Chasing the boredom of life

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Reading James Joyce's 'Ulysses' is akin to squeezing a giant jawbreaker into your mouth in an agonisingly slow manner. But that's the book's value — in conditioning the reader's mind for the boring interminable ordinariness of life.

With his novels, Joyce doesn't seek the meaning of life but loves to absorb it in its grand ordinariness. | 'joyce-textorized' by Max Froumentin / Flickr

If your idea of a book is that it should please you, provoke you, trigger deep emotions in you, intellectually stimulate you, scare you or educate you, then James Joyce's Ulysses is not for you. But if you want a book to bore you to death — a wish which, except for J.M. Coetzee's protoganist in his Life and Times of Michael K, I am sure, no human being would have so far had — then you can go ahead and devour Joyce.

 

Source: Wikipedia

Ulysses is considered to be one of the foremost of modernist literature. In his writing, Joyce claimed to have used the 'mythic method', which is "a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history".

The tome is 265,000 words long, comprised of 18 chapters. Good luck to you, intrepid reader.

Here I am compelled to say a few words about Michael K because I do not have the Joycean temperament and temerity to leave things unexplained. Only the famous, literary giants and geniuses can have their way, can have freedom to be what they are without worrying about the consequences. Not conservatives like me.

In Life and Times... Michael K lives like a hermit, away from the noise of society. Before his old and ailing mother died, there was at least a semblance of life in him. Then he had a purpose: To take her to the place where she had spent her childhood. It was her last wish which as a duty-bound son he tried to fulfil. There was someone other than himself to take care of. But her death made him completely lonely. If you study him keenly you will find him content with his loneliness and boredom. And it is such a boredom of ordinariness coupled with lots of incomprehension, puzzlement  that you will experience when you read Ulysses. At least that's what I felt after reading 200 pages of that voluminous book with great deal of struggle and frustration, throwing it away one time, then taking it up again with some enthusiasm and hope that I will crack it the way some guys crack the IIT entrance.

You may wonder why I take all the trouble to read a work which is elusive and boring. All I can say is that it is simply an act of vainglory.

This doesn't mean I intend to demean Joyce and rubbish him as D.H. Lawrence had done. Lawrence said, "Sorry,  I am among those who cannot read Ulysses." Oh, what a comparison: Lawrence and me? Why not? After all, we are all human beings first and tags such as novelists, poets, actors only come later. Even a great writer, like an ordinary human being, has likes and dislikes. In that respect Lawrence and I are no different. This egalitarian outlook vanishes the moment we begin to measure human worth based on talent.

So, Lawrence disliked Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf, too, it seems, could not go beyond 200 pages of that book (I am better than her as I have completed 245 pages and may even go further putting up with all the frustrations). She felt Ulysses was a bore.

 

In contrast, T.S. Eliot was all praise for Ulysses. He says, that "it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape".

Like Eliot, there are a few others who consider Joyce's book invaluable. Influenced by these positivists I plod through Ulysses, hoping to get a glimpse of something extraordinary. To be honest, so far, I haven't yet experienced any soul-strirring moment in the 245 pages I have read.

Maybe a surprise awaits me in the 400th or 500th page. Till then let me suffer the boredom. Or there could be no takeaway or meaning at the end. Even that is fine with me. I presume Joyce doesn't seek the meaning of life but loves to absorb it in its grand ordinariness.

Anyhow I have more pages to read and it's too early to judge.

(Title art imaging includes photo courtesy Flickr's Max Froumentin.)

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