Book of a Lifetime: Ulysses, by James Joyce

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The Independent Culture

Though much of it was written 90 years ago, Ulysses remains way ahead of our time. It planted evergreen paths for abandoning taboos on anything as fair game for literary treatment. For liberation of language, imagery, punctuation and sound effects; for stream of subconscious and shifting points of view; for dream realities and inner monologues; for the incorporation of every extreme of parody, play, epiphany, and uncensored speech or thought, in a wondrously ebullient wordhoard that celebrates the continuity of 3,000 years of literature.

Every dalliance in its pastures unfailingly tallies with, illumines and refreshes my experience of life. I love reconnecting with Leopold Bloom as he looks back and forward to his meals of the day; love joining Stephen Dedalus, Molly Bloom et al as they muse on their love, sex and fantasy lives. Scintillating syntheses of sound, sense and beauty suffuse these 742 pages. "Buck Mulligan slit a steaming scone in two and plastered butter over its smoking pith ... On his shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins." And yet acute social realism also deepens the mega-pithy topographical and psychological insights. As when Bloom, the newsprint-seasoned advertisement canvasser, peruses "The pink edition of the Telegraph... to read about Dignam, R.I.P.", whose funeral he had attended that day. Following the paper's account of the obsequies, names of the mourners are listed, among whom Bloom's earnest gaze lights upon – third from last – "L. Boom".

The book's sheer bulk might seem forbidding, as might the fanfaring reams of academic baggage that have spread around it from Joyce's personal odyssey to contemporary Dublin's hype-roaring Tiger Gluttonomy. There are indeed aeons of intertextual, linguistic and mythical references to be winkled out of its every cranny. And yet each cranny can be relished, if you read it aloud – or in the mind's ear – as delicious guileless word jazz. In a TV film about Joyce, a chorus line of schoolgirls, presumably uncluttered by a surfeit of esoterica, let alone of Joyceolatry, performed a delighted skipping-rhyme rendition of the following passage, cancanning as they chanted: "Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler..."

There's poetry for you. Wherefore, rejoice to reJoyce. Dylan Thomas did, Bob Dylan does, Plurabelle's to be. Green book-bound yet boundless – as erst and forever, amen. And woemen. In the beginsong was the bird. In the unend is "and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." An inexhaustible foun- tain of revelatory sound.

Michael Horovitz's 'A New Waste Land' is published by New Departures/Poetry Olympics

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