The book's chief impact—and since we're trying to figure out what Ulysses, and, by extension, what modernism means to us today—was the sense of the novel as a religious object. To read Ulysses initiated you into a mystery cult. It set you apart from other people, other kids at school, and if you were growing up in the suburban Midwest, it opened up a world where art, deep learning, and the mastery of language were the things that mattered. -- Jeffrey Eugenides, writing in Slate.com. URL: http://slate.msn.com/id/2102446/entry/0/
Works for me-- the sense of the book as a religious object. I've been rereading The Illuminatus! Trilogy, and i'm struck by how it takes authors (seemingly at random) and uses them as the center of some meta-religion which rings true to me because I like the same authors. That's really it-- H.P. Lovecraft probably didn't give a shoggoth's fart about Joyce, and I doubt that William S Burroughs cared about The Fugs. But these are all authors who I (and, i assume, much of Robert Anton Wilson's audicence like... so they're all in on it.
Of course, Ulysses works as a secret cultlike document, a lit student Necronomicon. It's got a Mason as a main character, constant references to Kabbalah and strange hereses, and bits that could very well be interpreted as mystical statements. Start playing Unknown Armies and you realize it could be about three Godswalkers unknowingly (Bloom, Molly?) or knowingly (Stephen, with his ashplant embodying their avatars. Or it could be a Bibliomantic/Cliomantic project (mages who work with books and history, respectivly), intended to ressurect 16 June 1904 Dublin on some arbitrary point (today, presumably, or next year-- 'a year and a day').
Then you've got the whole 'Joycean' cult, which is starting to seem like another granfallon (Kurt Vonnegut's name for an arbitrary grouping of people) just 4 months after I've been inducted into it-- people, many of them probably Dylanologists, Discordians, Wiccans, and other such geeky kinship societies. Sure, its cool recognizing that somebody loves the same book as I do, and its neat how many doors it opens... but find me somebody who loved House of Leaves and you'll really have a meeting of the minds (let's ignore the fact that most of those people would probably be Joyceans).
(Don't get me started on the Oirish music and the accents... )
The book is badass in its utter insanity, the depth of its commitmant... and that may be why its so attractive. But for some of is, its not about the literature.
Looking at this weeks Bloomsday handout I see a conferance on Moses and Joyce, with, and i quote, Rabbi Raymond Apple and Dr Boyo Ockinga. At this all my skeptisim is gone and I can only utter an awed 'Hail Eris' and prepare for a recruitment schipel from the Legion of Dynamic Discord
(And speaking of Dyanamic Discord i'm listening to the Aussie parlimentary debates on the radio. Actual argment and passion is such a wonderful change from the American version).