James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – the Warm-Up with Coach Rodney Hall.

Gotta love a man with an eye-patch.

Gotta love a man with an eye-patch.

J: I guess that’s what War and Peace is about. It’s about what happens when people are forced to cope with the force of history as it’s bearing down on them, which I guess is the way Tolstoy would have looked at it.

R: I’m so glad you liked War and Peace. I knew you would. When you were reading Anna Karenina, you were telling me ‘There couldn’t possibly be a better novel’. And then, there was.

J: It wasn’t so much that it was ‘better’ – it’s just more than a novel.

R: It is. It’s just life. Tolstoy’s massive appetite for life.

J: It really is the ultimate philosophical dissertation, written the way philosophy should ultimately be written.

R: That’s right.

J: You have the thesis that history is a phenomenon which occurs between the poles of freedom and necessity, and the way the two kind of morph into one another as far as human motives are concerned. And that idea is played out comprehensively through the lives of its characters.

R: That’s the problem with philosophers. Some of them really are great writers; Kant is a fantastic writer, and Schopenhauer writes like an angel! But the problem is, no matter how brilliant the thought, they always want to boil everything down to this one, simple little equation. Tolstoy has the ability to consume everything whole.

J: Well, now that I’ve read Venus in Furs, I’ve got to knock over this book of David Foster Wallace short stories, and then I’ll be into Ulysses. I feel like its time. I feel ready for it.

R: You’ll love Ulysses. I think you’ll be able to cope with it.

J: Why is that?

R: Well, it does a similar thing in a way, to War and Peace. When Tolstoy wrote War and Peace, he was saying, ‘This is what you really can do in a novel’, and that book really is everything. Just remember, War and Peace was probably only published forty years before.

J: Bullshit.

R: It was! And to someone like Joyce, Tolstoy has said, ‘You can fit everything in, and address everything’. Joyce says, ‘Right. Well, I’m not going to do everything, I’m only going to do one day, but I’m going to put in absolutely everything that occurs within that one day.’

J: I’ve got The Bloomsday Book. Do you think I should read the book before each chapter of Ulysses?

R: The Bloomsday Book is really clever with what it does, and it is interesting, but look, it’s like someone going up to Picasso during his cubist period and saying, ‘Well, that’s actually supposed to be a woman there, so I’ll just draw a line around it…’

‘Fuuuuuuuck off!’

If Joyce wanted you to know where you were, he’d have told you. I think you’ll be okay because you’ll be able to accept not knowing where you are. You just have to wade in… and go with it.

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