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Ulysses ()


New York Public Library's Books of the Century

    In spite of its very numerous qualities--it is, among other things, a kind of technical handbook, in
    which the young novelist can study all the possible and many of the quite impossible ways of telling
    a story--'Ulysses' is one of the dullest books ever written, and one of the least significant. This is
    due to the total absence from the book of any sort of conflict.
           -Aldous Huxley

    OK, I never read Ulysses from beginning to end, but then again, neither, I believe, has anybody
    else, including most of the writers and scholars who declared it the greatest English-language book
    of the century in that Modern Library list last year. I have read the first one hundred pages at least
    three times, and then, longing for a story, I never got further.
        -Richard Bernstein, book critic, The New York Times

I will say it once and for all, straight out: it all went wrong with James Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is less a bildungsroman than the chapter-by-chapter unraveling of a talent that, if "The Dead" is any indication, could have been formidable, while Ulysses is nothing more than a hoax upon literature, a joint shenanigan of the writer and the critical establishment predicated on two admirable, even beautiful fallacies that were hopelessly contingent upon the historical circumstances that produced them: William James's late Victorian metaphor of the stream of consciousness, which seems at this point closer to phrenology than modern notions of psychology and neurology; and T.S. Eliot's early modern fantasy of a textual stockpile of intellectual history that would form an allusive network of bridges to the cultural triumphs of the ages, a Venice without the smell of sewage, or mustard gas. [...]

If you are not a novelist, you cannot imagine what it feels like to write such heresy. Though I normally write in the morning, I am writing this in the middle of the night, like a fugitive; and my hands are shaking as I type. The excision from the canon, or at least the demotion in status, of most of Joyce, half of Faulkner and Nabokov, nearly all of Gaddis, Pynchon, and DeLillo, not to mention the general dumping of their contemporary heirs? The enormity of my presumptuousness cows even me. And then there's that other strain, which I can hardly bear to slog through, the realists and the realists and the realists, too many to name, too many to contemplate, their rational, utilitarian platitudes rolling out endlessly like toilet paper off a spindle. Who am I to say these brutal things? But a piecemeal approach won't do anymore. The problem is too widespread within the insular literary and publishing world merely to pick at its edges: the entire scab must be ripped off.

Learning to like experimental literature was, for most readers, a monumental task, and unlearning it is positively Sisyphean. It's not hard for me to find people who agree with me about certain writers: this person dislikes Moody, that person can't stand Wallace, another just doesn't get Whitehead. But dissing them all? And the people who produced them? Eyes glaze over; tongues get tangled. Yet almost anyone will admit that literature is an inherited form, that each new generation learns from its predecessors. If we can accept that we build on our predecessors' strengths, then why can't we accept that we might build on their mistakes as well?
    Hatchet Jobs: A CRITIC'S LIFE IN A WORLD OF STEPFORD NOVELS. (Dale Peck, 11.26.03, New Republic)

Okay, before we start, I know you've never read Ulysses--sure you've dabbled or read the first 100 pages, but no one's ever actually read it--so pay a quick visit to Ulysses for Dummies and then we'll continue.  There, wasn't that easier than muling your way through the entire crappy book?

I knew I wouldn't be able to read this beast--I've tried & failed three or four times--but I figured I'd read some criticism about it.  Well, the critics have such overblown & grandiose interpretations of the book's meaning & Joyce's importance that they were alternately making me laugh or become violent.

But last night I had an epiphany.  It occurred to me that Ulysses is the greatest hoax of the century, ranking with Conan Doyle's Piltdown Man.  Surely, Joyce must have realized that Ulysses was the inevitable & fitting conclusion to the Romantic Age.  Art, cut loose from the mooring of God,  had steadily drifted away from the universal & towards the personal.  Ulysses is the culmination of this trend--a novel that could only be read, understood or enjoyed by its author.  Spare yourself.

GRADE: Hard to give a low enough grade to the single most destructive piece of Literature ever written, try (F x Googolplex)

[N.B.--see the review of The Death of a Joyce Scholar: A Peter McGarr Mystery (1989)(Bartholomew Gill 1943-) for an excellent analysis of both Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.]

