Friday, June 18, 2010

Surviving Bloomsday

Ron Artest thanked his hood, his wife and his sports psychologist in that order. Then, he still had time to plug his new single.

Say Queensbridge!

While I scouted the price of an Artest jersey, others celebrated Bloomsday.

James Joyce’s most celebrated novel, Ulysses, was set on June 16, 1904; so, every June 16, the fervent gather in Dublin to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom.

My beef with Joyce is long-standing and well-documented. However, I’m considering giving Ulysses another chance after Michelle Kerns, a critic for who I have much respect, wrote a column on how Joyce Haters can become Joyce Lovers. (While I do enjoy Dubliners, I probably county as a hater.)

Her first suggestion is read a version of The Odyssey, the source material for Ulysses. (Check.) But her next recommendation flummoxes me. Kerns suggests that readers use one of the two schema that Joyce gave to friends to help them understand the book. (Yes, Ulysses is so confusing that two of Joyce’s friends requested a chart to help make sense of it.)

I don’t like the notion of using schema and criticisms to understand a text. I feel a good author will give you everything you need to understand a story on the page. If you want something obscure, leave it obscure. If you want to make something clear, clarify it. Don’t obfuscate something just so you can clarify it elsewhere.

Obviously, there are some exceptions. Language changes over years, and meanings are lost or added. If someone wants additional context that has been lost to history, fine. But James Joyce operated in darkness, regardless of era. (He described Finnegan’s Wake as being in the language of night. By comparison, Ulysses would be dusky. There is still light, but the sun is going down.)

Please understand, I’m not saying that Joyce isn’t genius or that people who enjoy his writing are wrong. I just bristle at stories that require an MFA to be enjoyed. Perhaps, I’m protesting too much. Maybe I should grab a schema, retrieve my copy of Ulysses and give it an honest go.

As Kerns said “like every meaningful commitment, the more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. There are precious few books that fall into this category: Ulysses is one of them.”

But Ulysses is one-half of a high-maintenance relationship, and Joyce has hurt me before. I can’t shake the feeling that he might not be worth it.

In completely unrelated news, hard-boiled Scandinavian detectives are the new vampires.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. Also unrelated, Tricia and I took a few minutes from our day to visit the beach and ask people what they are reading this summer.

(Yes, I may have worn a suit to the beach, but Tricia wore heels.)



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