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Since people were talking about Joyce earlier...  Reply with quote  

I thought I'd bring up this article. This is the first in a series of quite a few writers to take on the monolith that is Joyce's reputation as the creator of the modern novel...I've never read Ulysses, so I can't really speak on my opinions on it in particular, but I think there's something to be appreciated about an author willing to take on the literary establishment like this...sorta waving the anti-elitist flag here which i suppose is admirable. That said, I think Dubliners (esp. "The Dead") and Portrait of the Artist are incredible. Just the beauty of the writing amazes me...what are your thoughts?,3604,1144561,00.html

Overlong, overrated and unmoving: Roddy Doyle's verdict on James Joyce's Ulysses

Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
Tuesday February 10, 2004
The Guardian

Critical: Roddy Doyle attacks the Joyce 'industry'

It is constantly voted the greatest novel of the last century and perhaps also the most likely to be abandoned after a few pages. Now Ireland's best-known modern writer has put literary Dublin in a tizz by confessing that he too can't be bothered with James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses.
Roddy Doyle, the Booker prize winner and the bard of raucous Dublin demotic, chose a Joyce birthday celebration to slam the epic story of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom as overrated, overlong and unmoving.

"Ulysses could have done with a good editor," Doyle told a stunned audience in New York gathered to celebrate the great man who is credited with inventing the modern novel.

"You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top 10 books ever written but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it."

"I only read three pages of Finnegans Wake and it was a tragic waste of time," he added. Dubliners was Joyce's best work, but Ulysses was undeserving of reverence.

Worse still, he claimed that Joyce was not even the best Irish writer. That accolade belonged to Jennifer Johnston, the relatively little-known author of The Captains and the Kings.

The timing of Doyle's outburst could hardly have been worse, with the centenary of Bloomsday, the date on which Ulysses is set, looming.

The Irish government - still guilty about the way Joyce was treated in his home town - are helping to pay for six months of celebrations culminating in a "Bloom's breakfast", when 10,000 people will sit down on O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, and stuff themselves with fried offal and mutton kidneys washed down with Guinness.

The feast is being sponsored by Dennys sausages, whose bangers Joyce plugged in the novel. Not to be outdone, Guinness is sponsoring another breakfast across town.

"They'll be serving Joyce Happy Meals next," said Doyle, author of The Commitments and The Van, about what he witheringly described as the "Joyce industry".

He went further, taking a swipe at David Norris, the Irish senator and Joycean scholar, who is almost single-handedly responsible for rehabilitating Joyce in once disapproving Irish eyes.

Doyle said the Bloomsday celebrations should be put on hold for five years, to "save us the trouble of having to shoot him or deport him or something."

Mr Norris hit back by calling Doyle "foolish" and hinted he was only a "moderate talent". He said: "A lot of people now try to make a reputation by attacking Joyce ... These are people of medium talent who feel they can attack and challenge a global reputation. A lot of Irish writers of talent have felt threatened by Joyce. I think that's part of it."

Begrudgery was nothing new to Joyce. He fled the city, where his books were effectively banned until the 1960s, because of the viciousness of its barstool critics. He famously wrote in 1909: "How sick, sick, sick I am of Dublin! It is the city of failure, of rancour and of unhappiness, I long to be out of it."

But what makes Doyle sick is the way Irish writers are always compared to Joyce. "If you're a writer in Dublin and you write a snatch of dialogue, everyone thinks you lifted it from Joyce. The whole idea that he owns language as it is spoken in Dublin is a nonsense. He didn't invent the Dublin accent. It's as if you're encroaching on his area or it's a given that he's on your shoulder. It gets on my nerves," the Sunday Tribune in Dublin reported him saying.

Flann O'Brien, the great Irish novelist and satirist, suffered from the same problem. "I declare to god, if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob," he once said.

Dublin, despite Joyce's view on it, has been quick to cash in on his legend. At least 30,000 visitors flock to the James Joyce centre each year. The Dublin tourist board says Joyce's impact on revenue is immeasurable. Rejoyce 2004, the six-month arts festival that will commemorate Bloomsday will draw hundreds of thousands for a Joyce symposium, exhibitions and a light and music "spectacular" along the river Liffey. A new film version of Ulysses has also been made.

James Joyce reading groups in the city are oversubscribed, despite the fact that one group took seven and a half years to get through Finnegans Wake. These groups are particularly popular with retired "ordinary Dubliners" , who say they didn't have time for the almost 1,000-page novel before drawing their pension.

