Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My (old - 2013) review of Ulysses

Not sure there is any point in me writing yet another review of this - what will I add to the sum of human knowledge? But worth remarking that it was not as difficult as I expected, and I really enjoyed reading it most of the time. There was one rather dull section just before Nighttown, which I sort of skimmed. But the rest is brilliant. I was unprepared for how funny it is, or how modern the dirty bits seem - JJ was doing S+M before 'Fifty Shades' was ever thought of. In fact, Bloom's imagination touches on quite a few S+M themes, including cuckoldry, forced, crossdressing, transexuality, and whipping. Who knew? Was JJ into this sort of thing personally, and if not why did he write about it? Is it part of making Bloom some sort of universal victim character? Note that he also kisses his wife's ass, and that she fantasizes about him doing this in a more substantive way.

Also struck by how substantial JJ's knowledge of things Jewish is. Bloom is not just some sort of universal Jew, but a real living breathing Ashkenazi Hungarian with the bits of Jewish folk-culture and Zionism scattered about his head. At one point he sings the opening verse to the Hatikvah - not then the Israeli national anthem, obviously but a Zionist hymn. How did Joyce know about all this? Did he have Jewish friends? How representative is Bloom's luftmensch profession of what Dublin Jews did?

It's worth reading for the Nighttown section alone, which could almost be published as a stand-alone book or performed as a play (though staging would be a challenge).

Very pleased I read, sorry it took me so long to get round to this (nearly 40 years since I studied Joyce at A level) though I don't think I would have got it properly earlier. Some of the poignancy of Bloom's situation can't be understood without the experience of disappointment that goes with male middle age.

The final section Molly Bloom's soliloquy is brilliant though it takes a bit of patience to read pages and pages without punctuation I think it would be better to listen to than read maybe it should be done on the radio...

1 comment:

Ralph Levinson said...

I agree. It's wonderful. What's more I found myself thinking in the language and imagery of Ulysees long after I'd read it. He understands Jews like no other writer -Jewish or non-Jewish - and the SM bits are not because Joyce was into SM (who knows maybe he was) but he knew the male mind inside out. My favourite bit is the journey to the funeral with all the faux pas and the cogitations about what will happen in graveyards when the dead rise up. The greatest book of modernity.