Some Words About Ulysses

What is up with Ulysses?

What’s the hype? I get the whole “it birthed postmodernism and James Joyce came up with a whole new way of looking at writing and consciousness and what books could be” nonsense, but did anyone actually read it?

I have this theory that no one in the history of ever has actually gotten through Ulysses and legitimately been like, “Ah, yes, postmodernism, this book speaks to so many things about the human condition and the nature of thought.” I think that nobody really gets it and they say all that pretentious bull crap while on the inside going, “I don’t get it. I really don’t get it,” but they don’t want to be the one person who doesn’t get it, so they’re all just nodding and agreeing with each other and pretending they understand it. It’s kind of like that fable where the Emperor has no clothes. Ulysses makes no sense, and not even in a way where you’re like, “This is sort of a big pile of nothing, but it’s fun to read and there are good lines and remarks in it.”

It’s like the meth of books. James Joyce goes so far into his characters’ heads and requires so much of your concentration and thoughts that I think it sends your brain into overdrive or something. One night I read about 40 pages before bed and I didn’t sleep for two days. I’m not even joking. I’d lay there night after night, exhausted, but my brain COULD NOT shut down enough to let me sleep. At first I tried to read to lull myself to sleep, but then I realized that the book was the problem because it made my brain keep going “whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on, what’s happening to me?”

And for all that, the book is about nothing. I’m not easily daunted by scary books. And I don’t usually just flat-out stop reading altogether. Generally, I can finish any book, no matter how hard it is to read or how much I don’t like it. But I started reading Ulysses in May. It’s October. And I am barely halfway through it. And nothing has happened except Stephen Dedalus taught some boys, moped around about his past for awhile, thought about Hamlet, talked about Hamlet, and Leopold Bloom went to the butcher, went to a funeral, went to work, and ate lunch and talked to some guys, all while fretting about his wife. It…I think it’s nonsense. And I think it’s been so oversold and over-hyped in the literary world that I feel nervous even writing about it like this. Maybe it actually is the best, most mind-blowing thing ever written and I’m just not evolved enough to grasp it. Or maybe James Joyce had the best PR person ever and that’s what everybody WANTS us to think about this book.

Either way, maybe I’ll finish it, maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll further chronicle my battle with this book, because in the end one of us has to go. Plus, I read some of James Joyce’s love letters awhile back and I’m scarred for life. I might need to talk about that.

Either way, Ulysses is just gonna stay sitting nice and out of my sight for a good, long time.

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