From the hotel window several stories up we witnessed night settle across the Tennessee Valley. With propped feet and beer in hand, dannye continued in our discussion of authors. He recommended I try Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, as he has done for so many other everythingians. He encouraged me to continue with Nabokov, reading past Lolita into Ada, Pnin, and Pale Fire.
But he was most insistent in his suggestion that I revisit Joyce. Patiently waiting while I explained how my high school attempts with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had only resulted in confusion, dannye assured me that I would be well rewarded if only I took up Ulysses with a fresh mind. By the time I left, his relentless enthusiasm for both Joyce and Ulysses had caused me to at least grudgingly add it to the extensive mental list of books for my next year's reading.
A year has now passed since that late summer conversation. Reading the list of books I have finished in that time, I notice thousands of pages of George R. R. Martin, a little Vonnegut and Palahniuk, Stephen King and Dan Simmons, and even Danielewski's House of Leaves. No Helprin or Nabokov, and certainly no Irish logorrhetics. Preparing for my semiannual visit to a large used bookstore in Nashville, I pull out my list (transferred from the fickle medium of my memory to a more reliable copy) to identify potential items to pick up. My eyes stop on Ulysses for the briefest of moments, an almost imperceptible speed bump as I race down the list. But then, as I later peruse everything2, riverrun's writeup on this ultimate daylog appears in the Cool User Picks column. This time it is more difficult for me to push it from my consciousness. Memories of my discussion with dannye expand forward, so a few days later I find myself holding the Vintage International 1990 edition.
Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli.
Intimidating, it sits on my desk. As I walk down the hallway past my office, I glimpse its shadowed bulk out of the corner of my eye. Patient. Pregnant. Is it my imagination or is that a feeling of Irish guilt that precedes my awareness of Ulysses as I reach for my keys resting beside it? That evening, elbow deep in a broken washing machine, I realize I will be standing in this spot through an entire wash cycle. Like a man reluctantly rising in the waiting room of his proctologist, I determine to get this over with and read the handful of pages I think will be necessary to solidify my already formed opinion. Retrieving it and leaning against the humming washer, I open the pages to the Foreword. Admittedly, my curiosity is at least slightly piqued when Mr. Ernst writes, "The first week of December 1933 will go down in history for two repeals, that of Prohibition and that of the legal compulsion for squeamishness in literature." Vague remembrances of banned books posters coalesce in my mind's eye. The washing machine begins its violent dance as I move on to the court decision from December 6, 1933 which lifted the ban on importation for Ulysses.
"For his attempt sincerely and honestly to realize his objective has required him incidentally to use certain words which are generally considered dirty words and has led at times to what many think is a too poignant preoccupation with sex and the thoughts of his characters."
- Hon. John M Woolsey, who presided over the Ulysses court case.
I am interested. Can there potentially be supporting material here for my constant refrain about writing at e2? Emboldened, I begin the book proper. The washer drains through the shaking line, dumping what remains of the filth-laden water out of the drum. One page in, with Buck's
razor at ready on his chin, my presuppositions drop from my skull to my bowels. This is not what I remember. This is good. This is good. Introibo ad altare Dei!
I begin keeping notes. By 30 odd pages of Ulysses, I've written five pages of quotes, questions, and musings. And I am happy. This is a challenge. Had I a mirror at hand, I am certain I could see my eyes twinkle as I read the exchange between Mulligan and Dedalus or between Dedalus and Mr. Deasy. I continue reading....
Adventures in Reading Ulysses
Part One: I sip the strong draught, and come unbound