Why should you read James Joyce’s “Ulysses”? – Sam Slote


James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is widely considered
to be both a literary masterpiece and one of the hardest works
of literature to read. It inspires such devotion that once a year
on a day called Bloomsday, thousands of people all over the world
dress up like the characters, take to the streets, and read the book aloud. And some even make a pilgrimage
to Dublin just to visit the places so vividly
depicted in Joyce’s opus. So what is it about this famously
difficult novel that inspires so many people? There’s no one simple answer
to that question, but there are a few remarkable things
about the book that keep people coming back. The plot, which transpires over
the course of a single day, is a story of three characters: Stephen Dedalus, reprised from
Joyce’s earlier novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”; Leopold Bloom, a half-Jewish advertising
canvasser for a Dublin newspaper; and Bloom’s wife Molly, who is about
to embark on an affair. Stephen is depressed because
of his mother’s recent death. Meanwhile, Bloom wanders
throughout the city. He goes to a funeral, his work, a pub, and so on, avoiding going home because Molly
is about to begin her affair. Where it really starts
to get interesting, though, is how the story’s told. Each chapter is written
in a different style. 15 is a play, 13 is like a cheesy romance novel, 12 is a story with bizarre,
exaggerated interruptions, 11 uses techniques, like onomatopoeia,
repetitions, and alliteration to imitate music, and 14 reproduces the evolution
of English literary prose style, from its beginnings in Anglo-Saxon
right up to the 20th century. That all culminates in the final chapter which follows Molly’s
stream of consciousness as it spools out in just
eight long paragraphs with almost no punctuation. The range of styles
Joyce uses in “Ulysses” is one of the things
that makes it so difficult, but it also helps make it enjoyable. And it’s one of the reasons that
the book is held up as one of the key texts
of literary modernism, a movement characterized by overturning
traditional modes of writing. Joyce fills his narrative
gymnastic routines with some of the most imaginative
use of language you’ll find anywhere. Take, for instance, “The figure seated on a large boulder
at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested
stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freelyfreckled shaggybearded widemouthed
largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairlegged
ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero.” Here, Joyce exaggerates the description
of a mangy old man in a pub to make him seem like an improbably
gigantesque hero. It’s true that some sections
are impenetrably dense at first glance, but it’s up to the reader
to let their eyes skim over them or break out a shovel and dig in. And once you start excavating the text, you’ll find the book to be an encyclopedic
treasure trove. It’s filled with all manner of references
and allusions from medieval philosophy
to the symbolism of tattoos, and from Dante to Dublin slang. As suggested by the title, some of these
allusions revolve around Homer’s “Odyssey.” Each chapter is named after a character
or episode from the “Odyssey,” but the literary references are often
coy, debatable, sarcastic, or disguised. For example, Homer’s Odysseus,
after an epic 20-year-long journey, returns home to Ithaca
and reunites with his faithful wife. In contrast, Joyce’s Bloom
wanders around Dublin for a day and returns home to his unfaithful wife. It’s a very funny book. It has highbrow intellectual humor, if you have the patience to track down
Joyce’s references, and more lowbrow dirty jokes. Those, and other sexual references,
were too much for some. In the U.S., the book was put on trial,
banned, and censored before it had even been completed because it was originally published
as a serial novel. Readers of “Ulysses” aren’t just led
through a variety of literary styles. They’re also given a rich
and shockingly accurate tour of a specific place at a time: Dublin in 1904. Joyce claimed that if Dublin
were to be destroyed, it could be recreated from the pages
of this book. While such a claim is not exactly true, it does show the great care that Joyce
took in precisely representing details, both large and small, of his home city. No small feat considering he wrote
the entire novel while living outside
of his native Ireland. It’s a testament to Joyce’s genius
that “Ulysses” is a difficult book. Some people find it impenetrable
without a full book of annotations to help them understand what Joyce
is even talking about. But there’s a lot of joy to be found
in reading it, more than just unpacking allusions
and solving puzzles. And if it’s difficult,
or frustrating, or funny, that’s because life is all that, and more. Responding to some criticism
of “Ulysses,” and there was a lot
when it was first published, Joyce said that if “Ulysses”
isn’t worth reading, then life isn’t worth living.

100 thoughts on “Why should you read James Joyce’s “Ulysses”? – Sam Slote

  1. Up to the challenge? You can download an audio version of "Ulysses" (or any audio book) for free at http://adbl.co/2y0J0DT. And you can check out even more book recs from our team at http://bit.ly/2gAYa7F.

  2. James Joyce's Ulysses-one of the most complicated and endless English novel of all times.

  3. In my opinion, this book is love letter to literary pretentiousness and pointlessness, and its "beloved" only by assholes who read it just so they can brag about it.

