Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another old friend

Anne Landsman writes about the pleasures of reading (and not reading) Ulysses.

I'll give you her final paragraph, but please go read the whole thing:
That June, I went to “Bloomsday on Broadway” at Symphony Space to hear actors reading large chunks of the novel all the way past midnight. More than once, I drifted off, overcome by the sheer weight of so many words but when Fionnula Flanagan began Molly’s soliloquy, I was rapt. Like Mike, she seemed to slip inside the text, to lose herself there. When she breathed her final “Yes”, I was crying, aching with Molly’s remembered passion, Bloom’s encounter with the imprint of a male human form in his bed, Stephen’s loss, my nineteen year- old lost self, the divine messiness of the world.

I'm reading two large modernist novels for class this semester—Proust's In Search of Lost Time and Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans—and I've considered whether it might give me the habit and motivation to finally tackle Finnegan's Wake this summer, or maybe Don Quixote.

Landsman's essay, however, argues a point that I've made (far less eloquently) in the past—that while Ulysses is often discussed in terms of its variety of method, depth and breadth of allusion, and heavy literary technique, at heart the book is deeply, deeply down-to-earth. In it, two men, a son estranged from his father, and a father whose son died in infancy, go to work, eat, talk to people, attend a funeral, and finally meet, almost in spite of themselves. And then there's Molly, indescribable, uncontainable Molly, who gets the final and perhaps best word.

While I can only speak for myself, I love Ulysses not because it is a rich field for scholarship (it is that, but not to me), but because it is beautiful. It is a book that should be read, not just talked about.

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