What better way to mark yesterday’s 100th anniversary of Bloomsday than to admit I have never read more than twenty pages of Ulysses, due in no small part to the Leavisite method of critical textual analysis introduced in my first days of undergraduate English. Don’t get me wrong: I respect the man, and having heard several sections of Finnegans Wake read aloud, can vouch for the fact that Joyce was a funny old bugger. Trouble is, the attraction of reading Ulysses has been sullied by the determination of various news outlets to strap onto the whole Bloomsday shenanigans every freaking year. Like clockwork. I propose an anti-Bloomsday as the antidote. Buggered if I know how that would work though.
Anyway, what better way to follow that paragraph than to admit that I recently finished all 758 pages of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, a book that someone once said (I’m paraphrasing) made most other books look a little simpleminded. Now, I know people say that Ulysses is, erm, difficult. Seems Pynchon got it into his head that he could go one better and, by the looks of it, the man has succeeded. Parts of Gravity’s Rainbow are truly unreadable. You know that phrase “Don’t go there”? Yeah well, Pynchon goes there. There’s no point trying to describe where he goes. You’ll have to read it yourself. But boy am I pleased with myself that I managed to get through it. I enjoyed most of it. There is some truly classic humour in this book. Then again, there’s some stuff that’s not for the squeamish. For this reason, I find it completely understandable that the book both won and lost the Pulitzer Prize (the panel’s decision to award the prize to Pynchon was overturned on the grounds of obscenity, meaning the Prize was not awarded that year).
The Internet seems the perfect place for discussion of Pynchon, and a variety of websites offer much in the way of explanation and helpful references. Not sure if the Simpsons episode featuring Pynchon has aired in Oz yet. But did I mention meeting Pynchon on a train in the US a couple of years ago? I talk about it here. A poem of mine, entitled “Thomas Pynchon and the Art of Anonymity Maintenence” was recently published in Meanjin. Finally, Thomas Pynchon’s new intro to “1984”. Okay so it’s not that new but I just found it. Wow.
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One of the virtues of Finnegans Wake is that Ulysses appears accessible by contrast.
The Wake also concluded the modernist period. Joyce so thoroughly realized his new method no one could ever use it to create a new literary tradition outside a few aesthetes. His peristent elaboration did make the final product too hard–but oh how it shines!
Yes, good point. and FW is great to hear being read out loud …