ideal ulysses, part one 07.31.2007, 3:52 PM
posted by bob stein
ok. i'll admit it. i haven't read Ulysses yet. sadly, there are a lot of important books in that category, but i have a particular excuse for this one. Ulysses is daunting for me. for starters, it's pretty much been at or in contention for the top spot in the canonstakes for as long as i can remember, but more importantly, I'm very sure that if i just go at the text by itself i'll feel helpless, knowing that i'm only grasping a small, and possibly even least interesting, bit of the whole. so i'm waiting for my dream edition, the highlights of which include:
• a beautifully rendered text, perhaps even with help and guidance of a master typographer.
• a low-footprint interface that the reader can dismiss at will, leaving only the text on the page with all buttons etc. hidden from view. since the book will have copious annotations, it's important that the reader can hide and reveal whichever graphic indicators indicate the presence of annotation.
• a complete audio version. ideally this might be a recording done with the best actors specifically for this edition, but it could also be assembled from readings done over the years. in any case key passages should be represented by multiple readings. and of course the text and readings should be tied to each other, allowing you to read and listen at the same time.
• a thorough word and phrase glossary with a snappy and intuitive mechanism for getting to it directly from the text.
• the explanation of references -? literary, linguistical, historical, personal, social, political. ideally each of these categories would be represented in some unique way, so that readers can turn specific layers on or off at will. these annotations will be comprised of text, audio, and/or video.
• close readings of key passages by experts from multiple interesting viewpoints.
• for these last two, i'm sure i want there to be a mechanism for people to question and challenge the original authors and each other. the genius of the wikipedia for me is that by revealing the back and forth of an article as it evolves, it brings us closer to the truth -? or at least improves our understanding of the complexity of the factors underlying the subect at hand. so, we'll need a good way, which i imagine will involve some form of benevolent moderation, of enabling a conversation to emerge in the myriad margins of the work. enabling comments that refer to multiple points in the expanded text is crucial to get beyond the constraints of current commenting schemes which tend to restrict you to paragraph, page or whole.
thoughts -? objections, agreements, additions, subtractions?
Brendan on July 31, 2007 9:45 AM:
The first thing to do is pick which edition you want to use as the main text. Gabler, aka the "mad German version" was popular for some time but has been challenged. An ideal electronic version would have a layer that showed the differences between the editions.
NAXOS offers an unabridged recording on 22 CDs. The recordings are well-regarded, but I'm not sure which edition they read from.
jeff drouin on July 31, 2007 11:05 AM:
Michael Groden had been working on a hypertext edition of Ulysses for several years in cooperation with the Joyce estate before it pulled the plug at the last minute. That edition was supposed to do many of the things you're looking for. The Joyce estate is the source of a huge, contentious discussion among Joyce scholars about copyright, fair use, intellectual property, censorship, etc.
As someone writing a dissertation chapter on Ulysses, I think it's a common misperception that you need to know all the references and trivia in order to understand the book or get a lot out of it. It's fantastically rich on its own terms (and funny!). Looking up all the references (which are incidental) might bog you down and detract too much from the immediate experience, which is more important (I think).
The most helpful thing would probably be to get a copy of the Linati schema, a spreadsheet that Joyce composed which outlines elementary information of chapter: its time of day, technique, Homeric parallel, major symbol, etc. This will help you get a grasp on what's happening and how it mimics the Odyssey (usually to comic effect).
The Linati schema is in the back of Richard Ellmann's famous biography of Joyce, or you can see a decent reproduction here:
You can also use Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses, a chapter-by-chapter summary that fills in much of the info of the Linati schema, explains the Homeric parallels, and offers a little interpretation.
The Gabler edition is actually a really good "ideal text," but if you want a nice interface I'd go with the Modern Library edition (the 1961 Random House text), which is recognizable by its silvery-green dustjacket featuring a photo of Joyce with eyepatch. It has a much nicer font, paper quality, and size. Plus, the differences between this and the Gabler are mostly insignificant (variations in the spellings of words as opposed to passages).
