ideal ulysses, part two 08.01.2007, 8:38 AM
posted by bob stein
it occured to me as i read the comments to yesterday's post that i left out a key element in the equation -? the ovearching vision that determines what gets included in the ideal Ulysses and how. ideally this vision will be a creative amalgam of the perspective of the great teacher, the enquiring reader and the canny editor/producer.
this trinity may seem obvious but i think the question of how to balance the power between the three is something we don't really know much about. to put differently, if in the print world the hierarchy of AUTHOR/reader has been fiercely protected by those whom it favors, the promise of the networked book to upset these relations is just that, a promise. that will be the case until we come up with new schema powerful enough to be the foundation of a real transformation* (see footnote at bottom of the post)
i think perhaps an interesting next step would be to sit in on classes with some of the great teachers of Ulysses -? the ones who make the book come alive for their students. i'd like to see what characteristics are common to all and which different. then we could think about how to take the essence of this experience into an ideal version. note, that even if the answer in the end is that for teachers to work their magic they need to be live, in front of an audience, then the question for me becomes, how do we get that into a networked book?
So please if you took a great course in Ulysses or know of anyone who did, comment here or send me a note at email@example.com.
* footnote -? many years ago a group of us were trying to imagine the encyclopedia of the future. we saw it in part as the ultimate teacher/tutor who knew everything about everything, who waited in the background till called, and who then was able to engage you at your level on any question you put forth. this view, while valid, placed 100% of the value on learner-initiated activities. it seems in retrospect as if foolishly we completely discounted the ability of the teacher/mentor/knowledgeable companion to raise interesting questions which could start the learner off in unexpected but perfectly wonderful directions.
xensen on August 1, 2007 10:45 AM:
I think this is a worthy project, and an interesting one. But I have to say, the ideal edition of Ulysses is one that has nothing but the text itself. So much secondary work has accreted to that text over the years that the real problem is stripping all the carapace of commentary away from it. The book is perfectly readable and understandable without any kind of crib, and that is the way it is best approached, at least initially.
Martin Jenny on August 1, 2007 11:35 AM:
Some 17 years ago I was lucky to be part of a reading group of Ulysses with Fritz Senn, one of the better known Joyce scolars, in Zurich. We met every Wednesday evening for an hour or so and the whole book was supposed to be finished in six months - as I remember it took us quite a while longer. It was a fascinating experience. The course took place in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich were they keep a lot of memorabilia and a stunning library of Joyceana. Senn was a great teacher and gave us a lot of insight in the background of the book. This is were I have to disagree with other posts. Background is imperial to any study of Ulysses, it is one of those books - and these are rare - where you can dig deeper and deeper and with every level it gets more fascinating and richer. It is said, that Joyce had no lesser goal in writing Ulysses than to create an equivalent to the "real" world on the pages of a book and he suceeded magnificently. Never mind how much you disect Ulysses, everywhere you have the author cleverly wink at you, like he expected you to come along this road, challenging you to find even more wonders.
When we read the books, I dreamt of a CD-ROM-Version (it was that time), were all the background information would be linked to the text. I would still like to have it, the more information the better and the thoughts and voices of the teachers would be a wonderful addition. Still it is my conviction, that all the secrets of Ulysses can not be lifted and in the end it is more than just a book. It is a journey
sol gaitan on August 1, 2007 4:57 PM:
When we talk about the canon, the Western canon that's it, we think about books that have been the subject of research. Of books that have created star professors and experts. Of books that one approaches with intimidation, but that are, in bits and pieces, part of the collective mind. In other words, of books with which we share our humanity. Ulysses shows that from its own, borrowed, title.
The text Bob is presenting, is ambitious, but only to the point the reader wants it to be. A bibliophile would enjoy the beauty of the text. A visually challenged reader could hopefully magnify the text, but also could listen to a highly satisfactory audio version. The thorough reader could follow all kinds of references according to interest and taste. The scholar could find a place for exchange. This brings us to the great teacher, who in a way does all of the above, including reading aloud with the students, stopping, and commenting along the way. As a Spanish literature teacher who reads the "big" books of the Spanish language with English-speaking adolescents, and who sometimes hides behind electronic versions of my curriculum, the answer is yes, the magic is still there.
Judging by the different comments to Bob's post, it is possible to see that the experts, the dissertation writers, the ones who follow all the notes, the ones who don't, all could benefit from it. No matter how many pages have been written on Ulysses, there will be impossible to exhaust its possibilities, simply because there will always be new readings. In a world of vast, but superficial, information, the time needed to read a book of that magnitude is already a challenge, but there will always be those willing to undertake the task. And some of them would most definitely love to know that there is a place where they can really get lost in reading.
Mary Murrell on August 2, 2007 1:08 AM:
Joyce is widely reported to have been obsessed with the way Ulysses appeared and sought to control the design both of the typography and the layout of the pages, even page breaks. Does this matter?
