Friday, 14 August 2015

how to not understand Joyce

I was around 16 years old when I first read James Joyce’s “Dubliners”.

I didn’t understand 80% of the book and I remember feeling a bit upset about it: ok, it’s not that we have to understand (or like) every single book we read, but I picked this one up as it was “sold” to me as the less difficult Joyce you could read.
Which is probably true, but misleading, given the Joyce redefines the concept of “difficult to read and understand”.

Even so, about one month after I closed the book wondering about what I had just read, I discovered an extra reason why I didn’t understand anything: the book itself.

You see, I had inherited my parents’ 1970s copy of the book. It was in a box that has been moved multiple times from one flat’s basement to another house’s cellar.

How could I have known that in between all these moves some pages fell off and not all of them where placed back in the book? And how could I have known that the pages that were placed back into the book were not in the correct order?
"Oh that's why I couldn't understand more than two sentences! I'm missing some pages and on top of that I was jumping from page 16 to page 71... I see, I see, it kind of makes sense"

What I did next was to get a new copy of the Dubliners and start from scratch. I still had some major issue with it, but I understood at least the progress of the plot of the single stories. Since then my relationship with mr. Joyce hasn't changed that much: he speaks to me in a way, I don't understand him most of the time but that doesn't upset me very much.
I've tried with "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" but so far I haven't managed to finish any of them. Yet I don't get that massive sense of frustration I felt when I read Kundera or Garcia Marquez the first time.

Recently I found something that reminded me a lot of the way I read the Dubliners: there's a Twitter account, @UlyssesReader, that does just what its name suggests: it reads "Ulysses", slowly, one tweet at the time. As it had just started the 8th reading, I thought I could follow it and have it read to me the book.
The fact is that (luckily) I don't spend my whole time on twitter and so I fall behind quite regularly: sometimes I am so far behind with reading my timeline that some of the Ulysses tweets get lost in the process. Reading these tweets sometimes makes very little sense altogether, yet I'm fine with it. It's like I came to a nirvana state with Joyce: "Look, buddy, I'll never understand you, but you look like nice and not too bad for a fine hipster. Plus you were a friend of Italo, and I like Italo".
Also, I stumbled on many tweets that were brilliant just on their own, like this one:

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