If you want to read up on the allusions and references, Don Gifford and Robert Seidman's Ulysses Annotated is still the authoritative reference.
Perhaps you want a digital edition (there are some clunky ones out there), but at least the print one lacks buttons. I'd be happy to correspond with you if you want to discuss.
dan visel on July 31, 2007 5:24 PM:
Bob, I see what you're getting at with this thought experiment, and I think it's worth thinking through. That said, I might want to question your first assumption, your presenting the problem of it being "daunting". While I don't disagree that it is a real issue, and probably a reason that more people don't read Ulysses, we might want to question how a dream edition could make something less daunting, if that's possible.
You're assuming that by adding more to a text - which is already pretty substantial! - you can make it less daunting. My gut feeling says that adding more to a text might actually make it more daunting. An example: I have a copy of the Criterion Collection's 3-disc edition of Visconti's The Leopard which has been sitting around in my apartment since I think last December waiting to be watched. I like Visconti; I like the Lampedusa novel that it's based on; a friend whose opinion I trust told me how much she liked it. But there's something about the sheer bigness of The Leopard that puts me off watching it - though I've certainly watched a lot of movies since I bought it, and a number have been longer. I think it might be the sheer amount of effort implied by the 3 DVDs: there's a lot of commitment right there. Similarly, I think it's easier to pick up a thin book than it is to pick up a thin book with a hefty critical apparatus attached to it. I won't defend that as a rational response on my part, but I'd add that I only managed to finish Ulysses when I was on a long train ride with nothing else to distract me.
That said, I'm not sure that my response is the only response, and there are plenty of worthwhile ways to enter a text. A group reading, or a led discussion (as in a classroom setting) can decrease how daunting something seems, and an electronic text could facilitate that sort of reading. Layers of annotation are extremely helpful, but they need to be discrete. Right now I'm reading the new Penguin edition of Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (...) which is burdened by 60 pages of endnotes which aren't well cross-referenced; while I started out assiduously following each note, I soon gave up because I kept losing my place in the main narrative while diving through the notes. And more importantly, many of the notes weren't really that important to me; however, there's no way of distinguishing which are worth bothering with. In an electronic setting, different layers of notes could be envisioned: notes you probably need to know if you want to understand something, notes that are interesting but not really necessary, notes that are important to scholars but not to others.
(There's a nice joke in one of the Philip K. Dick novels: the eleven-year-old boy of an unhappy family of the future is reading Finnegans Wake for school. Progress!)
Eddie A. Tejeda on July 31, 2007 6:09 PM:
Ok, Bob, I'll admit it, I have not read Ulysses either, but I would hate to read your version the first time around.
I find reading long texts online difficult not because of the low screen resolution, lack of brightness or even lack of portability, but simply because it's too easy to get lost with the references. Don't get me wrong, I love the adventure of deep-link reading, but the experience is often broad, overwhelming and can easily spill over into being shallow.
I think part of reading a novel is about allowing yourself to be fully immersed in a world - trekking through it as best as you can, maybe even getting lost. But that being part of your adventure.
I had an interesting talk with Dan a few week ago about misunderstanding of books and how it is changing because of the internet. While it might have been difficult to receive interpretations of obscure books (this not being one of them) a few years back (without effort), it did provide for unique interpretations to each reader and could make more varied discussions, while today, a boilerplate understanding is always available, and sadly, will probably come from a source like Wikipedia. But don't take that as a critique of Wikipedia (it is what it is), but of the fear of getting lost.
What I think you are describing seems to be great idea for a second of third reading, where after you have some sort of (mis)understanding, you can read again and go even deeper in the text. But for a first reading... I think you should strive to get lost.
