Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Both needed - plus a following wind

Julia, preparing to celebrate Bloomsday (June 16 1904), is reading Ulysses “bit by bit” and asks whether I prefer the audio or the printed version. Both. The novel is damnably difficult and I need all the help I can get. The CDs cost £85 so this is a plutocratic assertion but because I shall continue to read it/listen to it until overtaken by idiocy or death the investment is amortised over time (well, I hope so).

There are immediate benefits from the CDs. Jim Norton, the Irish actor who does the reading characterises the voices so Mr Deasy sounds pinched and fussy whereas Buck Mulligan bellows through the Martello tower. Haynes, the Englishman, is a dweeb. But the greatest advantages come during the stream-of-consciousness passages, generally reckoned to be the hardest. When Stephen is pondering “the ineluctable modality of the visible”, and much else, Norton breaks the paragraphs into bite-size chunks which are easier to seize on.

But the printed pages are necessary. Sometimes these aural fancies fly past at speed and you need to re-set the context. Nothing easier when reading, more complicated when a laser is standing in for your eyeballs.

Why read this difficult book? For the same reasons you might read the Odyssey. To grasp the sense of a wearying journey where humans are tested and brought into the comfort of a shared arrival. Ulysses is unbearably moving and Leopold Bloom, with all his imperfections and his much greater humanity, stands hands in pockets in front of me, irrepressibly three-dimensional – make that four-dimensional – as I write. For me the most memorable character in fiction.

Novel progress 11/4/10. Ch. 20: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 19: 85,903 words. Comments: Hatch and Clare - a conversation starts, continues, ends (for now).


Plutarch said...

I find the printed page essential for proper comprehension. But its absence presents an interesting focus on the time when few people, as presumably in Homer's day, could read, and the blind poet's audience, had to depend on the spoken word. Your account makes me wonder whether the tradition of the sung and spoken story, produced a form of literature essentially different from that which followed the widespread use of printing and a more general level of literacy.

Barrett Bonden said...

If I had to choose it would, of course, be the book. With most books an audio version would be unnecessary but with Ulysses its complementary nature does help - also in small unexpected ways: pronunciation, for example. Jim Norton has an understated Irish accent and when he's not dramatising the dialogues, this ever-present but non-obtrusive Irishness is an important element which is not necessarily present if the reader is English.

marja-leena said...

I read, or tried to read, Ulysses probably about 30 or 40 years ago. Maybe one day I'll want to revisit it with both book and a CD together with the hopes of being better illuminated. Each would support the other for I'm sure I'd have problems understanding the Irish accent. Sort of like having closed captioning when watching a film. I wonder if libraries have these kind of CDs to loan, just like they have film DVDs, though the loan period would have to awfully long for me in this particular case!

Barrett Bonden said...

M-L: I fear reading Ulysses with or without CD assistance requires an obsessional approach. There is no escaping the fact that it is difficult. Before I got the CDs I read the novel three times and there were still large tracts which were beyond me. Unless you have an instinctive conviction that your persistence will be worth it the chances of disappointment are high. On the other hand there are passages of straightforward narrative, brilliantly written, which present no problem. As I mentioned in an earlier discussion with Plutarch and Lucy about Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu neither Ulysses nor Proust are books I would recommend anyone to read. The impulse - a strong one! - must come from the reader.

Barrett Bonden said...

M-L: Jim Norton's Irish accent is very gentle; you would have no problem with that.

Julia said...

Chapter by chapter, so far Ulysses isn't so imponderable but it is rather more like music (or T.S. Eliot) than a regular novel. I'm reading an annotated edition online at http://www.columbia.edu/~fms5/ulys.htm (hold your mouse over the hyperlinks for the annotations). The annotations smooth the way considerably.

Great idea about listening to a recording for the accent though - I'll have to see what I can dig up over here!

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Wow, that is travelling first class. I forget to mention I used a crib - Anthony Burgess's "Re-Joyce" which also helps with the Odyssey cross-references, though in a more literary way. I am pleased beyond words you are giving it a go and I hope it will not seem too much of a burden. Listening to the CDs I frequently find myself laughing out aloud at the wit, but it's because I'm moderately familiar with things by now. If you have time and feel inclined, drop me an email every so often about your progress and your reactions. I was pondering doing Bloomsday in Dublin this year but we shall be in France - a cultural tug-of-war.