It’s Almost Bloomsday Again

The author kept getting bogged down in details instead of moving
the storyline along, because we don’t need to know everything
about the characters, just enough to keep reading until the climax 
of the story; if you compare it with something like the Hunt for
Red October you’ll see what I mean.

JoyceThat is a recent review of Ulysses by James Joyce culled from the riches of erudition commonly found on Amazon. Although this blurb is highly representative of the dumbing-down of civilization I can’t help but suspect it to be a ruse … anyone who represents the culmination of Ulysses as a climax just has to be an avid reader of Joyce.

The question posed in this weeks NYT Book Review is “How Would ‘Ulysses’ Be Received Today?”

Charles McGrath offered that “Joyce’s book might seem preening, needlessly erudite, even a little old-fashioned in its naughty bits.” Wait! Old-fashioned naughty bits? Has McGrath seen a porno-clip from the 1920s? Neither Ulysses nor The Randy Milkman were in the mainstream of fashion at the time they were created and both, seen from the view of the Twenty-First Century, are not comparable to the current examples of adult entertainment (but that doesn’t make them any less interesting).

McGrath continues:

As we know now, the novel’s greatest transgressions were not against decency and morality but against the forms and conventions of fiction writing itself. …

“Ulysses” is a one-off. It’s telling that although countless writers as varied as Beckett, Virginia Woolf (even though she said she hated the book), Donald Barthelme and David Foster Wallace have been influenced by it, no one since Joyce has attempted anything on quite the same scale. Still, just about every device that Joyce employed is now a standard part of the novelist’s repertoire, and none of them raise much of an eyebrow anymore. The rules have so changed — and our notion of what is novelistically possible so expanded — that if “Ulysses” were to come along now, with no controversy to cash in on, it would probably be published by someplace like Dalkey Archive, not Random House, and it might not cause much of a stir at all. To a generation that has already read “Naked Lunch” and “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Joyce’s book might seem preening, needlessly erudite, even a little old-fashioned in its naughty bits.

… the sheer largeness of Joyce’s ambition and scope of his invention seems both inspiring and a little mad — a relic of an era, perhaps, when people believed more trustingly in the power of fiction to remake the world.

A relic of an era? Does he mean like the chewing gum found on the underside of a prairie school desk or like the Dead Sea Scrolls?

UlyssesRivka Galchen (the other side of Bookends) seems to confine her literary research to the customer reviews at Amazon. However, if you wanted to gauge the public response to a classic novel, would there be a better place to study? Unfortunately, relying on Amazon reviews is like collecting facts for your PhD thesis on Wikipedia. Using myself as an example: I read a lot of books and have never felt the need to post a review on Amazon. But if I did I think this would do:

The best dirty book I ever read ... and read and read and read.
At least it presents a more consistent fiction than the Bible.

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