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
   Encyclopaedia Britannica:  Your search: "james joyce"
   -Work in Progress: The Writings of James Joyce (Temple University)
   -International James Joyce Foundation
   -James Joyce Resource Center (primary reference source for anyone interested in Joyce studies)
   -In Bloom: A James Joyce Homepage
   -James Joyce (1882-1941)(Kobe University)
   -The Brazen Head: A James Joyce Public House
   -OVERVIEW: James Joyce 1882-1941 (Brown University)
   -IQ Infinity: The Unknown James Joyce
    -The Writings of James Joyce
    -James Joyce Web Page
    -World Wide Dubliners
    -Literary Research Guide: James Joyce (1882 - 1941)
    -Wallace Gray's Notes for James Joyce's "The Dead"
   -PROFILE: Top 100 People of the Century: James Joyce (Paul Gray, Time)
   -ANNOTATED ETEXT: Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
   -ARTICLE: The Fate of Joyce Family Letters Causes Angry Literary Debate (CARYN JAMES, NY Times)
   -ARTICLE: NEW EDITION FIXES 5,000 ERRORS IN 'ULYSSES'  (EDWIN McDOWELL, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Dublin Journal; 90 Years Ago, Leopold Bloom Took a Walk . . .  (JAMES F. CLARITY, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: MIAMI J'YCE: LOVE WALKS RIGHT OUT OF A 'ULYSSES' SYMPOSIUM (Brenda Maddox. NY times)
    -ESSAY: JOYCE, NORA AND THE WORD KNOWN TO ALL MEN  (Brenda Maddox. NY Times)
    -ESSAY:   COULD NORA COOK? PORTRAIT OF THE WIFE OF THE ARTIST   (Brenda Maddox. NY Times)
    -ESSAY:  Richard Ellmann: The Politics of Joyce
    -ESSAY: LITERARY FOOTNOTE; ELLMANN REJOYCING (Richard Ellmann, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Fine Madness  (Dr. Joseph Collins, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce's comic messiah  (Robert Alter, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY:  James Joyce's Zurich  (PAUL HOFMANN, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Whose Life Is This, Anyway?  (James Atlas, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Not-So-Lit'rary Bloomsday (FRANCIS X. CLINES, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Virtually A-Wake (Robert Sullivan, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce by H.G. Wells The inventor of science fiction defends the  experimentation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (1917, New Republic)
    -ARTICLE: Terence Killeen traces the history of a manuscript which offers nothing less than a glimpse of Joyce's incredible creativity in progress (Irish Times)
    -REVIEWS: New York Review of Books Archive
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - in lieu of review (The Guardian, May 12 1939)
   
-REVIEW : Review of the new edition of Ulysses, by James Joyce, with an introduction by Richard Ellmann (Anthony Burgess, June 19, 1986,  The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: John Banville: The Motherless Child, NY Review of Books
        James Joyce by Edna O'Brien
    -REVIEW: of JAMES JOYCE By Edna O'Brien (Robert Sullivan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of   `Reading Alcoholisms: Theorizing Character and Narrative in Selected Novels of Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf,' by Jane Lilienfeld. (Shelley Cox, Library Journal)
    -REVIEW: Richard Ellmann: The Big Word in 'Ulysses', NY Review of Books
        Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition by James Joyce
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Yes, NY Review of Books
        Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom by Brenda Maddox
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Scrabbling in the 'Wake', NY Review of Books
        Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of Finnegans Wake by Vincent John Cheng
    -REVIEW: Michael Wood: Joyce's Influenza, NY Review of Books
        James Joyce in Padua edited by Louis Berrone
        Afterjoyce: Studies in Fiction After Ulysses by Robert Martin Adams
        "In the wake of the Wake" edited by Elliott Anderson and David Hayman
        The Consciousness of Joyce by Richard Ellmann
    -REVIEW: Stuart Hampshire: Joyce and Vico: The Middle Way, NY Review of Books
        BOOKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY
        The Exile of James Joyce by Hélène Cixous and translated by Sally A.J. Purcell
        Ulysses on the Liffey by Richard Ellmann
        Closing Time by Norman O. Brown
    -REVIEW: Matthew Hodgart: Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Adulterer, NY Review of Books
        Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce and with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Ellmann

FILM:
    -REVIEW: Denis Donoghue: Huston's Joyce, NY Review of Books
        The Dead a film directed by John Huston and based on the story by James Joyce
    -REVIEW:  Richard Ellmann: Bloomovie, NY Review of Books
        Ulysses produced by Walter Reade and directed by Joseph Strick

GENERAL:
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Mulligan Stew, NY Review of Books
        A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers by Hugh Kenner

Comments:

I suppose your review could let alot of people off the hook, but I worry about your credibility not only since you didn't finish the book, but that you have apparently found fault with Crime and Punishment. I intend to check into that. Crime and Punishment is in my "top ten". Anna Karenina is not. RE the shallow water analogy, in my opinion, Anna Karenina is knee deep at best.

