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In the Heart of the Hibernian Metropolis

Before Nelson’s pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley started for Blackrock, Kingstown and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar and Terenure, Palmerston park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend and Sandymount Tower, Harold's Cross. The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company's timekeeper bawled them off:
            — Rathgar and Terenure!
            — Come on, Sandymount Green!
            Right and left parallel clanging ringing a doubledecker and a singledeck moved from their railheads, swerved to the down line, glided parallel.
            — Start, Palmerston park!

Just about this time of day, 105 years ago, Leopold Bloom, the fictional ad-salesman antihero of James Joyce’s Ulysses, heard those words as he was stopping into the offices Weekly Freeman and National Press, the next stop on his day’s perambulations around “Dear Dirty Dublin.”

Why should you care? I’ll let writer William Michaelian explain:

Ulysses is the strangest book I’ve ever read. It’s brilliant, poetic, funny, disgusting, challenging, compelling, overblown, inspiring, frustrating, confusing, and truly a pleasure to read. Joyce was a genius. He was bored. He was mad. He knew too much. In fact, it’s quite possible he wrote Ulysses in an attempt to unburden himself of his knowledge. He failed. By the time he was done, he was smarter than ever, and so he took it out on the world by writing Finnegans Wake, a book I might or might not read before I die.

Eighty-seven years after its controversial publication, that towering and intimidating paragon of modernism — chock-a-block with punning wordplay, referencing Homer’s Odyssey in ways both direct and oblique, touching upon the personal and the universal and everything in between, from one man’s morning visit to the outhouse to the “heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit” — continues to inspire celebration and detailed study.

“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,” wrote Joyce.

And, lo and behold, he was right.

Read a substantial preview here.

The Linati Schema is Joyce’s own skeleton key to the book, revealing the structure and synapse-snapping allusions to colors, bodily organs, philology, mythology, mechanics, Hamlet, Shakespeare, Caesar, Christ, Socrates, magic, metamorphosis, parthenogenesis and more that underlie those 18 chapters.

The Gilbert Schema offers more insight along those lines.

Joyce Images is a rich trove of photographs, vintage ads, and post cards — arranged thematically by chapter — showing what Dublin looked like at the time Ulysses takes place.

If you decide to finally tackle the book — and, really, at the risk of repeating myself, you totally should — this site, The Wandering Rocks, is the place to be. Eager readers across the world began reading the first chapter this morning, and the plan is to offer advice, annotation and running commentary for the rest of the summer until that end of the barely-punctuated, 24,048-word Penelope chapter, which closes with that famous, universally echoing affirmation: "yes I said yes I will Yes."

Or, if you just wanna read the first chapter (more of which are to come) in comic book form, you can do that here.

And, of course, there’s always Joseph Strick’s fun but unavoidably flawed 1967 movie.

But, really, you’ve just got to bite the bullet and buy the book.

“The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works,” Joyce has said.

I really don’t feel like that’s too much to ask. Do you?

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  • Jerry Grit said:

    Thanks for calling attention to Ulysses and Wandering Rocks, our Ulysses online reading collective/social media experience/support group. I spent 2 hours tweeting my way through page 1, which wasn't efficient at all. Will try to read 10 pages tomorrow.

    We're taking it slow, so newcomers will have no trouble catching up.


    June 16, 2009 6:14 PM

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