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Some Second Thoughts on Ulysses



I've lambasted Ulysses mercilessly over the years.  Much of my mockery has been for schtick, for show, playing the obnoxious devil's advocate in an online reading group in LibraryThing many full moons ago that was on a mythic quest for its last mysterious page.  Did the last page of Ulysses for the reader beginning at page one and looking to read page one followed by page two followed by page three one page after another all the way to the last page truly exist, or was it just a legend, the Holy Grail among last pages of Classic Literature?


Well, I never found out for myself if the last page of Ulysses existed or not, since around page 375, I got swept away from the book in a metaphorical avalanche of Joycean proportions, and my head spun faster than Regan's in The Exorcist, and in a fit of pique I chucked every copy I had of that beast, that gargantuan gargoyle, Ulysses, down the nearest storm drain.  The truth is, I felt stoo-pid reading that book, Ulysses, whether or not I had James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert or Ulysses Annotated handy for help through the unending maze of difficult, allusion-ridden passages.  I just couldn't get it, make sense of it, fathom it, follow it, just plain read it, do whatever I was supposed to do with it, so I got rid of it.

However, before I quit Ulysses, in looking back through an old reading thread of mine, it's obvious that a couple hundred pages in to the book, I was still enjoying it (see below), a fact that gets overshadowed in the mockery I've heaped on it ever since.  So, in fairness to the book, I offer an excerpt from my old reading thread, before the avalanche struck, and I was still heaping praises upon this love-to-hate, hate-to-love book, love-hate of a tome, Ulysses.


The following was originally written in March, 2009:

"The mocker is never taken seriously when he is most serious
They talked seriously of mocker's seriousness." ~ Ulysses (p. 163, lines 542-43, Gabler edition)



This quote speaks tomes to my seriously-unserious (except when it's serious) soul ... because ... these words have mysteriously and instantly assimilated themselves inside me. Reading a passage like that, for me, is like going along left to right down the page line after line when FLASH SHOCK ... the page is no longer a page but transformed instantaneously into a MIRROR bearing the image of me/you, the reader, describing me/you, while simultaneously telling a story that has nothing to do with me or you. That's a WHOA moment of epiphany, of enlightenment for the stunned, sensitive reader, when Joyce, just innocently moving his narrative along sentence by sentence somehow suddenly jumps inside our consciousness and our thoughts are thinking his thoughts (and vice versa). 


Frankly, I live for such moments in literature, when the author, though decades, centuries removed from their work -- he or she is long dead -- enters into deep dialogue with a stranger way down some future, unknowable road. The road hasn't even been built yet. The readers haven't even been born yet, and yet a bridge, a connection is in place ... waiting to be made when we finally come of age and turn the page ... 


Ulysses, for me, is replete with such magical moments, but ... I fear I'm beginning to ramble, and March Madness is calling me back again, so rather than elucidate other examples, I'll depart ... but not before inquiring from all of you out there: Are you having some 'MIRROR MOMENTS' yourselves with Ulysses, perhaps pleasantly surprised at seeing your reflection or a partial reflection of your yourself reflected right back at you straight from of the pages of the text?

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