Michael Groden has struggled over the issue of making Ulysses into hypermedia (there's even a on-line journal on Hypermedia Joyce Studies). Even though Groden may be more reverent to Joyce as auteur that you want to be, you might want to look at his essays on this topic, esp. "James Joyce's Ulysses on the Page and the Screen" (reprinted in the book "The Future of the Page"); or his "James Joyce's Ulysses in Hypermedia," which is available online here.
James on August 2, 2007 1:36 AM:
As an undergraduate, I took a great course on Joyce, including Ulysses, with Bill Chase, then the president of Emory University.
I think we're pretty far from replicating great liberal arts teaching in an electronic form, but it's interesting to see the attempts.
KF on August 2, 2007 4:20 AM:
That perfect encyclopedia of the future reminds me an awful lot of the Primer in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which I blogged about a million years ago here: http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/the-role-of-the-book/. It remains the single object out of all the science fiction I've read that I genuinely covet. But it's notable that Stephenson couldn't really imagine that primer operating without a human interactor behind it, a human intelligence guiding the reader.
In any case, I want to echo a few things that have been said about a Ulysses-based project: the first is the direct role that the Joyce estate has played in creating the current copyright morass that many scholars are stuck in; I fear that for this reason a project like this would never see the light of day. Second, I definitely understand the anxieties about the bigness of the text, and the annotations only adding to that bigness. I've only read Ulysses once (for my quals), but, because I was pressed for time and had to get as directly to comprehension as possible, I read it with a "companion" alongside. I'd read a chapter, and then read the companion on that chapter, to make sure I'd gotten the important points. This parallel reading helped me "get it," on some level, but it seriously detracted from my pleasure in the reading process. A digital Ulysses would best function for me if it operated as you suggest that ideal encyclopedia would -- there to offer advice and information if you want it, but unobtrusive (and perhaps even invisible) if you don't. A genuinely multi-layered reading experience like that, one that would really reward re-reading, would be fantastic...
bernadette quigley on August 3, 2007 10:13 PM:
"I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality." --
Surely Joyce would approve...everyone reflecting on how to present, read and/or study his masterpiece. ...I, too must admit, I have not read the entire work -- even though I've studied and performed a no. of sections for quite a number of years at Symphony Space's annual New York Bloomsday, the last three years, having immersed myself in & performed huge chunks of Nausicaa (the fireworks between Gertie MacDowell and Mr. Bloom)...and the one thing that has struck me year after year in the actual reading aloud of Joyce's narrative...how many esoteric meanings (I previously struggled with) are magically revealed to me (and hopefully the audience)... by yes, yes yes simply letting his words wash over me....but I also picked the brains of some Joyce scholars (namely Isaiah Sheffer) and consulted various reference books on some questions i had......and the knowledge was... O! and O! and O! so enlightening...
As much as I'd like to wish my ideal version of ULYSSES to be just the text itself...I know I could not or would not read it in full sans SOME reference points or footnotes I would gravitate towards reading.
Love the idea of a great class (Bob) or a reading group as Martin Jenny wrote about..and/or refreshing one's mind with Homer's THE ODYSSEY as Bruce Fox suggested a few days ago...brilliant idea...thanks for the inspiration to read the entire ULYSSES hopefully before June 16, 2008....
jeff drouin on August 6, 2007 2:46 PM:
At the Summer Joyce conference in 2005 I participated in a discussion about teaching Joyce. There were some really good suggestions. Based on the quality of their anecdotes and their status as Joyce scholars, I would suggest that you contact John Bishop (Berkeley), Richard Stack (SUNY Purchase), Margot Norris (UC Irvine), Daniel Schwarz (Cornell), James Heffernan (formerly at Dartmouth, taped 24 lectures on Ulysses) and Ed Germain (Phillips-Andover). I didn't feel right posting their email addresses without their knowledge.
C. Alan Joyce on August 27, 2007 9:16 PM:
Glad to see a shout-out to the very excellent annual Bloomsday celebration at Symphony Space here in New York. I read a ton of secondary texts when I first studied the book, but until I heard some really good readers teasing out the music and rhythms of Ulysses, I didn't understand half of it.
To be honest, even those readings pale in comparison to the Bloomsday celebrations I attended for many years in my hometown of Pittsburgh. They didn't cover the entire book, but they brought more of the book to life. Maybe a half-dozen or so readings at "relevant" locations around the city, from pubs to public libraries to cemeteries, depending on the chapter selections each year. It was always a relatively small crowd of fans, hitching rides with and buying drinks for each other while swapping personal stories and Joycean questions and anecdotes throughout the day... felt more like living the book for a day than just studying it.
So, yeah, my "Ideal Ulysses" would also be able to duplicate that experience each time I opened it. I'd pay a hefty sum.
Mark Marino on October 16, 2007 3:47 AM:
Quick plug: I have an upcoming article in James Joyce Quarterly on this very question. Hope you will take a look!