By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Reading Ulysses by James Joyce can be very difficult, even daunting. Many well read readers consider Ulysses the number one novel of all time, because of it’s rich complexity and advanced writing techniques. Joyce intentionally made Ulysses a reading challenge, full of Easter eggs for readers to find and decipher, making it a novel worthy of multiple readings.
I have tried reading Ulysses before, but even after reading Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man three times, I wasn’t ready. One major barrier for me is my poor reading skills. I’ve been conditioned to read fast, always wanting to know what’s going to happen, by the plot driven novels of my youth. Ulysses is more like a great painting that you must study slowly and carefully, and for most of my life I never had the patience.
The range of what I could read took a quantum leap forward in 2002 when I started listening to audio books. Listening makes me read slow, and that changes everything. Also, professional readers showcase writing far better than my own inner voice. It’s like the difference between reading poetry and hearing it read aloud. Quality fiction should be heard. It should sound dramatic and dynamic, even poetical. Bad writing sticks out when read aloud. Once I started listening to Ulysses I could get into it. But still there was much I was missing.
Ulysses is famous for its stream of conscious writing techniques. If you just read it with your eyes, it’s easy to confuse the narrator with inner monologues. And even good audio book narrators don’t always distinguish between the two.
Ulysses is also full of allusions to real world and literary history, using colloquial and idiomatic words and phrases that are long out of fashion. Plus Joyce frequently cites lines of Latin, songs and poems that well educated people knew back then, but most people don’t know about today.
Luckily, I’ve stumbled upon two sites on the internet that are wonderful tools for helping me to read Ulysses in a very efficient manner. The first is The Joyce Project that features an online version of Ulysses. Now most people hate reading online, but I have a major reason to get over that prejudice. The second site that I use is an audio performance of Ulysses at Archive.org. I read online as I listen to this online recording. This recording is very special because they use different actors for different characters, and they use a special effect for when Joyce is having his character speak in their internal voice. This is a tremendous advantage for understanding Ulysses. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hear Joyce read by someone that can pronounce everything correctly, and even offer good accents.
As an extra bonus, The Joyce Project has an annotation mode you can turn on, and certain words and phrases will appear in color that you can click on to read for elaboration. What I do is read and listen to each episode, and then go back and click on all the highlights. Here’s what the plain text looks like, then with the annotations highlighted, and then with the pop-up for the first annotation. Clicking on the image will enlarge it.
But what works really well is to open the The Joyce Project and the Archive.org audio player windows so they overlap, like this:
This allows me start and stop the audio easily as I read, in case I do want to stop my reading to study an annotation.
Finally, there’s a third dimension to using the web for reading and studying Joyce – there’s a goldmine of supplemental material. I’m not pursing the study guides on my first reading except in a very limited way. Ulysses is a black hole for scholarship.
One site that is frequently recommended to me is Frank Delaney’s podcast re:Joyce. Delaney does one podcast a week and is up to #245, but only to episode five in the novel. He estimates it will take him 25 years to finish the project. Delaney is a famous author and broadcaster, and knows Joyce’s Ireland, so his rich voice and literary experience makes him a great guide for traversing the land of Joyce. His enthusiasm enhances the enjoyment of reading Joyce.
I figure the first two tools, the annotated text and the performance narration, are the two best tools I’ve discovered for reading Ulysses for the first time. And the Frank Delaney podcast is a wonderful supplement for those people who want to take their first step into Joyce scholarship.
10 thoughts on “Three Useful Internet Sites for a Dynamic Reading of Ulysses by James Joyce”
This shall be my fifth and hopefully last attempt at “Ulysses”. Thank you!
This is a great idea. I have never been able to do Ulysses either and look forward to trying it again now.
My current brain-stretch book is to re-read Teilhard de Chardin’s “Phenomenon Of Man”. Like other classics (Tolstoi), translated from the french, I find it a challenge. I have a hard copy to study and mark up, but have it on a Kindle, too, because the dictionary is so handy and I frequently learn new uses of familiar words.
“Phenomenon…” is a staggering work of logic and evolution that deals with the linkage of man and the universe. You’d hate it.
I actual think de Chardin is interesting. He had big ideas. I like his idea about the Omega point. I believe we are evolving towards greater consciousness, although I’m not sure if it will be human in the future. As an atheist I don’t believe a powerful being created reality, but I do think reality will eventually create powerful beings.
I’ve always been a reader but I haven’t always challenged myself with my reading choices. Lately I’ve been trying to step out of my comfort zone. I wanted to join your reading group as you read Ulysses but I was already in the middle of something else. Then I came across the book How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. It made me think that maybe my reading skills are not what they should be to tackle something like Ulysses just yet. So I’m in the middle of reading How to Read a Book and it’s really fascinating and encouraging. My goal is to read Ulysses this year and I will definitely check out these sites you suggested for supplemental reading.
I have that book, How to Read a Book. There’s a whole bunch of books out there on reading, especially the great books, the Western Canon, and their history. I find as I get older I can tackle more of them, but it’s a long process. I’ve been exploring the 19th century, but realize there’s lots to read from the 17th and 18th century that set up the 19th century. I wish I had pushed myself when I was young, but all I was capable of reading was science fiction.
“Advanced writing techniques” – meaning very, very difficult to read. I still think that’s funny.
Hey, have fun, Jim. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. Your tastes in fiction certainly don’t have to be mine. But I still find it funny that incredible obscurity in a work of fiction is labeled “advanced writing techniques.”
Did James Joyce really advance literature? Does modern literature owe a debt to him for showing the way? Are there hordes of modern imitators, all trying to be the next James Joyce? Well, maybe there are, I don’t know. Maybe that’s why no one reads literature anymore? Heh, heh.
You should study Ulysses Bill, you might find it more rewarding than you think. There’s a lot of forms of humor and stand-up comedy that we can thank Joyce for – you’d be surprised. I don’t think The Comedy Channel would exist without Joyce and the censorship trials Ulysses went through. He loved vulgar jokes, talking about sex, observational satire, weird wordplay, sticking it to the Church, laughing at politics – some of his scenes are like SNL sketches. He brought reality to modern literature by dealing with sex, bodily functions, and people’s inner thoughts. After Joyce writers learned, “We can say that now!?”
Censorship is a completely different subject, Jim. The publisher of Hustler did a great deal to change things there. Do you read Hustler then for its ‘advanced writing techniques’? 🙂
I wasn’t talking about censorship per se, but the types of humor that Joyce developed. And don’t get hung up on advanced writing techniques as a term. They were advanced for 1922 – since then most writers starting using them. Ulysses still sells 100,000 copies a year in America. And the people in my reading group are finding great delight in Ulysses – and they are all find different things. It’s a very rich book.
Thank you a lot James