- JA

- May-28-2006, 03:00

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>> Ulysses an unreadable mess. Plain and simple. The guy had no talent. None of the legit publishers would even touch this book

No legit label would sign The Beatles - you're point being?

- Jupiter Moon

- Apr-25-2006, 09:09

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I don't think this is the best review on this site - you've just got to finish a book before you give it a grade! (esp. to a negative googleplex)

I read it (the whole thing, no skipping) in school last term: it was the hardest book I've had to study school, but there is a good book under and within all the impenatrable technique. Bloom, Molly, and Stephen are some of the most realistic characters in literature, and are at the same time, somehow, significant and symbolic. The style can be interesting and provocative.

I would definitely say it is a good book, but I'm not sure it's a great book - such a hard book to get a hold of! Joyce was such a contrarian that any statement you could make about Ulysses, even it being great or not, seems both true and false either way.

I would suggest anyone reading it get a copy of "The Bloomsday Book" by Harry Blamires - started using it halfway through, and it really helps.

That said, it will be quite some time before I'd even consider trying Finnegan's Wake.

- Dan

- Apr-16-2006, 00:32

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'mystical' 'contempinatity'??? GRD, whoever you are, I suggest that you may be calling the kettle black when it comes to reading something properly, I guess to be fair maybe thats a typo on your part. I've read it and lots more besides, and studied it. Lots of people hate it, serious literary critics [a status which I don't think anyone here would claim for themselves]amongst them. Orrin's just being honest, there's nothing to suggest that after reading the whole thing everything you hate about it will be magically transformed. Nor will this occur if you read literary criticism in support of it. I think it's very clever, and an important experiment-but not all experiments work.Doesn't mean I wish it out of existence, it's just not my bag. Aspiring writers perhaps ought to consider making the effort, because Aldous Huxley was right, there are a wealth of experimental ideas in there. Just not an appealing work for me. Incidentally, I read Dickens and Shakespeare as a child,GRD, and never once felt like aiming either of them at anyone!!

- redbella

- Jan-07-2006, 17:14

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you are even more off base here than with Crime and Punishment! to write these reviews on authors such as Dostoevsky and Joyce and to slander them, first, you should probably acquire a fuller education and understanding.

What you print here, simply makes you sound ridiculous. How can you, having read these works, possibly dispute their quality?

- frank

- Dec-14-2005, 04:37

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"in other words, you ought to wade in shallower literary waters (ie, the oprah book club..."

Anna Karenina is shallow literary waters?

Ulysses would have made an excellent short story, but his choice to make it a 700+ page book really kills it. It's the same thing that's wrong with Catch-22 -- a good theme that gets tortured, raped, beaten, burned, and stomped far past its time of death. There's nothing worse than a book that can't fill its own pages. This and Catch-22, as I said, might make some of the best short stories ever written, but drag it out too far and you murder it. I won't even get into Finnegans Wake here...

- Michael

- Sep-23-2005, 10:09

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"well, without mr. joyce and mr. picasso, you hilariously ignorant f[reak]face, the world would have a gaping hole." - jake (Mar-17-2004, 08:30)

They gave the world something which is well illustrated in your own pathetic profanity laced inane tirade, loud brazen base works which brought no new beauty into the world, no insight into the human condition, just petty destruction. I see no gaping hole when I, or others, fail to pander to the nihilism and insignificant works of truly inconsequential men, and the frantic efforts of their supporters to maintain their apparent relevance. One must be TAUGHT to find beauty and sophistication where none exists, I think a persons self-respect should demand something better...

-

- Oct-15-2004, 01:04

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orrin, get off it man. you've got absolutely no ground to stand on here. you haven't finished the book. you're reviews reflect nothing more than a superficial understanding of any given work of outstanding literary merit.

in other words, you ought to wade in shallower literary waters (ie, the oprah book club) and revel in your ability to comprehend what you read. leave joyce for those who take interest in him and have a basic understanding of how to read his books, rather than trying to indoctrinate the masses into ignorance.

-

- Jun-01-2004, 05:46

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Jay:

If only he'd left it unexpressed...

