‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce


With Ulises We are, perhaps, before the most studied, commented, loved and hated novel of the 20th century. For many the best novel of that century, for others (and not the least) an indecipherable gibberish. If we understand a novel as a text of a certain length that contains a story, characters, settings, dialogues, linked by a logic that articulates them; then it would be wrong to say that Ulises it’s a novel. Or at least say that Ulises it is only a novel. Ulises It is an experiment in a post-war era where art had an avant-garde convulsion on many levels, which redefined and set new limits in literature, plastic arts, cinema, dance, theater, among others.

From my point of view, the only warning (for what it may be worth) that would make the reader who is about to read Ulises, is that he leaves at the door of this universe in which he is about to immerse himself, all his preconceptions as to what a novel is or should be. Also, incidentally, the idea that to enjoy a work of art: be it a novel, a poem or a painting, you have to understand it.

It occurs to me, to illustrate this concept a little, the case of abstract painting. We have already left criticism of pictorial abstraction behind for almost a century, in order to smoothly frequent an artistic expression that has nothing to do with understand but with him to enjoy. It is useless to try to understand an abstract painting. Composition, tonal key, color balance can be analyzed; but that will add next to nothing for your enjoyment. Letting go, enjoying the discoveries of pure language divorced from a particular theme, navigating a world of form and color without compromise with reality, that is the key. It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t have to be. That we don’t like it or that we don’t enjoy it doesn’t mean anything about its intrinsic qualities.

In favor of his detractors and critics, it is worth saying that Joyce’s intention, expressed on more than one occasion, was to go on to immortality with a work that would keep critics busy for centuries with its puzzles (as he called them). ), riddles, puns, allusions, neologisms, and an amazing battery of literary devices that the author used with ease and that are also the reason why his work is so admired. In fact, aware of its complexity but with the intention that his friends could reveal so many hidden riddles, Joyce drew up a kind of secret map that he sent to the Italian writer Carlo Linati, promising not to divulge it. That scheme later transpired in part (with Joyce’s permission) in Stuart Gilbert’s published essay on Ulises. From there come, among other things, the names of the chapters that link the work with the Homeric Odyssey as we know them today by critics, but that are not recorded in the editions of the book.

The novel’s main characters are: Stephen Dedalus, a young Latin teacher; Leopold Bloom, Jewish publicist and Molly Bloom, singer and Leopold’s wife. The temporal space: one and the same day in the life of the three. The setting: Dublin in 1904. The eighteen chapters that make up Ulises is it so divided into three parts according to the 3-12-3 structure, which is more reminiscent of a musical composition than a literary one, due to its symmetry. The three chapters of the first part have their mirror in the third. For example, in the first part there is an interior monologue by Stephen and in the third we find the corresponding one by Molly. In addition, according to the Linati scheme, each chapter corresponds to one of the Odyssey, a time of day, a part of the body (the 18 make up a human body), a color, a literary technique, a meaning and a symbol.

We could add to all this, that many have suggested that before approaching Ulises the hypothetical reader should have read Portrait of a teenage artistJoyce’s first novel, and also the Odysseyin addition to knowing in depth the work of Shakespeare, the history of Ireland, some theology, mythology, philology, rhetoric, chemistry and mathematics.

However, you could skip the previous two paragraphs, completely ignore them with all their information and suggestions, and sit down and read Ulises without even knowing who wrote it, at what time, or with what intention, and still enjoy it. You just have to understand that many facets of this complex work will be a party and others will escape us or leave us indifferent, that will depend on each reader, as happens with any work of art. Joyce was calling Ulises his “monster novel” took him seven years to write and publishing it was little short of a miracle, because no one dared to commit to such a strange text containing many passages that closely resembled the crudest pornography. Joyce committed himself to his experiment, and what happens when an artist takes a language and a path to its ultimate consequences, the public got lost trying to follow it, but that’s inevitable.

Perhaps a less solvent writer in terms of style would not have been able to sustain a novel like Ulises. But if Joyce knew something, it was to write well, beautifully, provoking a finding with each line of text, even if this were one of those exasperating enumerations that proliferate so much in Ulisesbut in which we always find some small jewel shining amidst the bewilderment. Ulises it is a patchwork of styles and resources that Joyce uses without going back a millimeter in her intentions. What are those intentions? The first: to transcend as a writer. The second: push the limits of the novel genre. The third (and not least) play. Play with the reader, with the language, with the characters, their thoughts and feelings. Because Ulises I could fit any adjective, except solemn. Brimming with intelligence, but also with a biting and permanent irony.

In Ulises there is narration, extensive dialogues, monologues, description (in abundance), unusual enumerations, texts in theological style (questions and answers included), short stories (chapter 10), theater dialogues (germ of the theater of the absurd, not in vain Beckett was Joyce’s disciple), jokes, riddles and much, much more. As the icing on the cake, Molly Bloom’s famous, extensive and scandalous interior monologue, with almost no punctuation marks, which ends the book. Let’s expand a bit here. Why has this fragment had so much importance? Joyce was not the first to use this type of monologue, also labeled as “free flow of consciousness”. Virginia Wolf, Proust and other contemporaries used them. However, no author before Joyce took them to such heights.

Why should Molly put semicolons in her thinking? Isn’t our thought more like that incessant and unstructured flow? What about porn? Molly goes into detail about how Bloom kisses her ass, how she would suck off a student she knows, how big her lover is. Why shouldn’t she do it herself? Do we put censorship on our own thinking? Do we keep our cynicism, cruelty, desire? We are alone in our head that uses its own rules that do not concern us. The same Molly, and that makes her closer to a woman of flesh, bone and thought, than to a fictitious character written down on printed paper. This is an example of what Joyce provokes with Ulises. There are many others, almost inexhaustible.

The only safe thing to read Ulises is that no one will remain indifferent. Some will throw it away. Others will put it aside in perplexity. The most will enjoy parts of it and others not so much. The unwise will attempt the unsuccessful journey of understanding it all. We just point out the warning that, after Uliseswhen we sit down to read another novel, perhaps full of the good intentions of a talented writer, we will miss Joyce’s style to lead us by the hand in his bizarre universe, and this new reading will seem, perhaps, a bit bland.

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‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce

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