Why should you read James Joyce's "Ulysses"? - Sam Slote
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Joyce is trying to write an encyclopedia of all the different modalities of human experience. Through the story of a few people in Dublin on one day in 1904, he tries to suggest the entirety of all human experience, and in this way the book’s realism and its symbolism could be viewed as two sides of the same coin. By precisely delineating the activities of a group of specific people in a specific place at a specific time, he aims to suggest all the things that we all do.
"Ulysses" has 18 chapters and each one has a series of symbols and correspondences that Joyce mapped out on what is called a schema. The schema lists for each chapter a corresponding art, color, symbol, technic, and Homeric parallel. The schema is a good starting place for reading the text, but it’s only a starting place since it can also be a bit limiting. Don’t worry if you can’t see everything on the list in the book. Michael Groden has a very good chapter-by-chapter breakdown on his website.
A little knowledge about Dublin can help since the novel is so deeply tied into the city. Some students at Boston College have put together an online project that documents the various characters’ itineraries throughout the book. Another site gathers together contemporaneous photographs and pictures to illustrate "Ulysses."
Because of its sheer volume, the world of Joyce criticism can seem intimidating. Michael Groden has compiled a good bibliography, with an emphasis on "Ulysses." Some classic texts of Joyce criticism can be found online; Frank Budgen’s book James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses” is a very good guide for first-time readers.
Because of the difficult circumstances of its first publication, the first edition of "Ulysses" was greatly flawed. Subsequent editions are not immune from problems either; an account of the different editions of "Ulysses" can be found here. The text of the first edition along with some excellent lectures can be found as part of the Modernist Versions Project “Year of Ulysses”.
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