So, the Great Odyssey (which ??! is forbidding me from calling Blogyssey even though he (?) was the one who planted that idea, meh!) began yesterday.
One of the benefits of working in a university is that I only have to take the elevator down from my office and walk a few steps to be in the library. Then, up a few floors and rows and rows of books are at my service. No ordering and waiting for copy to be arranged.
In fact, when I found the Joyce shelf I realised that I had an array of choices. Different publishers, annotated texts and also first and second version (apparently, there are at least two versions of the book, since the first version was full of printing errors). Armed with five copies, I found a sunny spot by the window to choose my preferred copy.
I had heard that it’s best to get an annotated text, because the various allusions and references are so complicated that otherwise the novel makes no sense. However, unfortunately, I couldn’t find a suitably annotated text and also I didn’t want a copy that’s too heavy to carry and read on my commute to work each day. So, unwilling to sacrifice my make-up case in favour of a fatter Ulysses, I picked the lightest version I could find. Yeah, beauty over erudition but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!
My copy is old – it dates back to the days when my University was a college from the fading stamp on it. The original Appendix pages are missing and someone has photocopied them and tacked them on. There are scribbles in the margins. Someone has also tacked on a photograph of a Magritte painting. Some people like fresh new copies but I love the sense of history that goes with hand-me-downs and yellowed pages. So though my copy is light in weight, it’s rich in history.
The shelves were sagging with critical reading, which the Lit grad in me was just dying to borrow as well, but I decided to start with reading the primary text first. However, I settled on a Bible-sized book of annotations which I will leave at home and refer to now and then.
For those of you joining me in this effort, I’d suggest either getting an annotated copy or looking up the allusions separately. So far I’ve read Chapter 1. It wasn’t as impenetrable as I had expected but now I’ve started reading the annotations, I realised why someone who just attempted reading the book straight through would find it insensible.
Joyce is a bit like the prose version of TS Eliot, I think. If you don’t get the allusions, the whole thing seems like nonsense. If you do, you’re awed. Or at least that’s the case with TS Eliot. Have yet to decide about Joyce.
Why must they show off and use all these allusions, you ask? Why can’t they just say straight off what they mean? Because literature is not (just) about the message, it’s about the medium. It’s communicating in new and startling ways. And that means showing off is allowed. But also, Eliot’s philosophy of literature was that a writer must write with a sense of the “pastness of the past” in the present. So that modern literature reflects the whole history of literature.
And by superimposing an ancient epic on 20th C creation, Joyce is doing something similar. Now, keep that in mind and go read!