Hmm, well I'm thinking about heading right into very unknown territory here, summiting one very big mountain indeed.
I know less about James Joyce than George Orwell, so we'll write that on the stamp hinge, not even the back of the postage stamp, but the existence of Bloomsday has always intrigued me.
June 16th customarily the day that Dublin celebrates James Joyce and Ulysses , this the single day in 1904 when the book's action takes place.
Nor have I been to Dublin but there's something appealing about a day that celebrates a book, so with the arrival of Ulysses and Us, The Art of Everday Living by Declan Kiberd and published by Faber, I settled down to see if I could find an ounce of demystification that might signify a possible assault on the summit.
Might this be the oxygen to get me there?
Is it possible for an ordinary reading person to conquer Ulysses?
Because conquering is what I feel is involved with a book which has achieved a nigh on mythical status of impossibility in my mind, really it's only a book to be studied at university surely?
It's not really meant for me and thee is it , in fact why bother when anyone I know who has studied it has declared it impenetrable, meaningless, and life-sapping?
I've read about various Ulyssesian conquering ruses like reading the chapters in a special order but certainly not the order in which they are published. A sort of head up to base camp and then back down to the foothills, back up to Camp III , back to Camp I style summit approach.
Coupled with an urge to know more before I make my decision is the fact that one of our themes for the Endsleigh Salon next year is The Book I Must Read Before I Die (September 2010, I've got time...at least I hope I have, DV etc)
I was heartened to hear from Declan Kiberd that his father loved Ulysses but would just gloss over the parts that 'baffled or bored him', that feels like permission to skim if necessary, which is nice to know.
Having prevailed on his father to attend a Trinity College symposium on Joyce back in 1982, all was going well in that Declan had managed to get his reluctant Dublin-residing father in the door, only to overhear other delegates discussing whether to book in for the session on "The Consciousness of Stephen" at which Declan Senior was very quickly back out of the door.
Declan Junior goes on the debate quite how Ulysses was 'wrenched out of the hands of the common reader' and I immediately felt like one of those common reader kindred spirits,
'A book which set out to celebrate the common man and woman endured the sad fate of never being read by most of them.'
Well that's true, this one's been too scared to even open it.
But, as Declan Kiberd proceeded to explain quite how common culture replaced by specialist elites led to a particular vein of thought, I began to feel that rising sense of indignation,
'No longer was the prevailing idea that anyone bright enough could read and understand Hamlet or Ulysses, but that anyone sufficiently clever could aspire to become one of the paid specialists who did such things.'
By now I'm feeling in that 'how very dare they' mood that descended the day I first read John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses and so by the time Declan declared,
'It is time to reconnect Ulysses to the everyday lives of real people.'
I was shouting loud from the balcony that I don't have, to the hordes that weren't gathered beneath,
'Yes, Declan, yes, let us go forth and do this great thing.'
I calmed down a bit but I've almost convinced myself it's a go-er because Declan says
'The need now is for readers who will challenge the bloodless, technocratic explication of texts: amateur readers who will come up with what may appear to be naive, even innocent interpretations. Today's students have been prevented by a knowing sophisticated criticism from seeking such wisdom in modern literature.'
Well I think roped up and with Declan leading the climb I can smell success of sorts, I can do 'naive and innocent' along with the best of them and I'm tempted by the privileging of Ulysses as 'wisdom literature' over Joyce as the 'supreme technician. Ulysses and Me is divided into themes, Waking, Learning, Praying, Drinking, Birthing, Ogling and more, so no chapter by chapter slog of analytical dissection to endure.
First of course I've got to lay hands on a copy and I'm going to have to make do with this tatty old edition I found for £1 in the market, do you think it will do?
Declan does say he's used the Penguin edition for quotes but I'll just have to manage with this...it's nothing special, I can underline and write in the margins no problem.