all or nothing (ulysses part two)

Following up on my last post, I found this very interesting video: “Great Big Book Club – James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.”

The presentation, by Joyce scholar Coílín Owens, is very good, but one of the questions particularly caught my attention. One of the members of the book club asks, very approximately, “Doesn’t the complexity of the words and the wordplay and the references and so on come in between the reader and a powerful human story, particularly in the second half of the book?” and Professor Owens’ answer (again, very approximately) is that a lot of people feel that way, and some think that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is actually a superior work, and (this is the key part) a lot of the academics who defend the book are making a living in the Joyce industry — teaching Joyce or writing about Joyce or both — and therefore their judgement might be questionable on that basis, which was nice to hear, particularly because Professor Owens himself taught Joyce for many years, and, after his retirement, wrote two books about him.

(Full disclosure, my favorite thing Joyce ever wrote, that I’ve read, is The Dead, the last story in the Dubliners collection, which is one of my favorite things ever written by anybody.)

As I say, I’m up and down on Ulysses, although there are some parts which I really like. But that’s not always an “acceptable” stance these days, on anything. For example, I’m very much enjoying the Netflix adaptation of the comic book The Sandman, but some people online appear to be starting from the idea that the comic book series was a masterwork beyond compare. I read the comics when they were coming out, all 75 issues, and some issues were good and some were great, and some were just okay. Which is a pretty good ratio, but it’s nowhere near perfection.

And, as a matter of fact, the movie adaptation of The Dead actually improves on the story in one way, as I talked about here (and, as I say, the original story by Joyce is a masterwork far beyond The Sandman).

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