Bruce Fox on July 31, 2007 8:54 PM:
First reading--as an independent study with a Professor, with whom I had read "V" followed by a semester of "Gravity's Rainbow." I suggest just reading it with fresh "eyes." Notes, biography, etc. can elucidate much of what takes place for you later. Unless these references and allusions are hard wired from before "Ulysses," I don't think it will provide the kind of "wham" it was meant to give you. I think that there is more than enough in the original text to give you what Joyce wanted. I've read it numerous times, but not for 20 years, and remember most from my first reading. Perhaps having the "Odyssey" fresh in your mind could help. Have fun; I think that's the way Joyce would have wanted it.
gary Frost on July 31, 2007 9:18 PM:
Ulysses can act as a catechism in reading behaviors. The text is fixed word for word and is especially adapted to dramatic recitation. Yet it exercises a most flexible state of mind. I often imagine the Joyce examining the imposed sheets of the first printing. (A last copy of the uncut, printer's imposed sheets was just recently destroyed.) I have a facsimile of the uncut sheet with the upright and upside down pages and mismatching page pairs. This was Joyce's first view of the text in print; a quilt of his writing. He must also have enjoyed the gathering and folding reveals of unsewn sections, the arbitary punctuation of the work into pages and recto/verso allocations of the text.
The first composition of this work into type was itself an accomplishment of literature as are more recent screen augmentations. These acts of transmission are important to the story.
ben vershbow on August 1, 2007 2:42 AM:
I haven't read Ulysses in its entirety but I made an attempt several years back and became exhausted precisely because of the overwhelming number of notes and references. My intention setting out was to read them scrupulously. Each time I opened the novel, I removed my bookmark from its place in the main text and stuck it in its corresponding nook in the endnotes, of which there were about 250 pages (this was the Penguin Annotated Student's Edition). But this soon became a tiresome, obsessive exercise. Constantly breaking out from the flow of the prose to check a reference, it was no longer about experiencing Joyce's writing on its own terms but about tackling a "great book" and somehow "getting it" on the first go. Ironically, it was more about possessing than understanding.
So while the "ideal" edition envisioned above does sound fantastic and we should continue to sketch it out, I agree that it's not what I'd want for my first read. When, barely 100 pages into the Penguin version, I finally admitted defeat and put it down, I resolved that next time I would get myself a copy with minimal or no notes. Like Eddie, I hope to get lost.
bob stein on August 1, 2007 8:56 AM:
eddie and ben,
come on guys, i'm not out to attack your beloved object, the printed book, i'm trying to improve it. i haven't seen a recent penguin edition, but my guess is that the font is too small, there isn't enough leading between lines and the print is too dark for gracious reading. notice that the very first entry in my list of features is beautiful typography. and the second is an invisible interface. so if you turn everything off except the text on the page, the difference between my version and the print version is reduced to the fact that one is on a screen and the other is printed. this is a huge difference for many reasons but i prefer the promise of the electronic one. whatever i give up in terms of my kinaesthetic and aesthetic relations with a printed book, i gain far more from the knowledge that i can turn on the interface and go anywhere my mind wants to go.
sebastian mary on August 1, 2007 10:21 AM:
The two highest of high modernist texts, to my mind, are Eliot's Waste Land and Joyce's Ulysses. I've read them both, with the help of a stack of concordances: the thing I remember most vividly from both, along with some wonderfully quotable lines, is the overwhelming sense that no matter how hard you tried to decode the allusions, quotes, pastiches, references and so on something would always be slightly out of reach.
This is possibly a tangent, but I couldn't help suspecting that neither Joyce nor Eliot really wanted you to get the whole lot. If anything, they might've wanted you to have read everything referenced in their books before attempting the books themselves, so as to pick up the references with a gentlemanly arched eyebrow. But part of the bittersweet experience of both those texts is the sense of a huge inverted pyramid of literary canon, teetering on its classical apex and threatening to collapse into fragments. Of something having gotten too big to be part of everyone's education. Of something being too much to grasp, classify, contain - which containment, paradoxically, both these texts gesture towards through allusion. It's partly this sense of perpetually-deferred cultural completeness that gives both books their power.
I have no quarrel with the value of networked/digital books to give an in-depth view of a topic. But I can't help thinking that if you tried to read Ulysses in a way that was designed to follow the trail of each reference to its end, rather than either leaving it as an allusive spark on your experience of the prose, or else just not spotting it, you'd be monumentally missing the point. In effect, you'd be attempting to contain that entire literary canon the uncontainability of which is crucial to the poetic punch of the text.