- oj

- May-13-2004, 23:08

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Ulysses is an amazing journey capturing in full detail the day to day working's of the human mind. Joyce's description of two unique realities, living, falling,err, recreacting life out of life parallel to each other, in the course of one day, shows an amazing use of literature. So much of man is contained in this book. It endeavours to express the unexpressable

- Jay

- May-13-2004, 22:54

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wow how i got to this site i don't know, but it's funny as [he]ck.

catagorical dissmissal of all modern art. hmm. well, without mr. joyce and mr. picasso, you hilariously ignorant f[reak]face, the world would have a gaping hole.

read the f[rea]king book and stop calling people liars.

- jake

- Mar-17-2004, 08:30

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Ulysses an unreadable mess. Plain and simple. The guy had no talent. None of the legit publishers would even touch this book, so Sylvia, the woman who owned Shakespeare and Co. (a Paris bookstore) at the time (with Joyce's help) got the book printed. And the so-called favorable reviews? Put out by friends like Hemingway to help out, etc., as Joyce's sight was slowly, but surely deteriorating.

Bottom line: The book doesn't work. I can get more from leafing through the Yellow Pages--at least there you get the ocassional ad, etc.

- K.A.

- Feb-13-2004, 08:04

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just because you're paranoid, orrin...doesn't mean they're not after you...

in fact, here they come now...look! across the hills! the queers, the commies, the jews, the blacks, the atheists, the arabs and the french intellectuals!

Quick, run orrin run!

BURN THE BOOKS! BURN THE BOOKS!

- queer commie with a gun

- Oct-08-2003, 11:24

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After glancing at a couple of your reviews it occured to me that your opinions are fabricated to stir controversy amongst literary scholars and to get attention. Sadly, it has worked. Your fear of modern art and experimentation is alarming, especially if you seriously think you're a critic. You, and possibly the world, would have been better off had you been born in the 19th century.

- Greg

- Jul-26-2003, 06:26

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to chris k below:

the chapters they mention are just the most difficult for the beginner.

so they advocate skipping these chapters as a good way of getting into the book for the 'slower' reader, such as our dear friend orrin...

- psmith

- Jun-24-2003, 04:15

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It strikes me as odd that advocates of such a "classic" book also advocate skipping chapters of it.

Wouldn't the need to skip chapters qualify as a major flaw?

- Chris Kerstiens

- Jun-19-2003, 23:10

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To the reviewer, It doesn't take much, just a weekend, a full 48 hours, of only eating, sleeping, and reading, and nothing else. Though I'm inclined to agree with you partly on Finnegans Wake, it is not so with Ulysses. If the obtuseness of certain chapters is a turnoff, labor through it. The novel as a whole will reward your effort manifold. --bwg

- bwg

- Jun-02-2003, 15:03

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And I thought your review of Crime and Punishment was a disaster!! Absolutely unbelievable. This is almost as bad as the Joyce critics that declare Ulysses to be "arrogant" just because it happens to be teh best thing ever written. You obviously can't even read the thing. From this point on I will only read your reviews for comic relief.

- arebomb

- May-28-2003, 03:53

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then you are a very silly man and this discource is at an end, old chap

- Brit

- May-23-2003, 04:48

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No, not suggesting, stating.

- oj

- May-22-2003, 14:43

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sorry - but are you suggesting that i, and the other anonymous people below who are defending ulysses, haven't actually read it and are simply pretending they have?

- Brit

- May-22-2003, 04:01

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The grade is based as much on the damage it did to literature--with artsy authors becoming ever more self-referential and eschewing universality--as on its own unreadability. No one actually reads it. No one enjoys it. English majors are required to pretend to have found it profound. The rest of us need not playact.

- oj

- May-21-2003, 12:58

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its not a secret society. anyone can pick up a copy of ulysses (with explanatory notes if they wish) for a tenner, and take from it what they will, and love it or loathe it as they like. like i did. like you did. it's very democratic.

i'm not going to bother arguing with your "conspiracy theory" of the development of art. so james joyce didn't make many concessions to a popular audience...well golly gee! anyone who decides to have a bash at reading ulysses knows its not going to read like john grisham - it requires a bit of effort.

if you don't want to make that effort, fine. what i object to is you awarding a "F times googolplex" grade to a book you haven't read, and dismissing as worthless a book that many many people have gained a great deal from.

seriously though: i urge you to have another go at it, but SKIP CHAPTER 3! chapter 3 is very difficult, and the one most first-time readers will give up on. you can always go back to it later, or read a gloss of it somewhere. try starting with the Bloom stuff in chapter 4. its actually really quite accessible and frequently hilarious from then on, until a couple of the later chapters which are pretty hard, but by then you will be in the swing of it.

