I'm participating in the "Jousting for Joyce" insanity that is being hosted over at Fizzy Thoughts. For those of you who have no idea what we're doing, a small group of us (I think 12 signed up) are reading Joyce's Ulysses.
Hands down, this is the hardest thing I have ever read. I alternate thinking, "Man, Joyce must have been a genius to make so many connections to all of these pieces of history and literature," and thinking, "What the hell was Joyce smoking?"
I have found myself reading and rereading the first three chapters that make up this first post. Since Ulysses is modeled after Homer's Odyssey, which I love, I am picking up on a lot of the allusions to Homer. The first three chapters are called the "Telemachus" chapters, modeled after Odysseus' son in the Odyssey.
Stephen Dedalus is the main character that we meet in Chapter 1. He is surrounded by people who use and abuse him (or at least that is what I pulled from the chapter). This is definitely a lot like Telemachus, who is surrounded by his mother's suitors (lazy jerks). Dedalus is surrounded by the cocky Buck Mulligan, who is simply a huge bully.
Chapter two follows Dedalus to his job working at a school. He teaches his pupils and then goes to his boss to collect his paycheck. Supposedly this chapter is full of great references and lines, but I struggled just to follow along. The two of them, Dedalus and his boss, sit and chat about Ireland, and of course, the evil Jews.
Chapter three was by far the most difficult thing to read. Stephen wanders around and starts philosophizing about his life and what's going on. This is all in stream of consciousness. I think I'm pretty good at figuring out that style of writing, but comparing the way Woolf and Faulkner use this to Joyce...it is completely different. Joyce takes it to this far level. Besides that, he is filling it all with these allusions to other pieces...I found myself backtracking and rereading it. I got lost, looked things up on Google, reading summaries of the chapter online, and did a ton of research. And even when I read it again this afternoon for the fifth time, I still didn't get all of it.
I suppose what I am saying is that I no longer wonder why this novel is considered so difficult, and why people can spend months and years reading it trying to understand it.
I also understand why they make those annotated versions, so that people like me can have something to refer to for help with all of those references. I am definitely going to get one of those before I go any farther.
But I am enjoying this. And seeing how far Joyce is going to push me before I completely crack. I'll see you back in two more weeks for the next 6 chapters.