Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Bedside Labyrinth

From Anthony Burgess's book ReJoyce, an interesting passage about the nature of the book we are studying this summer:

Ulysses is a book to own, a book to live with. To borrow it is probably worse than useless, for the sense of urgency imposed by a time-limit for reading it fights against the book’s slow pace, a leisurely music that requires an unhurried ear and yields little to the cursory, newspaper-trained eye.... Ulysses is not an action-crammed thriller. It will however, yield to a reading-plan that combines the approach of the ordinary novel-reader and the more rarefied poetry-taster. When I first read Ulysses, at the age of sixteen, I tried to gobble it and failed, but I still contrived to make a comparatively swift meal of it—four full days of a school vacation.... But, at the end of my four days, I knew what the book was about. In the thirty-odd years since that first reading—an experience that made my examination set-books look a little pallid—I have only twice re-read the book continuously through, from stately plump Buck Mulligan to the final ‘yes’. I have preferred to take it in chapters, choosing any one I fancied at any particular time, recognising favourites—usually the episodes I liked least when I first met Ulysses—and, inside those favourites, turning to certain passages again and again. 
Ulysses ... invites this approach, rather as the Bible does. It is, in many ways, a precursor of the new wave in the novel, which is quite capable of asking us to treat a work of fiction as if it were a dictionary or an encyclopaedia—something to be stepped into at any point we please, begun at the end and finished at the beginning, partly read or wholly read, a plot of space for free wandering rather than a temporal escalator....  
Ulysses, then, is a labyrinth which we can enter at any point, once we have satisfied ourselves as to its general plan and purpose. It is one of the very few books in existence that can be picked up at any time, enrichening any odd moment and—rather than a tome we have to engage strenuously at a library table—it is a book for the bedside. To say that one has to live with it is not to utter a prejudiced, partisan claim but to state quite objectively that there is enough meat in it to last a lifetime. Its scope is deliberately encyclopaedic and its subtleties and puzzles require a sort of retired leisure for their working out.

A paperback edition of Burgess's 1965 book on Joyce.

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