"I make no apologies for the razzamatazz," said Mr Norris, who himself performs a Joyce one-man show. "Why should the [detractors] be so snobbish? What's wrong with people enjoying themselves? Joyce has become a massive icon. We are a rather subversive people, we like undermining statues and showing they have feet of clay."

Helen Monaghan, director of the James Joyce centre, said attacks on Joyce were nothing new. "Ulysses is an easy target, it has a difficult reputation which we are trying to dispel."

What would Joyce would make of the current rumblings against him? "He would love it," said Mr Norris. "He would do his best to stir it up as hard as he could, make sure he was the centre of attention, then he would find some method of extracting money out of it."

· Online bookseller has sold 97,107 copies of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and 2,374 copies of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Post Sat Feb 14, 2004 2:22 pm
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The monster that is the works of Joyce is not for everyone to tackle - particularly writers who achieve dicksucking status while they are yooung and alive. This guy has an ego problem, which is checked by the prevelance of a unique and legendary writer, scorned in his life, celebrated with week long festivals. You cant fight the dead, but I guess you can try.

I love Joyce - Finnegans Wake is probably the greatest piece of fiction ever created. Ulysses is a little irritating in parts, but is still a cornerstone in literary history. Good luck, Dee, if you ever get the urge to pursue it.

On another note, I am guessing you saw the grammy's, right? And I know that you watched JT's set, which I actually liked even though the song annoys me to all hell. I liked it because he let my man on the trumpet take over - who was it? I cant remember the name and I am not familiar with his work, and since you are a jazz head, maybe you could help?
Post Sun Feb 15, 2004 5:21 pm
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I actually missed the grammies...oops.
Post Sun Feb 15, 2004 8:22 pm
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An actual editorial by a Joyce-hater hisself.;$sessionid$4ZGZMRDSPMQLBQFIQMFCFFWAVCBQYIV0?xml=/arts/2004/02/08/bopeck.xml&sSheet=/arts/2004/02/08/bomain.html

I blame Joyce
(Filed: 09/02/2004)

The novelist Dale Peck, notorious in America for his vitriolic book reviews, argues that the modern novel is elitist and empty.

Several years ago, the Village Voice asked me to review a novel, the second book from a writer with a convincingly authorial pedigree. The novel is somewhat hard to categorise: it's an epistolary romance of sorts, sort of, which is to say that there aren't really letters and there isn't really romance either, but a man and a woman do interact through written media, and this correspondence eventually produces a sort of emotional and sexual frisson. The man and the woman meet electronically; hence the uncertainty over genre, labels, names.

But this novel's true act of mimesis isn't its imitation of e-speak, but rather its imitation of fiction. Its words describe "characters"; its characters have detailed "histories"; these histories grow sedimentarily into "narrative"; but calling that narrative a "novel" is akin to calling a pan of flour and water, dutifully mixed together and baked, "bread". The ingredients are there, but the flavour and style, the yeast and salt of art, are not. The book lacks neither coherence nor intelligence. What it lacks is imagination, linguistic flair, a raison d'être more compelling than its author's presumably well-intentioned intention to write.

Its destiny, I'm sure, is to take up space on the shelves of America's chain bookstores, sandwiched in with the mass-produced simulacra that passes for literary fiction in this country. Because, even allowing for the fact that it takes time to separate the chaff from the wheat, the number of Stepford novels that are written, published, reviewed and read every year is completely out of control. I'm not sure if it's because the standards for literary fiction have become so lax or simply because the conventions are so inbred, but it seems that anyone can write a novel these days. Not a mystery or a thriller or a romance or any other type of acknowledged formula fiction, but a novel (file under: Literature; see also: Classics).

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming this particular novelist for the phenomenon. Certainly I'd rather be writing novels than working in an office any day, and if she can pull it off then it's no one's fault but the people who pay her. Rather, blame Thomas More for writing Utopia. Blame Sartre for writing "The Wall", Doris Lessing for writing The Golden Notebook, Gore Vidal for writing all those historical diatribes, blame Don DeLillo just for writing (and Jonathan Franzen, God help us, for reading him). Blame the people who publish these books; blame the people who buy them. Blame the creative writing courses and the prize committees, blame the deconstructionist literary critics or the back-patting Siamese-twinned professions of writing and reviewing fiction, blame any or all of the identity communities who read and write those ethnic- or gender-marketed booster books or blame the dead white European males who forced us to resort to literature as our Daily Affirmation in the first place. Blame whomever you want – but it seems to me that to summarise and evaluate yet another of these shadow fictions is to miss the point. These novels aren't bad. They just aren't novels. They aren't art.

