(InJoyce!) . . . Digital Annotations . . .

Shhhh! . . . While he’s busy . . .

. . . for an Easier Ulysses

(much needed)

In the thirty-odd years since my  first reading,  I have only twice re-read the book continuously through, from stately plump Buck Mulligan to the final ‘yes’.  I have preferred to take it in chapters, choosing any one I fancied at any particular time, recognising favorites–usually the episodes I liked least when I first met Ulysses–and, inside those favourites, turning to certain passages again and again.  Ulysses invites this approach rather as the Bible does.”

–Anthony Burgess , Here Comes Everybody, p177

pre-1923 edition of Ulysses

Imagine driving down a Dublin road on into night, blindfolded and bewildered.  “Terrified” may not be too strong a word.  You may succeed in crossing some of the landmarks where the characters of Ulysses are found.  I compare this to reading Ulysses without guidance.  I’ve done it, eight times.  Good luck!  Of course, you might get lucky and run into the nice cushy book, at left.

Imagine driving down those same streets with several big fat heavy unfoldable maps–with tiny print–on your lap.  I would compare this to reading the same book with one–or two–or two dozen–references at arm’s length.  Are you in any better shape than above?  Citations and maps both need a light touch.

This is a blog about attempting to read just one single chapter of Ulysses, with the advantages of digital tools.  There must be some contemporary method to replace those ratty, musky old copies, with margins chock full of notes and just enough underlinings in pencil, pages falling out.  It brings back words of praise to Coleridge from Charles Lamb.  I am working up chapter 1.  Hopefully, you may want to mark up a single chapter.

Those days may be gone.  I have wondered whether there might be a digital substitute.  We, the digital, have accepted such reading conveyances as the Adobe Acrobat .pdf format (my thesis) to the Kindle (for stuff that people actually read).  We can now hyperlink, comment, and highlight.  These features have become so common that click, type, and rollover are in the daily lives of those who use computers and eReaders at all.

I wish to develop simple tools for marking up Joyce’s Ulysses.  I hope that the process will encourage communal effort.  One marked-up hardcopy of this big book will probably lead to one mark-up copy–in the trash.  One marked-up digital copy may lead to many hundreds of readers marking up a single copy read by many thousands.

Why the extra effort, Buddy?  Hasn’t all been said and done already?  Well, no, Joyce made sure of that.  And even though, we are bumping up against the 100 years he predicted it would take to unravel his novel, I consider this period to be the equivalent of excavation and tagging–and now restoring according to some taxonomy.

Page 5, Ulysses

With the “second 100 years”, I wonder if the game plan might be along the lines of films The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995) or the more recent The Guard (2011).  Now we need a guide or more than one for all that has been spread before us that is ever new.  In my small part, I am one of those guides.  I am here to show you through the labyrinth that ends at the room where–not filled with the twee and the whimsy–we encounter Stephen in his personal Infernos of Horror.

Joyce often referred to himself as a “killed poet” and I love the line.  He had a wonderful poetic gift–that always seemed to flow on top of time.  Most poets distill the moment.  Joyce wishes to inspect every perception of the moment.  Equally valid.  Try this:

Page 8, Ulysses

A little bewildering to encounter this animal of a page slinking down a corridor.  Dissected, this is Joyce’s highly concentrated view of Irish movements.  This is my favorite passage in chapter 1.  Devilish and intense and depairing and deluded–but good!  Stephen is awakened to the grief he feels for his dead mother.  Perhaps one of the great passages of literature.  To an untrained eye, it looks like two blurs of the page, two speed bumps on the road to Molly Town, or at least in that direction.

This “Good Stuff” extends throughout Joyce.  It never separates itself from its circumstances, the way a poem is distilled into its own space in the pages of the New Yorker.  All these still urgent moments are a part of the general bustle, and may clearly be beyond the awareness of the characters, even as is the talisman potato that Bloom carries by faith, but which protects both himself and Stephen.

pp. 27-29, Ulysses

This is GREAT STUFF!  And, as is typical for Joyce, you can spend a lifetime looking for these nuggets, and develop your own theories as you go along.  Life will interrupt.  Thank God for that.  Do not mind being distracted.  As Bradbury makes note way at the top of the page, Ulysses is rather like 18, or 800, short stories.  A single reading is almost a worthless pursuit for all but a few.  Looking back now, I’m more productive on one chapter than I ever have been on cover to cover.

Joyce will be ever dense, but ever irreverent and funny.  I sometimes think of him as well as I think of our own Laurence Stern.  Why should you ever think of finishing Tristram Shandy?  Just go until it’s no longer funny.  Joyce does provide greater insight into a greater human comedy.  However, by the time you know that, your head is probably full anyhow.

For the dense passages, I am proposing that one might unlock those more obscure citations in levels of three.  One level to get you going.  A second time around to point out the features of the land.  A third is history.


10 comments on “(InJoyce!) . . . Digital Annotations . . .

  1. HCG diet says:

    Hmm, I never thought about it that way. I do see your point but I think many will disagree

    • Thank you for your comments. I’d be glad to hear more. Yes, there will be many who will disagree. My goal is just to make commentary and highlighting to the text that is as unobtrusive as possible. Ben

  2. Mike says:

    Admirable. I’m already queuing. Bravo!

