Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Ulysses Unbound

On this day 100 years ago, Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew, wandered around town and met up with an intellectual kid named Stephen Daedalus. His wife Molly pined for him at home. Not much else happens.

Ranked by most literary experts alongside Proust's equally masterful In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past as the greatest novel of the Twentieth Century, Ulysses is one of those books that has attained the reputation as one of those handful of novels anyone aspiring to cultural literacy ought to read. Like Brussel sprouts, it's good for you, and that's one reason to read it. But many people are scared off by the novel's daunting length and difficult reputation. Too bad. While it's not Grisham, Ulysses is endlessly inventive and funny. But beyond all its modernist brilliance, what stayed with me is Joyce's attention to the dreams and urges and doubts of Leopold Bloom, an ordinary Irishman, who, by force of Joyce's unsurpassed genius, becomes larger than life.

That, and all that jazz about Joyce's revolutionary use of modernist elements: the epic of the ordinary, the profuse allusions to the Western canon, the Homeric structure, the stream of consciousness, blah blah blah. You can read all about it in TNR's helpful reposting of the great Edmund Wilson's contemporaneous review of Joyce's magnum opus.

The publicity generated by this 100 year anniversary is pretty cool; it reminded me of just how amazing this novel was. Check the book out, if you haven't already.