When I think a book has let me down I get angry with it, and when I think that book has deceived me I get pissed off. Thus my sharpest barbs and most inhospitable ad hominems tend to be directed at writers I genuinely admire, or in whom I see genuine, wasted talent. This is because I see myself as a kind of mother hen, not so much of writers but of the novel itself. Fiction is like dance: it's susceptible to the egos of its practitioners. Bad writers can't do it much damage because they'll simply be ignored, but a self-indulgent writer with a single compelling skill can do incalculable harm.

It all went wrong with Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is less a Bildungsroman than the chapter by chapter unravelling of a talent which, if "The Dead" is any indication, could have been formidable, while Ulysses is nothing more than a hoax upon literature, a joint shenanigan of the author and the critical establishment predicated on two admirable, even beautiful fallacies that were hopelessly contingent upon the historical circumstances that produced them: William James's late-Victorian metaphor of the stream of consciousness, which today seems closer to phrenology than modern notions of psychology and neurology; and TS Eliot's early modern fantasy of a textual stockpile of intellectual history that would form an allusive network of bridges to the cultural triumphs of the ages, a Venice without the smell of sewage, or mustard gas.

It took an imagination as literal as Joyce's, a temperament as dogged, an ambition as lacking in nuance, to turn a book as lively as The Odyssey into a stale monument to everything that had so recently failed the world. That the book was so enthusiastically embraced represents less a return to the right path that so many wishful readers – including Virginia Woolf – hoped it would be, but rather a wilful assumption of blinkers to the ways in which a blending of the storied and historical notions of progress had led the world so recently astray.

For Joyce was not quite a modernist and then again not quite a lapsed Catholic. He lacked the doubt in language's ability to render the world that had made the stream of consciousness so attractive to early-20th-century writers in the first place, but thought instead that he was producing a mimetic account of how the mind worked; all you need then do is render a great mind – a mind as great as, say, Joyce's – and your problems would melt away. And yes, Joyce has his strengths; but it is his failings that have been most successful, most pervasive in their effect. Ulysses has served since its publication as the ideal for serious writers, and the 20th century is littered with magnum opuses that have been written under its sway, and that have marked the nadir of their various writers' careers.

If you aren't a novelist, I'm not sure you can imagine what it feels like to write such heresy. Though I normally write in the morning, I am writing this in the middle of the night like a fugitive; my hands are literally shaking as I type. Sometimes even I am overwhelmed by the extent of the re-evaluation I'm calling for, the sheer f***ing presumptuousness of it. The excision from the canon, or at least the demotion in status, of most of Joyce, half of Faulkner and Nabokov, nearly all of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo, not to mention the general dumping of their contemporary heirs. And then there's that other strain, which I can hardly bear to slog through, the realists and the realists and the realists, too many to name, too many to contemplate really, their rational, utilitarian platitudes rolling out endlessly like toilet paper off a spindle. The problem is too widespread within the insular literary and publishing world to merely pick at its edges: the entire scab must be ripped off.

Learning to like experimental literature was, for most readers, a monumental task; unlearning it is positively Sisyphean. Yet almost anyone will admit that literature is an inherited form, that each new generation learns from its predecessors. If we can accept that we build on our predecessors' strengths, than why can't we accept that we might build on their mistakes as well? Wasn't that, after all, the premise of the modernist revolution? That 30 centuries of Western culture had led not to a pinnacle of achievement but instead to the industrialised, assembly-line slaughter of soldiers and civilians in the First World War? Certainly the postmodernists thought so when it happened again a quarter of a century later, with concentration camps thrown in as a coup de grâce.

One of the most common criticisms I've received about my book reviews, especially from friends, is that I don't say much about the strengths of the writers. And it's true, I don't. Most of the novelists I review had thousands of words devoted to their strengths long before I got around to cataloguing their weaknesses: they don't need me to point them out again. And God knows I've never aspired to anything like impartiality. If anything, I've always considered my flagrant bias to be one of the saving graces of my reviews. If they're extreme in their opinions, that stridency can always be attributed to its author rather than to some pretext of a universal standard. The very extremity of my views does as much to undermine my authority as to enforce it, or at least I hope it does, because I am by no means convinced of the hallowedness of my own ideas. And talent isn't the issue here: content is, and context. It seems to me that there are two strains of literature currently in vogue – what I have referred to, for lack of more authoritative terms, as recherché postmodernism and recidivist realism – and both of them, in my opinion, suck. I'm not interested in pointing out how an author works well in one mode or another, or executes one aspect of one or another mode with a greater or lesser degree of success, because I think the modes need to be thrown out entirely.