Christian Wach on August 1, 2007 7:10 PM:
I can't remember who defined a "classic" book as one that everyone wanted to have read, but that noone wants to read. Still, using that slightly dodgy premise, can I suggest that perhaps you haven't read Ulysses yet because you have such a vivid internal edition (that you describe so clearly) already resident within you? I know there are several books that simply stare at me from my shelves because the image of them and my imagined experience of reading them threaten that internal version. Sometimes reading anything can, in that sense, be an experience of quite profound disillusionment.
Right now, I'm also finding it difficult to separate out your choice of Ulysses as subject matter for your dream edition from the more abstract idea of the possibilities afforded by such a dream edition. My (admittedly cursory) exploration of Joyce's works always suggested to me that his efforts were directed more at inducing a state of mind in the reader than imparting narrative information and suchlike. I guess I'm suggesting that your dream edition similarly seeks to do the former whilst it appearing to help achieve the latter. And in that case, could anyone but Joyce actually compile your dream edition?
bob mcmanus on August 1, 2007 7:42 PM:
I got thru Finnegan's Wake by committing myself to an hour a day of bare-text reading, usually about ten pages, and an hour of reading explicatory work. I never read both text and secondary material simultaneously.
I don't remember the early readings of Ulysses as well, but I do remember that the book did not really open itself to me until the bare repeated readings, I went thru to the end and started over again. About three times in a month, I think. There is information given at the end of the book that explains mysteries at the beginning, and while it is impossible to keep everything in memory, it is possible to approach a holistic vision.
The first-level reading is the naturalistic reading, and I think the Linati schema just gets in the way. The varying styles are a greater obstacle, and the only way to get thru them is just to surrender to them, as you would when attending an early Tom Stoppard play. Or an opera or foreign movie without subtitles.
Gary Frost on August 1, 2007 11:36 PM:
My only contention here is that setting Ulysses in type and printing it to paper was itself an act of literature. Writer's minds range widely and readers usually invent much of their own meaning. But word for word the printer did it. The Islamic culture delayed its use of printing for three centuries out of concern with the delicate nature of rendering scripture. We should have some hesitation as we reformat our own secular scriptures.
Jim Kingsepp on August 3, 2007 1:03 PM:
Put the entire text online and let the world add comments via CommentPress.
I think this is a great way for the intelligence of the Web to share a great work. You could try this first with some public domain works and see how it goes.
You could even prime the discussion with the initial set of comments from a reputable source.
Nigel best on August 3, 2007 7:50 PM:
i say: read it without annotations - trust the author - there is no author more trustworthy than joyce - i would almost say that there is no trustworthy author except joyce - joyce is in a league of his own - he is consummate - totally on top of things - ulysses is an odyssey for the reader - bear the unknowns - enjoy the accessible bits - they are many - go to sea - take a tip from linus reading war and peace: bleep over the russian names - know that when you reread, there will be much more to enjoy - the joy of classics is that the first reading is the beginning of a lifelong meditation and ever-deepening experience and insight into the book and into life - the darknesses are the point - they stimulate your consciousness - they get your mental motor turning over - to think is to live - your subconscious will automatically begin to think once you read once - annotations are trivia - the large meanings of the book are the most important - dont strain at gnats and swallow camels - you can see the forest without seeing all the leaves in closeup - one purpose of the obscurity of the leaves is to help you concentrate on the forest, to ignore the leaves - what is the use of gaining the whole world of ulysses details and lose the soul of the book, which is the soul of life and your soul - why concentrate on the dark clues when there are millions of clear clues? - it is easier for people to see small things, but it is the large things that are important - only the people who see the big picture are awake - it is amazing how easy shakespeare is to read without notes - and how enjoyable the stories are - watch the first ulysses film - the second film, bloom, is a reduction of ulysses to a sexual snigger: see the ridiculous intellectual, the funny cuckold, the horny wife!
nickhasty on August 3, 2007 8:56 PM:
Great post. For me, Ulysses is a work of art that still elicits new meanings and readings even in our digital age.
