Saturday, 25 August 2012

Back to the Drawing Board

The novel Ulysses, written by James Joyce, was set during a single day (16th June) in 1904 and is without a doubt one of the most feared and also revered books in the English literature. Surely I, a teacher of English, should have swallowed and digested this masterpiece a long time ago. Alas, this is not the case. My thirty one years have not seen me leaf further than the second chapter, at which point my attention span fatally wavered. No matter, I am focused to get though it in my lifetime. This, I fear, will be some time off as current work commitments leave me at the end of the day with a mind as fresh as a drunk's at dawn. Not ideal for picking apart a Joycean allusion. Thus, as things stand, I am still in the starting blocks with Joyce’s opus.

However, my flirtation with the great master has not all been in vain. In the last year or so I have ploughed my way through Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and I found them most enjoyable. Portrait in particular is a novel which I return to again with regularity, and the reason for this is simple: the sentences are wonderful. Like this little beauty where Stephen “surrenders” himself to a prostitute.

It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour. (2.5.17)

In this quote, the young Stephen, modelled on Joyce as a boy, is so overcome with desire that he gives into his lurid desires and gets lost in a moment of blissful sin. For a boy so young to be at peace taking part in a sexually explicit experience makes the whole things feel very creepy indeed.

I really don’t feel like I have the vocabulary or the knowhow to make any sort of intelligent comment on Joyce’s work; therefore, I will leave it to the experts. All the same, it is nice to have a type at the end of a busy day.

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