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.


Sod That is still available at amazon and perhaps even a few good bookshops. (Beware of poor quality imitations!)

*I may not agree with everything I have written here.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Sam. You're usually quite amusing, in a light-weight sort of fashion (Crap Towns, anyone?). But if you can't see that Ulysses is the greatest comic novel of the 20th century, then I'm afraid your judgement is not to be trusted.

Anonymous said...

Premoderation? You lily-livered popinjay. Bah.

Sam Jordison said...

Oh man!

"quite", "light-weight", "not to be trusted."


haha. Thanks for posting though. Nice to see you on here. I usually very much like yr posts on GU. And while, I'm happy to admit that there's lots to admire in Ulysses. But it says less to me in 1,000 pages than the Old Man And The Sea does in 100...

Sam Jordison said...

"Premoderation? You lily-livered popinjay. Bah."

Yes, sorry about that. Wrote a book about cults once... encountered some problem comments as a result...

Steven Augustine said...

Heartily disagree, Sam-O! Here's a fragment of one of my favorite passages (The Circe bit; it's in the form of a play)... our hero is in a brothel... this book is funny as all unholy fook; it's the po-faced critics who've done their best to ruin it:

BLOOM: It was Gerald converted me to be a true corsetlover when I was female impersonator in the High School play VICE VERSA. It was dear Gerald. He got that kink, fascinated by sister's stays. Now dearest Gerald uses pinky greasepaint and gilds his eyelids.
Cult of the beautiful.

BELLO: (WITH WICKED GLEE) Beautiful! Give us a breather! When you took your seat with womanish care, lifting your billowy flounces, on the
smoothworn throne.

BLOOM: Science. To compare the various joys we each enjoy. (EARNESTLY) And really it's better the position ... because often I used to wet ...

BELLO: (STERNLY) No insubordination! The sawdust is there in the corner for you. I gave you strict instructions, didn't I? Do it standing, sir!
I'll teach you to behave like a jinkleman! If I catch a trace on your swaddles. Aha! By the ass of the Dorans you'll find I'm a martinet. The sins of your past are rising against you. Many. Hundreds.

THE SINS OF THE PAST: (IN A MEDLEY OF VOICES) He went through a form of clandestine marriage with at least one woman in the shadow of the Black church. Unspeakable messages he telephoned mentally to Miss Dunn at an address in D'Olier street while he presented himself indecently to the instrument in the callbox. By word and deed he frankly encouraged a nocturnal strumpet to deposit fecal and other matter in an unsanitary
outhouse attached to empty premises. In five public conveniences he wrote pencilled messages offering his nuptial partner to all strongmembered
males. And by the offensively smelling vitriol works did he not pass night after night by loving courting couples to see if and what and how much he could see? Did he not lie in bed, the gross boar, gloating over a nauseous fragment of wellused toilet paper presented to him by a nasty
harlot, stimulated by gingerbread and a postal order?

BELLO: (WHISTLES LOUDLY) Say! What was the most revolting piece of
obscenity in all your career of crime? Go the whole hog. Puke it out! Be candid for once.


BLOOM: Don't ask me! Our mutual faith. Pleasants street. I only thought the half of the ... I swear on my sacred oath ...

BELLO: (PEREMPTORILY) Answer. Repugnant wretch! I insist on knowing. Tell me something to amuse me, smut or a bloody good ghoststory or a line of
poetry, quick, quick, quick! Where? How? What time? With how many? I give you just three seconds. One! Two! Thr ...

BLOOM: (DOCILE, GURGLES) I rererepugnosed in rerererepugnant

BELLO: (IMPERIOUSLY) O, get out, you skunk! Hold your tongue! Speak when you're spoken to.

BLOOM: (BOWS) Master! Mistress! Mantamer!


BELLO: (SATIRICALLY) By day you will souse and bat our smelling
underclothes also when we ladies are unwell, and swab out our latrines with dress pinned up and a dishclout tied to your tail. Won't that be nice? (HE PLACES A RUBY RING ON HER FINGER) And there now! With this ring
I thee own. Say, thank you, mistress.

BLOOM: Thank you, mistress.

Sam Jordison said...

Yes, that is funny.

Steven Augustine said...

The truth is, I'd suggest (for the daunted reader) the use of a guide to the book first (for orientation), then reading the monster non-sequentially, almanac-style. Anthony Burgess (the greatest failed Joyce imitator of the second half of the 20th century: Clockwork Orange was Joyce's gift to the man) does a good job of making Ulysses clear in Re Joyce, I think.

It never fails to amaze me that Joyce wrote this book a century ago... it may well remain Modern forever. But that can't be appreciated, generally, until we do away with the musty veil the musty academics have tossed over it: another case of disciples fucking the whole thing up?

La Delirante said...

‘appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic.’ LOL :)

I am reading "A portrait of the artist as a young man" at the moment and it is not bad...it reminds me too much of Proust though.

Steven Augustine said...

Yeah, Picasso's Cubism reminds me too much of Cezanne... who's he kidding? Only room for one of those bastards in a museum.