Ulysses provided an ideal muse for me last winter for a project I did in a class at NYU's ITP program. I did a deep reading of the novel as an undergrad, and its wondrous attempt at encapsulating and reflecting the world and the novel's shifting interpretations made the text the perfect choice for an application I wrote in Processing.
Basically, the app renders the images sent to my computer, via camera, as a text mosaic, and the images are displayed or "written" on screen through Joyce's text. I then hollowed out a copy of the book, and placed wihtin the novel a small LCD screen displaying the rendered text/images.
I have some low-res pics and stills on my blog:
Anyway, just thought i'd share that since it felt so apropos.
Sam J. Miller on August 9, 2007 11:15 AM:
Ulysses is a book you live with. What makes it such a brilliant, enduring book--what makes it top everybody's list--is the way that all the references and puns and jokes make you want to keep coming back to it over the course of your life. Read it once, read it straight through, don't worry about looking up a billion references, and you'll enjoy the hell out of it. Afterwards you'll be inspired to read commentary or annotations or whatever. You'll come back to it in a year, or two, or five, and all of a sudden a lot of the bizarre shit that didn't make any sense will seem totally brilliant. Ten years later you'll come back to it and understand a whole new chunk. And so on.
Noreen on October 31, 2007 5:05 PM:
take a look at this annotated version online.
It's the beginning of what Bob is talking about. But his dream vesion really does replicate what a book group might do here--bring in lots of supplementary material to share, map the day on the Dublin streets, comment six or seven ways on a particularly throny passage. I think it's a dream tool for serious readers, especailly since, as Bob says, you can default to just text any time you want.
Dave on November 17, 2007 4:56 PM:
I've never seen Citizen Kane, even though it wins the greatest movie stakes every time, but black and white movies frighten me, so help me make a cartoon out of it to make it more accessible. make it colorful and have famous people as the voices, cause old dead actors frighten me. grow up,learn to read, really read, and then tackle this kind of project.
suzanne on November 17, 2007 5:57 PM:
Ulysses is not all that difficult.
If you find it so,
then read about 50 pages of Finnegans Wake
and you'll find Ulysses has become
quite easy to comprehend
and gets easier
with every re-read
though I confess
I am a Finnegans Wake lover
much more than I am a Ulysses lover
suzanne on November 17, 2007 5:59 PM:
I forgot to say,
as a voracious reader,
who spends hours at the computer, and
with a huge personal library,
the announced death of the handheld book
is vastly over-hyped
Michael Dare on November 20, 2007 3:11 PM:
On the subject of Finnegan's Wake, might I point out that it starts in the middle of a sentence and ends with the first part of that sentence. Wouldn't the perfect electronic version join those two halves of sentences together, finally creating the perfect circle Joyce intended, and allowing the reader to start reading ANYWHERE as long as he ended up back in the same place?
Lane Ashfeldt on February 13, 2008 7:24 PM:
Yeah Michael I agree, Joyce was hypertexting before it was invented, and would have loved to see/hear/listen to some of Bob's ideas for re-versioning his work
To check out audio versions of Ulysses click here and scroll
I hope one day to listen to Pat Healy's audio version of Finnegan's Wake. When I was at college in Dublin, Pat was a man about the campus who could bring down a union meeting simply by walking in and heckling till the students went home, so it is appropriate for his tireless voice to have recorded an unabridged 17 CD version of Finnegan's Wake.
But if you want to hear a few minutes of the man himself, old Jim the early adopter of cinema who was a founder of the "Volta Electric Theatre" in 1909, then click here
or buy there
Georgeandrews on December 28, 2008 6:00 PM:
Interesting how we will agree that a book might or will become a part of ourselves after we've read it, but as I was reading the comments about which Joyce text to read, I thought that we might be equally defined or influenced by what we haven't read: whole unread libraries that by their absence define personality and leave character untouched. Which books can we extract from our consciousness before a noticeable difference, and why does HAL the 2001 computer come to mind?