I started off thinking Ulysses was a pile of incoherent drivel, even though I'd never got past the first page. At 20 I would sit in the uni bar getting pissed and slagging off literary types and lecturers who mentioned it (some of them were pretentious posers; some of them weren't). At 30 I decided to put up or shut up by actually reading it so that I could explain why it was incoherent drivel. The result was that I was drawn into it and have read it five times cover-to-cover. Like a lot of challenging literature, it requires a bit of life experience to get into.
The funniest bit in 'Ulysses' is when he's browsing a second hand book store for a book for his wife. As nice as she is, Bloom obviously knows she's not really on his intellectual/reading level. He decides to look for the kind of romance, Mills&Boon, type books for her. In the whole novel of course, the narrative style has it that the description of action, his thoughts, what he's reading, and his speech are all rolled together in the same syntax. So it's funny when he comes across a book, flicks to a random page and it says something like 'and she wore her finest gowns for him, she would do anything, for Raoul', and he just pisses himself, deciding there and then:
“This is it. This is the book. This one.”
Then a few pages later, the quote crops up again in his mind (much like things come back to us after a while when doing something completely unrelated) and he laughs about it again. A very interesting outline of the psychological process.
- Interestingly enough, Joyce was very influenced in on the porno-lit side, by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's Venus im Pelz. Joyce was a diagnosed schizo, which disease, at the beginning, made for one of the world's great Kustwerke, Ulysses, but in its way-out stages made for his garbled nonsense, "Finnegans Wake", as well. There is, really, too much of a good thing. Too much mouse running up your clock, jumbles up your hickorydickory beyond comprehension;
- To me "Ulysses" is still the #1 laugh-out-loud novel of all time, worth every minute of effort---and the best critical intro is still Ellmann's relatively small but high-impact "Ulysses on the Liffey." Read that first and you'll instantly enjoy 90% of the tough parts. Still laughing about the Irishman dragged away for setting a cathedral on fire. "I'm bloody sorry I did it," says he, "but I declare to God I thought the archbishop was in there."
- How could you not love Leopold Bloom? He talks to his cat. He eats with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls, which "give to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine". He wonders if it would be possible to cross Dublin without passing a pub. He surreptitiously observes the marble goddesses in the lobby of the National Museum to see if they have anuses. He buys pornographic novels for his wife, masturbates on a public beach without getting caught, and picks the winner at Ascot without even trying. The most endearing character in all literature.