  4. The ultimate "in" joke for EngLit majors which are of course smarter than the rest of humanity.

  5. planning to..i hope this video is not a spoiler….thanks for the recommendation

  6. I've read a third of it (pronounced "turd"), and wouldn't have enjoyed it at all without the references in the website below. I live in Dublin and can see the city's statues vividly in the Hades chapter. Enjoy!
    http://m.joyceproject.com/

  7. U Sissy's is what I hear when I see the name Ulysses..it just kinda sounds like it

  8. "I KNOW WHAT ITS ALL ABOUT. Usilies, he was a character is Greek mysa… mytha…… Well I'm glad somebody's reading the classics!"

  9. If books can be banned or censored in the US..I wonder why they let something like 50 shades of gray get past or why they even made a movie about it..

  10. So weird, this book was mentioned in a Jeopardy question last night and here it is in my recommended

  11. I've been in the underbelly of internet fan fiction, I can handle a mass pile of words.

  12. It was put on trial in the US and un-banned. According to Wikipedia, the US was the first English-speaking country where the book was freely available.

  13. Sempre tive curiosidade em ler esse livro, mas depois desse vídeo acho que talvez não esteja apta pra esse tipo de leitura hahaha

  14. I have made an infinite nuber of attempt to finish this book, but didn't even manage to begin reading it properly.😁 Sometimes it doesn't even look like English.

  15. Can you please do a video about what else to you need to read/know before reading Ulyses?

  16. "If Ulysses isn't worth reading, then life isn't worth living".
    Yeah i agree;
    life isn't worth living.

  17. I personally find Dostojevski's work at least as brilliant and relevant and meaningful, yet it is totally accessible by anyone who graduated High School. He has no pretentiousness whatsoever.

  18. Still not gonna read it. Pretension for the sake of it. There are too many books in the world to murder myself with this one.

  19. The illustrations ruin it. Also, Bloom is not parading about town because Molly is having an affair. He doesn't know about it.

  20. It's not difficult in the slightest. That is just it's , misguided, reputation. .It is perfectly easy to read and a very funny book. don't listen to people, just pick it up and read it.

  21. People will think you are smart. You can say "Yaahs I am reading Proost next."

  22. The case for reading modernist novels like Joyce's Ulysses, or for that matter post-modernist novels, like Perec's Life a User's Manual (is there a difference?) is weak, at best, as such novels rely on a base-knowledge of literary and other cultural references that are no longer possible to teach in our multicultural societies. Are young people today still taught the works of Homer in high school? One imagines not, never mind the post-colonial debates early 20th century Irish politics. As such, the ability to make sense of the intertextuality of these novels no longer exists. Now, deeply intertextual novels will still be written and read, but they'll make difference references, like Cline's Ready Player One.

  23. I consider myself fairly well read; read both in English and in French. Always have a book or three going…..but I have NEVER finished "Ulysses." I get lost or something. Turned this video off at the beginning, hoping to learn something that will inspire me to get through it. "War and Peace," was a slice of cake, Fualkner, Melville, A. Cohen(in French,) but this book literally(sorry,) escapes me…rr Normandy, Fra.

  24. I started reading Ulysses just so I could say I read Ulysses but after 1100 pages and days of my time I can testify that the experience is a great deal richer than I ever expected.

  25. Got my first GF while listening to this vid. Just because of this this vid deserves a like! :)))

  26. It’s funny but it seems each time I read James Joyce's Ulysses its a different book. Begging the question has the book changed or have I.

  27. yeah read it. its not what it was but hey, look at this, the opening for Proteus :  INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. 
    intrigued ? you should be… carry on !

  28. Now you too can be a pretentious assholes after only 6 minutes of listening!

  29. Eesshh, I know the creator of this video meant well, but I think this might have turned me off reading it. With difficulty should come a greater awareness of the world and universe, but Ulysses, as it is presented here, just seems like a game of Trivial Pursuit for the cultural elite.

  30. the answer is very simple: because it's one of the finest books ever written 🙂

  31. The only reason I made it through Ulysses was that I read it in my first year in China, back in 2005. I would read it in the evenings, after hours and hours of not getting what people around me were saying, and my feeling about it wasn't so much frustrated as "I can understand at least some of these sentences."

  32. I'v started Ulysses 4 times now but just couldn't finish it . I don't know why I always leave it .

  33. If a writer can't make you forget you're reading but instead draws you into his tale, then he's not a writer. He's just wasting your time.

  34. After you’ve finished Ulysses you might be ready to try Finegans Wake which is even more ridiculously hard.

  35. You should read the first few pages at least, just to understand why no one reads it, excepting of course the mentally ill who run our universities.