- Brit

- May-21-2003, 10:49

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Brit:

There you go; that's the point of modern art: if you're willing to devote yourself to comprehending whatever nonsense the artist produces, you're ushered into an exclusive cult of secret knowledge. That was the logical reaction of artists to the fact that the sciences had veered off into specialties that are inaccessible to any of us who don't study their subjects intensively--quantum physics and the like. So Joyce works for you because he fills your need for belonging to such an exclusive club, and condescending to the ignorant masses. No one begrudges you that. I just suspect most people have better things to do with their time and more significant masters to obey.

- oj

- May-21-2003, 07:44

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its not inedible. you just don't like it. i found it delicious...!

look oj, what you've got to realise is that it's not James Joyce's fault that you haven't got the intellectual capacity to appreciate his work.

- Brit

- May-21-2003, 04:12

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Need one eat an entire pie before declaring it inedible?

- Brit

- May-20-2003, 20:04

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a really lame review this.

what's the point of publishing a "review" of a book you haven't read?

- Brit

- May-20-2003, 05:10

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"Well, the critics have such overblown & grandiose interpretations of the book's meaning & Joyce's importance that they were alternately making me laugh or become violent. But last night I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that Ulysses is the greatest hoax of the century..."

ahahahahahahaahahha....

*wipes tears from eyes*... so lemme get this straight:

1 - orrin finds himself unable to complete a reading of a work that almost every budding english major has read at least once. 2 - orrin decides that he needs to express the frustration he feels at his inability to finish/comprehend ulysses. 3 - a bunch of criticisms (of what quality? we do not know. and neither does orrin!) present themselves as being absurd to orrin, who has not finished the novel. 4 - armed to the teeth with questionable criticisms, orrin launches the rather lame "i just can't understand it; golly gee, it must be a hoax!" campaign.

oh man.. i swear to god, i'll die laughing in my bed before the sun rises tomorrow.

-

- May-14-2003, 04:50

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Actually, I have read Ulysses and I'm just an ordinary joe from England. It really isn't that hard apart from the third chapter (Proteus) and the 14th (Oxen of the Sun) - the latter being admittedly virtually unreadable without extensive reference to explanatory notes.

The rest of it is great though - anyone with a bit of patience and half a brain could enjoy it. It's very funny and never dull. The trick is not to try and force it to read like a normal novel - it isn't a normal novel with a normal story or pace.

I recommend a visit to Dublin, a few pints of Guinness and a decent annotated edition. You'll get the hang of it in no time, squire.

- AGN

- May-13-2003, 09:13

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READ THE BOOK! then maybe you'll have an understanding of the greatness of the work. i admit that i struggled through the first 100 pages of ulysses, and i must of spent 3 months of off and on reading of chapter 3 until i finished it (it's ironically the shortest chapter in the book). it was definitely a tough book, especially at the beginning, but once you start to gain an understanding of his language and style (though there are a multitude of variations of it throughout the novel), the novel comes to life like no other book i've ever read. let me ask you this, if people only read the first quarter of a work of shakespeare or dickens and nothing more, would anyone be able to gain a grip of the storytelling genius of either man? then why is it okay to judge joyce with such ignorance on the topic? Read the book completely, and then, if you still doubt its greatness, then write a review, i'd like to hear what you hold against it, because there isn't much you can. And I'd also like to add a few quotes in response to those isolated few you listed in the beginning:

All men should unite to five praise to Ulysses. Those who will not may content themselves in a place in the lower intellectual order. -Ezra Pound

Joyce has a most goddamn wonderful book. -Ernest Hemingway

I hold this book to be the most important expression of which the present age has found. It is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape... Joyce has made the novel obsolete by replacing the narrative method with the mystical method. Instead of telling the story from a particular and constant point of view, as 19th century novels have done, Joyce manipulates a continual parallel of contempinatity and antiquity that is between 20th century Dublin and the mythic episodes of Homer’s ancient epic called the Odyssey. In Ulysses, Joyce used ancient myth as a way of controlling, of ordering the panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary society. -TS Eliot

- GRD

- May-05-2003, 08:50

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you've never read ulysses _ONCE_ in its entirety, yet you pronounce damning sentence.

... perhaps there's something i'm missing here. namely, how this supposed review could ever be remotely associated with (much less classified as) literary criticism. come to think of it, this is a problem a lot of your reviews seem to have.

- g.s.

- Mar-17-2003, 00:08

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