The other thing I hear a lot is that I don't offer an alternative to the writing I spend so much time panning. If this is what writers shouldn't be doing, then what should they do? My feeling here is that the last thing readers need is a writer telling them what to read (besides his or her own books, of course). And as for writers: well, if you need me to tell you how to write a novel than you probably shouldn't be writing one in the first place.

Nevertheless, there are some things I'd like to say to my peers. These reviews are, I hope, some kind of dialogue with my generation. If, in the end, I offer nothing more than a series of prohibitions, it's because I think it's precisely the need to sign on to a programme that kills literature. As soon as a writer starts writing to belong to a tradition or a school rather than to describe what's wrong with the world, he or she has gone from being, in the most hackneyed terms, part of the solution to part of the problem. Something which can be held up to a predetermined list of attributes that can be checked off one by one, so that a score of 80 per cent makes it good, 90 per cent makes it great, and 100 per cent gets it a gold star, isn't art. It's high school – and bad high school at that.

As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition – the exaggerated panache with which teenage boys shoot hoops in their driveway while pretending they don't know their neighbour is watching from across the street. My hatred of all this teenage posing has reached such a fever pitch that I'm willing to be clownish in my denunciation of it – to spew obscenities in ostensibly literary contexts.

The plain truth is that I am less and less capable of intellectual engagement with contemporary fiction because I feel like I've been had when I do so: the very process of literary analysis legitimises a body of work that I feel is simply unworthy of such attention. My generation has inherited a tradition that has grown increasingly esoteric and exclusionary, falsely intellectual and alienating to the mass of readers, and just as falsely comforting to those in the club. In place of centuries of straightforward class discrimination, the 20th century invented an elitist rhetoric intelligible to only the most diligent and educated of readers – a club that doesn't exclude anyone per se, but makes you work very, very hard to join. It is a Pyrrhic victory, and like all such triumphs distracts us from our much greater failures. Contemporary novels have either counterfeited reality, or forfeited it. In their stead we need a new materialism.

Parts of this essay were originally published in 'The New Republic'. Dale Peck's 'What We Lost: a Memoir of My Father's Childhood' is published by Granta at £12 on February 19
Post Sun Feb 15, 2004 11:47 pm
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He turns his critique of modern literature and of Joyce in particular into an explanation for why his opinions are so sheerly opinionated . . . not to bitch, dee, but if your gonna site criticism of Joyce, couldya find something more valid? Ya know, someone who recognizes the vast difference between Joyce and Faulkner/experimentalists and realists? Someone who doesnt claim to know more about literature just because he is attempting to write it himself?
Post Mon Feb 16, 2004 12:18 pm
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Yeah, I'm not saying I agree with him at all - I love Joyce, at least what I've read! (Dubliners and Portrait). But I think he raises some good points about the whole issue of a literary canon - I mean, the literary world can be quite elitist w/out room for disagreement. Does Ulysses deserve its spot as the number one book of the 20th century? (as voted in that "top 100 books" poll). I don't know. Although I get the feeling that this guy prefers the late 19th century russian dudes, cuz they spoke on the "big issues" so to speak...
Post Mon Feb 16, 2004 12:33 pm
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good articles.... i've read about three of his books and 'ulysses' is the only one i didn't enjoy.... the length is my main problem because there are some wonderful pages and sections surrounded by some quite mundane writing, in my opinion.... it's quite difficult to get your head round straight away but it got slightly better after the first hundred pages or so....
Post Mon Feb 16, 2004 1:58 pm
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when you put it in that context - I will go so far as to say that Ulysses is a worthy contender for #1. Whether it is indisputably the greatest novel of our time is, admittedly, too elitest for any true Joyce fan.

Again, take care reading his later works, and keep in mind that it is not only the book itself that needs reading, but the research that the book has triggered. Half of the fun with Joyce (even concerning Portrait) is seeing how the pieces come together - the man was fucking hillarious!

The length is a problem for the new reader, definitely, and some parts of the book do not satisfy as much as I would like - but it covers a single day for the everyman of Dublin, so you have to wade through mundane details or lose the sense of reality that Joyce was creating.
Post Tue Feb 17, 2004 1:58 pm
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Post Tue Feb 17, 2004 4:32 pm
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