More Reasons for Everyone to Read Ulysses

I was able to snag a copy of Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us, and was delighted by the opening.

from Ulysses and Us
Declan Kiberd

When a painter visited James Joyce in his Parisian apartment, the famous author pointed out of the window to the son of the concierge playing on the steps. 'One day,' he said, 'that boy will be a reader of Ulysses.' Already the book had a reputation for obscurity as well as obscenity, but Joyce remained confident that it would reach and move many ordinary readers. On its publication in 1922, he gave a copy as a present to François Quinton, his favourite waiter at Fouquet's. In those years, he preferred not to discuss literature with experts or writers, but 'loved to carry on a dialogue babout Dickens with some unknown attendant at the post-office window or to discuss the meaning structure of Verdi's La Forza del Destino with the person at the box office'. Sylvia Beach, whose bookshop published Joyce's masterpiece when nobody else would, noted how he treated everyone as an equal, whether they were writers, children, waiters, princesses or charladies. He confided in her that everybody interested him and that he had never met a bore.

We're often offered the picture of Joyce as fearsome, forbidding, arrogant, and aloof modernist. However, reading Ulysses, I find that image hard to support.  Moreover, Mr. Kiberd's book makes the point that Joyce has been made to be forbidding by much of the scholarly apparatus that has been assembled around his work.  He is, in some way, a rite of initiation into the world of "true" scholarship in literature.  I'm sure this would have pleased Joyce in its own way; however, I am certain that like most authors his deepest desire was to have as wide a readership as possible.  And he created a world for each of us to experience that allows each of us to carry back into our own a new way of looking at what goes on around us.  Mr. Kiberd makes a case that Ulysses belongs to the realm of "wisdom literature." While I would enthusiastically agree, that may be more because of how fond I am of the book and how much it has enriched my own life and reading rather than the force of Mr. Kiberd's argument.


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