in the shadow of Bloomsday

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I should have written about this Paris Review piece on Joyce yesterday, but I didn't see it in time. In it, Frankie Thomas describes a 2015 Ulysses seminar at City College:

"Are we all Joyceans here, then?" the young professor asked, poking his head into the classroom doorway. [..] "Why read Ulysses?" he began. "Well, not a lot of people have read it, even among those who study literature for a living. It's quite long and extremely difficult. To have read Ulysses imparts a certain cachet. It will open doors for you."

"Our professor had not been kidding about the length and the difficulty," writes Thomas: took hours to read a single episode, and we had to read an entire episode in advance of every class, which essentially meant that we were reading Ulysses every moment of our lives that we weren't in class discussing it. We couldn't skim it or CliffsNotes it because our professor opened each class with a fiendishly tricky little quiz that you could pass only if you'd done your own close reading. What does Bloom read on the toilet? (A newspaper called Titbits, and he wipes his ass with it too.) What does Bloom order for lunch? (A gorgonzola-and-mustard sandwich and a glass of burgundy because he wants something vegetarian and the culinary landscape of Dublin in 1904 is bleak beyond belief.) What does Bloom do during the final lines of "Sirens"? (He farts.) Never knowing what would appear on the next quiz, we studied the text with a maniacal attention to crammable detail: Number 7 Eccles Street. Storm petrels. Banbury cakes. Garryowen the dog. Bella the whoremistress. Metempsychosis. Pflaap. Sometimes, as a surprise, our professor would divide us into teams and host a game of Ulysses Jeopardy, with a Toblerone bar as the prize for the winning team, and we all hurled ourselves over our desks screaming, "Where is Dlugacz! Who is Mina Purefoy! What is a sexologist!" in mad pursuit of chocolate and professorial approval.

It all seems to have been worthwhile:

Every evening, after class, I speed walked downhill toward the 137th Street 1 train, wired and vibrating with a distinct kind of joy that I'd never felt before and have never felt since. It was the joy of knowing--knowing with bone-deep certainty--that everything I'd ever heard about college was a lie, that the Ivy League was a scam, that nothing at Harvard could ever hold a candle to what was happening here in the Ulysses seminar at the crumbling City College of New York.

On the final day of class, our professor took us out to a local pizza restaurant and awarded each of us a Ulysses completion certificate. "Congratulations!" it read. "You have hereby completed a thorough and noteworthy reading of Ulysses by James Joyce. This certificate entitles you to bragging rights as well as the ability to lead discussions, stimulating or otherwise, on this great novel." We hugged; some of us cried. And then, just like that, it was all over. We had read Ulysses. For the rest of our lives, we would be people who had read Ulysses.

He concludes with the observation that "every year on Bloomsday, we remember with pride that we're all Joyceans here." Thomas has a paper forthcoming from the James Joyce Quarterly--a publication that I now feel I must investigate, despite not being a Joycean myself.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on June 17, 2018 1:51 PM.

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