[Intermission] Overthrowing the colossus of time

It is unfortunate that I am currently unable to accede to the requests of those people who have pledged monetarily to help me in my pursuit of a historical video game that I need in order to write an essay on. Despite this temporary setback, I feel that I have been able to utilize the free time that I have had the past week well in the evaluation of a recognized literary giant. If any of you feel that the short write-up has pleased you, kindly aid me in my pursuit of that important arcana by giving a few dollars. In exchange, I will entertain your requests in writing about any topic (not merely anime) so long as I can obtain the material for free.

Thank you.

Overthrowing the colossus of time
[History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.]

Having gone back to my hometown, I hoped to be able to enjoy anime during my short vacation. Sadly, my Internet connection disagreed with me, and I was left with a lot of free time. I thought that it was high time to finish Ulysses, purportedly the creed of the Modernist movement of literature given the circumstances that surrounded me. It was akin to the desire of cleaning out the last ounce of soap: I wanted to avoid wastage, and the time seemed ripe for my reading of the novel as there were few distractions and the burdens of schoolwork have been temporarily lifted from me. Besides, I am of the opinion that one must rely on only oneself to adjudge any purported masterpiece or work of art. It may seem asinine for some, but I personally believe it prevents me from being a hypocrite: I do not merely agree with what other people tell me, especially regarding serious works of literature such as this. After all, Ulysses was recognized by Modern Library’s editors to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century, certainly no small praise for a novel.

I read the entirety of Ulysses and recognize its merits. Its innovation with wordplay, Joyce’s playful mastery of the English language as well as its multithreaded allusions certainly were unique, even among novels nowadays. I am not saying that I understood all the allusions and the references made, but I certainly was privy to some. There was also something unique, however, that I believe was detrimental to a reader of the novel seated in the present: the novel is most obviously devoid of an enchanting story. The novel was humorous and a lot of it stemmed from the euphemisms and subtilities that Joyce implemented in his work, but there was not much of a story to tie things together. While I do recognize that Joyce was proving a point with it, I also cannot find the justification in myself to recognize it as the representative novel of the twentieth century. I also believe quite a few people (who have read it themselves) are wont to agree with me.

I have no disagreements with the novel being regarded as the representative work of the Modernist pantheon: more than any Modernist novel that I have read, it clearly illustrates societal fragmentation caused by the influx of modernity and technology. It also portrays the iconoclasm that I have found to be a common denominator in Modernist works of literature. Similarly, the novel is also as inventive and as allusive as any Modernist work got: one of the sections alluded to Sir Frederick the Falconer, a clear reference to Boccacio‘s Decameron, and one of the few memorable references that I have recalled in the course of the novel. Federigo degli Alberighi was featured in a romance story in the Decameron, and his falcon was a prominent existence in the progression of the short story. I also do not disagree with people recognizing the novel as good. I believe it is.

I disagree, however, with people thinking of it as the greatest novel of the twentieth century, and I found that Joyce himself mentions the reason in his alter-ego Stephen Dedalus: he said that ‘history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’ The everyman of today is no longer Leopold Bloom (as the narrator himself refers to in p. 712). Despite my myopia I believe the everyman is now he who has jumped the Merleau-Ponty ek-stasis: he is the man who is in the very future he has dreamed of. One cannot deny the pervasiveness of the Internet, or the ubiquity of social networking such as Facebook. These are the technologies that greet and remind us everyday of their existence. Now is currently the time where much has been made easier for man and this reflects on the way we lead and live our lives. People back then read Ulysses because they had the time in doing so; in fact, reading was their principal source of leisure that they could also read The Odyssey by Homer and The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio while they were figuring out what Joyce meant in Ulysses. Leisure reading had a significant timeshare in their daily lives: the dirtiness and prurience of the novel only helped bolster its infamy. After all, beyond all the allusions and literary excrescences, Ulysses is just one big fart joke, and people enjoyed it at that time.

The evolution of the everyman

The evolution of the everyman

The everyman right now has transformed into a different beast altogether: he is the Homo interneticus, as coined by a recent BBC report: the Internet has become extremely deep-seated in our lives that it has transformed (or transmogrified) how people act, especially people of the younger generations. The same BBC report has insinuated that the children of today have shorter attention spans coming from the shift in thinking brought about by the Internet. The popularity of reading among children, even young adults, has relatively dwindled: the popularity of Twilight and Harry Potter is enough of a commentary of the trends changing from years past. What links both of these literary franchises is their both interesting stories. Both may not be cultured and both may be academically irrelevant but both have interesting stories to tell (even if the story is basically about sparkling vampires). Primordially, that is what novels have always been: they contain beautiful stories, and the more engaging they are at beyond just the level of storytelling, the more endearing they will be and the more lasting they become.

Ulysses does not possess this edge: it is funny, it is a work of art, it is good, but it does not have a good story. With all the competitors for the leisure time of the current everyman, one of the best hooks to reading is a wonderful and pathos-laden story. Obscurity and the multitude of allusions is not the way to attract audiences to one’s novel, and certainly not the arrogance to declare ‘the only demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works.’ I believe time has caught up to the antics of James Joyce. In the world where even ‘text novels’ are gaining more and more popularity, the demands that Ulysses asks from most of its readers is simply too brutal, simply too much: Ulysses has itself become the nightmare that people have awaken from, and the people living in the present time, I believe, must look as it as a piece of history, as an experiment that triumphed as much as it failed in the evolution of literature. Ultimately, a masterful story still matters a lot and it is in this vein that I view his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man as his best work.

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