Potential employers have asked me in job interviews about my ethnicity and whether my English language skills are good enough for a communications professional. That is rude (and somewhat illegal). I suppose from now onwards I will ask them to discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses with me if they doubt my ability to understand English.
I spent a few months this spring remotely wandering the streets of the early 20th-century Dublin and the seas of ancient Greek when I was reading the Ulysses and listening to a podcast about Odyssey. I haven’t had time to read any scholarly articles yet so these are all my own random thoughts.
Because Ulysses is written to mirror Homer’s Odyssey, I recalled the story of Odysseus by listening to Let’s Talk About Myth’s Baby’s podcast version of the story before reading the novel. Myths Baby is a brilliant podcast that covers all sorts of Greek myths from a very feminist point of view. Great fun to learn about myths and ancient cultures.
Now, I don’t necessarily recommend anyone to read Ulysses. It is hard work, the story is highly allusive, and not nearly as adventurous as the Odyssey. I put the novel aside a few times to read other books, but I always picked it up again.
Having studied linguistics and writing techniques, to me the novel looks like a writing exercise book. Each chapter is written using a different literary style that would usually be used only to highlight certain parts of the story. Many of the styles are way too heavy to be enjoyable but they are interesting, and Joyce is brilliant with words.
When I finally reached the last chapter thinking that I was almost done, I cried aloud: the last 100 pages or so are written as a train of thought monologue without any punctuation marks. Had that last chapter not introduced a new female voice, I would have abandoned the book. But I didn’t. I must admire the way Joyce managed to make me want to keep reading despite the messy word porridge.
I see the book as an experiment. The novel is attempting to narrate the day of a life of Bloom and his fellows in a way that represents the world around us and thoughts inside our heads. Neither are neat or logical which is why Joyce abandons a simple, understandable narration in order to convey the bizarre normality of our lives.
However, I must say that my everyday life is not quite as colourful and difficult to understand as the life of Bloom. And, I don’t think I visited as many pubs during my weekend in Dublin as Bloom does within one day. But then again, compared to the unlucky hero Odysseus who battles cyclopes, sirens and sea monsters, Bloom seems like a normal chap.
The main, simplified message I picked from the Ulysses is that every man is lost at the sea of Life and struggling to combat their own everyday monsters and challenges.