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James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Casebook

Wednesday, September 16, 2009; 08:54 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Casebook, edited by Derek Attridge, compiles a selection of essays about Ulysses written from soon after its publication to the present. In his introduction, Attridge explains the need to “find one’s own way of engaging with Joyce’s consistently inventive language (6, emphasis mine), and to develop a “direct engagement with Joyce’s writing, when the guides and notes are put away” (16). His casebook stresses the idea that the reader—and especially the novice Joycean or someone reading Ulysses for pleasure (the suggestion of starting with the fourth episode and then returning to the Telemachiad later certainly helps to empower the reader most of all)—ought to develop a personal connection with the text uninhibited by too much outside criticism, and thus doesn’t seek to be the definitive guidebook.

Attridge’s collection of essays, therefore, seeks to bring together writing about Ulysses from a variety of different perspectives which exhibit a direct engagement with the text, but also which will help the reader to develop the same sort of involvement and enjoyment him/herself. For this reason, it’s all over the place; there’s a conversation between Joyce and Frank Budgen from 1934, and an essay by Vicki Mahaffey outlining the problems surrounding editing Ulysses and its various editions, noting as well Joyce’s view of error in relation to his writing. There’s one by Emer Nolan on Ulysses in relation to Irish nationalism and independence, and another by Ewa Ziarek that approaches the novel from a feminist standpoint. What I find particularly interesting is that there’s an essay by Leo Basani, “Against Ulysses” which serves as one of the few recent negative criticisms of the novel (although it criticizes more how Ulysses is studied than the novel itself).

Ulysses: A Casebook seems like a really valuable text, although it seems like it may be aimed at the more casual reader than one in an academic setting (like, um, us). The call for putting down the supplementary texts and just reading the book is a pretty compelling one.

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