Who’s afraid of James Joyce? -zenda

Ulisesthe novel written by the Irishman James Joyce (1882-1941), celebrates one hundred years of its publication. The work is part of that large group of books that people, for whatever reasons, tend to quote frequently, but that nobody, or almost nobody, has read. It happens, for example, with the Quixote, from which we know phrases by heart to the point of distorting them and giving them a new meaning, as when we say “we have run into the Church”, when what appears in the text is “given” and not “run into”. It also happens with Prince, by Machiavelli, to which the falcons of Nazi propaganda, such as Joseph Goebbels, paid so much attention, appropriating certain phrases to carry out the compendium of his doctrine. And it also happens, so as not to lengthen the list, with the Rebelion of the mass, by Ortega y Gasset, a work that all politicians should read, who have remained anchored in the “I am me and my circumstances”, which was one of the few bullshit that occurred to the brilliant Spanish philosopher. Not to mention the Divine Comedy of Dante: who has not used the adjective “Dante” on occasion without ever having held the Florentine’s masterful work in their hands? And so, in the same way and manner, a few hundred books.

Ulises It is the story that we all keep in our bedroom in case one day of extreme lucidity and maximum inspiration it occurs to us to approach it and start reading it. Which always ends up not happening. That was, perhaps, the punishment that Joyce imposed on his contemporaries. To the people who, like his own countrymen, despised his work, which forced him – as had already happened to another illustrious Irishman, Oscar Wilde – to wander the world and end up in a grave in a Zurich cemetery, thousands of kilometers from his house, next to Elias Canetti’s. It is known that in one of his letters Joyce confesses, without cutting a hair, that, in reality, the intention of having written such a complex, strange, indecipherable and apocalyptic book was none other than to piss off certain criticswho, in turn, had already screwed Joyce over, to the point of having questioned her literary artistry.

The book did not leave anyone unmoved when it was put into circulation: from the most humble critics, such as Holbrook Jackson, who assured that Ulises was, at the same time, an achievement and an insulteven the prestigious psychologist Carl Jung who, in a personal letter sent to Joyce, asserted that “his Ulises has presented the world with such a painful psychological problem that I have repeatedly been called upon as a supposed authority on psychological matters.

We owe Joyce a lot. More than we could imagine. That is why we should not fear him so much and see him as a friend with whom you have to have some patience and let him explain himself in his own way, even if it is difficult to understand.

In any case, Ulises It is not an improvised novel, written after a tantrum. The pity is that to fully understand its meaning, to perceive all the renewing air and the original aroma that it gives off, it is necessary to read it in its own language and, also, as if that were not enough, to have a fairly thorough knowledge of the various modes of expression of his time. A task that is almost impossible for any reader, who is not specialized in the matter. Joyce, like Stendhal, perhaps unwittingly, wrote his Ulises for an audience that was yet to be born, and that we are probably still waiting for its appearance. It is necessary to know in depth not only the society of his time —something similar happens with the Divine Comedy of Dante, whose footnotes represent a whole gas tank necessary to continue with its pages—, but also certain works of classical Antiquity, such as the Odyssey by Homer, which is the text that serves as a reference in this complicated montage that takes place in a few hours and in a very restricted space.

We owe Joyce a lot. More than we could imagine. That is why we should not fear him so much and see him as a friend with whom you have to have some patience and let him explain himself in his own way, even if it is difficult to understand. Thanks to your Uliseswhich was translated into the Spanish language a little late and popularized, as far as possible, thanks to writers like Borges and Cortázar, who fell in love with the workthe Western narrative took an unexpected turn, a complete overturn, after a century and a half living on income, from what authors such as Flaubert, Dickens, Tolstoy or Galdós had given of themselves so generously. Without him UlisesI fear, Luis Martín Santos would never have written Time of silence, which in a few weeks will be sixty years after its publication. But that is another story, as beautiful or more than that of the Uliseswhich I reserve for a new occasion.

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Who’s afraid of James Joyce? -zenda

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