  36. Dubliners by Joyce is a simple read. Short stories and it includes The Dead a great story which was later turned into a great film starring Eamonn McCann.

  37. ulysses can be likened to the emperor's new clothes. works well for the pseudo intellectual.

  38. I've read Ulysses during a summer I was maybe 20 or 21 years old. It's marvelous at some moments (like Molly's monologue) but also very vulgar at other moments. Joyce does describe the sensation of Bloom when shiting and also his ejaculation during a peeping session. Disturbing!

  39. I tried so many times but the damn thing is next to unreadable.

  40. Video: “it’s up to the reader to get a shovel”
    Me: hits book with shovel

  41. I've read it. I think of it as easy to understand poetry as opposed to difficult to understand prose

  42. The book isn't worth reading if most of the people can't understand it. I hate the glorification of incompetent writers. They're just trying to appear smarter than everyone else. It's pathetic. This book is useless..

  43. 'It is a testament to his genius that it is difficult' – I despise that attitude. Literature is a written art form which is based on someone else reading it. Without the reader, a book is nothing. It is therefore necessarily about communication. And no, that doesn't mean that it has to be 'easy', I respect art and think it should exist in pure form, not just to be accessible to mainstream audiences. But something being difficult is not a testament to genius – that's mysticism, that's saying that it's clever because you don't understand it, so it'll forever keep its place on its pedestal. If you didn't coherently communicate truth so that other's can read it, then your art may not be as successfully expressive as you intended. I am a firm believer that art should speak for its self. If you need a hundred text books and critical analyses to accompany it, then heck, I'll just read Homer in the first place.

  44. I'm afraid that the forced consumption of literature in school turned me off to reading in general. No thanks.

  45. i read classics (19 and 20th century, usually); and i have no interest in reading one that is made up of inside literary jokes. there were certain to be some (even in translation), and i would not deter them. have only read one banned modern classic, that really was ; lolita. one isaac dineson is better than 15 joyces, especially as she makes no attempt to obscure meanings, already complex.

  46. Never read something because someone tells you should. Sincerely, a literature lover

  47. What’s the point of reading it if I can’t even understand the glimpse of it

  48. I watched hoping to be told what I had missed when reading Joyce.

    Sorry to all of the Joyce fans out there, but I find him to be the most tedious, boring writer who takes every opportunity to show the reader how clever he is. I am considered by some to be well read, certainly there are few of the great classic books that I have not read. More importantly there are few of the great classic authors that I have not enjoyed, but Joyce is not on that list.

    Still, it's a good job we are not all alike. The world would be a boring place if we were.

  49. Yes, what an amazing book, the name Ulysses is surprisingly familiar to me, but I don't know why.

  50. I've tried reading the hardback more than a dozen times and only ever gotten to page 17. Joyce was insane, I burned the book and was happy to do so.

  51. It's boring, winded guff lofted to ludicrous heights by cod intellectual posers. Instead learn something, or do something, don't waste your life chasing other peoples mindless communal visions of high culture,

  52. It’s about time I read this book. I keep hearing about what a treasure trove of beauty and wit it is. It’s Stephen Fry’s favourite book in the English language. even though it’s extremely tough to get into, once you do you won’t want to leave. So I hear. “Encyclopaedic Treasure trove” is the perfect description. I want to be taken on a magical tour of the expanse of Joyce’s imagination and genius. I enjoy tough books (like those of Vladimir Nabokov)

  53. I bought this several years ago and still haven’t read it.

    Youtube is telling me something 😂

  54. I have yet to find or hear of any book "banned" in the US. The statement that Ulysses was banned in the US is just complete drivel.

  55. I bought it last year. I'll get to it eventually. I just have so many books that I actually want to read for the story not just as a badge of my reading prowess.

  56. People think Ulysses is the hardest book to read? They're wrong, that honor goes to another of Joyce's books, Finnegan's Wake. Hand down the most difficult piece of literature I have ever feasted my eyes upon.

  57. If Joyce had stuck it in a 'Youtube comment' section more would have read it. Most would have abused him, but some would have read it.

  58. Joyce is dark. But funny. What we now call noir. But don’t start with Ulysses. Start with The Dubliners a book of short stories.
    487 people that don’t want to improve their Minds, much less their vocabularies.

  59. Someone should write a list of what to read before you read 'Ulysses.'

  60. Joyce was absolutely brilliant, but rather self-indulged. I think he wrote "Ulysses" because he was bored.

    He wanted to challenge readers to digest his amazing banquet without getting heartburn.

    Pretty hard to do, really.

  61. Norman Mailer once suggested that you can read a chapter of "Ulysses" and conclude that Joyce was a genius, which he was. Case closed?

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