Saturday, June 16, 2018

reJOYCE! It's Bloomsday!

Last fall when we came up with the idea of reading Ulysses in 100 days, timed to end on or just before Bloomsday, it seemed like a great idea -- a fun challenge. Well, in the end it feels like more of a chore than a challenge, but I sure am happy to have it done!

My reading went in fits and spurts -- sometimes the language and the writing pulled me along at a fast clip, and I gobbled up the pages with glee. And sometimes it was torture and I read and re-read every word in an attempt to process it. And to be honest I doubt I really "get it" -- at least, get all of it.

There are editions of Ulysses that have references and footnotes -- lots of them. It seems as though nearly every word or phrase or at least sentence has a reference. Joyce seems to glory in showing off his erudition -- mixing references to Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Greek mythology, and Irish history in with puns in multiple languages, popular culture, then-current events, and of course  plenty of onomatopoeia (heighho heighho, heighho heighho...).

I'm sure most of the references went over my head, but I did find the music hall songs amusing (kay, eee, double-ell-why) and understood the references to Parnell, Kitty O'Shea, the Home Rule movement, and the foreshadowing to the Easter Rising. So I've got that going for me.

I thought I would spend more time reading in the pub during this project -- something I really love doing, but I only did twice ... both time while Wil was away on business.

When we started planning for this project, we researched which version of Ulysses we should read. The consensus was that the Gabler Edition -- named after its editor, Hans Walter Gabler -- was the most complete and most thorough. Amusingly, a couple of days ago Rebecca (a fellow reader) forwarded me an article Simon (our other member) had sent her about a scholar named Kidd who launched a spirited critique of the Gabler Edition that, apparently, was quite a scandal in the late 1980s.

Kidd put together detailed tables showing "errors" in the Gabler text -- literary criticism was HOT -- letters and articles flying back and forth in the pages of the New York Review of Books. On the strength of this, Boston University set up a Joyce Institute, with Kidd as the chair. The goal? To make a "perfect text" -- "as Joyce wrote it".

But there's one problem -- Kidd never produced the text. Years passed, he was eventually dismissed, and "disappeared". Several former colleagues assumed he was dead, and had died penniless. (He hadn't. But he had moved to Brazil.) Still, reading the article made me feel... conflicted about the edition I had read. Full of errors? GREAT. Not that I would have ever known, but still...

While sitting beneath a portrait of Joyce in my local Irish pub (see picture below -- honest!), I was amused while reading the Afterword. Apparently Gabler was attempting something different from the "traditional Anglo-American approach" ... by focusing more on what Joyce DID -- as in, wrote, edited, commented on -- rather than what he supposedly MEANT in the text. It's an "author-based, rather than text-based edition". I find this fascinating, if the minute of varying typescripts, notes, and editions make my eyes roll back in my head a little.

This lengthy quote by a reviewer of the Gabler Edition essentially nerves as a MIC DROP.

many of the most widely publicized attacks are baed on premises about textual editing that the general reading public takes for granted so that when a critic proves that Gabler has violated these guidelines, his editorial competence is implicitly or explicitly called into question. It takes a reasonably specialized reader to realize that the weakness of such arguments, which seem logically convincing on their own terms, is at the level of the premise, since Gabler does not share many of the premises on which the critique is based. 


The Afterword goes on to explicitly call out Kidd ("Gabler's loudest and most persistent critic"), noting that "all his pages of supposed analysis, and the sixty pages of tables and charts of Gabler's alleged errors and inconsistencies in his 'Inquiry' into the edition managed finally to demonstrate only two errors."

Now, look, criticism is easier than creation -- and perhaps if Kidd had produced his "definitive edition" we would have read that. But it's interesting that Gabler's edition is still seen as the one to read.

I don't think I'll ever read it again. Though I can see why people do.

Regardless, this completes another of my 101 in 1001 days projects -- and feels like a big hurdle to have gotten over.

Next books -- finish volume 1 of Macaulay's "History of England" -- another slow slog for me -- and then Darwin's "Variation Under Domestication"... both big, meaty books. We'll see how it goes!

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