    • Ben Logan says:


      Thank you. I should write up a posting on my latest discovery, but here it is for you. By the way, your observations on Les Mis are spot on. The real stars are Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. My friends who don’t keep up with films think Hathaway is a light-weight. They do not understand the praise she’s been getting lately.

      There are deals all over the Internet for joining Audible.com. Often you can get one book free in return for a 30 trial membership. Mike Norton and Marcella Riordan are excellent with all the many, many voices and the narration of Ulysses. So much so that Chapters 3-10 really become no obstacles at all. They just read as an especially intelligent radio performance. I now find that I can enjoy falling asleep by starting anywhere in chs. 1-10 and letting Audible Ulysses do the work.

      The only problem is that, from Chs. 11-15, you encounter some pretty jarring stuff. Sirens, Cyclops, Oxen of the Sun and Circe, etc., are difficult and jarring. Awake or asleep, it’s difficult getting through these four, though–no doubt–I’ll get to where I can appreciate Oxen of the Sun. Sirens, oddly, can wake me out of a dead sleep, even at very low volume. My mind does not know what to make of it.

      The last three chapters are also quite easy to listen to. It all has help me to discover that that’s kind of the point. When well done, Ulysses is kind of a audial play where we don’t feel any need to understand every utterance or sound.

      I hope this advice might lead you through chs. 4 to 10. Pat Delaney has given us enough to make sense of ch. 1-3. With ch. 15-18, we’re over halfway through the book. Yay!


  3. Mike says:

    I’m wrestling with Cyclops at the moment Ben, Joyce in one hand and Gifford in the other. I’m in real danger of cross-eyes! I have never ‘read’ an audio book but I’m going to give consideration to your suggestion. Perhaps as a backup, for clarification maybe. I’ll let you know one way or the other. In addition to my preoccupied hands and bewildered eyes I would have to involve my ears as well and am not sure if I can absorb such sensory overload in addition to the emotional one. It sounds tempting tho’. And I like your concept of selective revisiting on audio – I sense that it could improve the entire experience.

    Thanks for your valuable input. It also serves to remind me that I’m not the only one questioning his intelligence and sanity with this blessed/accursed tome.

    • Ben Logan says:


      I got my free copy of Ulysses through audible.com/minutephysics. Wow, what a deal!

      It’s helped me a lot with how the chapters should sound. The Citizen now makes sense and I don’t have to recognize every reference. Even Oxen of the Sun, which is awfully daunting, sounds moving in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Oh, so that’s what it’s about!


      • Mike says:

        Great minds think alike Ben – I’ve just received my Norton & Riordan as advised 🙂

      • Ben Logan says:


        Me a great mind? Heck, no. I just try to do my job. Life’s a lot more peaceful that way.:)

        I gather you’re Australian (aussiemandias is quite a clever email handle, and I’m sure it’s one that Australian writer Tim Flannery would love).

        Two of the biggest books of my heritage are probably Ulysses (we share that) and Moby Dick. Moby Dick is almost impenetrable to Americans. Our accent has changed so much from when it was written, that we just can’t get the hang of it.

        The Moby Dick Big Read has just finished and it’s really great. It’s something else you can listen to. It’s taught me finally that it is one great novel, and I did not need a reference book for it.


  4. Mike says:

    I have finished Ulysses. The task was made all the easier with your advice Ben. I will be posting an article about it in due course and I’ll let you know when it’s up.

    I am nominating you for The One Lovely Blog Award/The very Inspiring Blogger Award.

    Here are the rules.
    (1) Thank the person who nominated you.
    (2) Add The one Lovely Blog Award/The very Inspiring Blogger Award to your post.
    (3) Share 7 things about yourself.
    (4) Pass the award on to 10 nominees.
    (5) Include this set of rules.
    (6) Inform your nominees by posting a comment on their blogs.

    Thanks again,

  5. Ben Logan says:

    (1) I thank you, Mike. I have not been interested in getting readers to this post–only those who have been just plain determined to immerse themselves in the book. Mike has, and I’m very thankful that we’ve been in comment
    (2) Thank you for this honor The Very Inspiring Blogger. Glad to do what I can.
    (3) Seven things about myself.

    –I live in Blacksburg, vA, home of Virginia Tech Univ.–that’s in the USA. After the sad, sad massacre of 33 students five years ago, I wanted to find a book that would help me and others with the grieving process. Ulysses has been perfect, in a cold and seemingly meaningless universe. I would also like to recommend the symphonies 3 through 7 of Ralph Vaughan Williams. By some strange irony, the comforting Symphony no. 5 was playing on public radio as the shootings were happening.

    –I am a Geographical Information Systems analyst, who works on climate issues for sustainable agriculture and wine production.

    –I listen to Mike Norton’s reading of Ulysses twice a day presently. He has helped me to understand a perfectly windy, bombastic episode such as Aeolus. And has helped me to penetrate two thoroughly strange (to my ears) episodes, Sirens and Cyclops.

    –I give Mike Norton all the credit. I learned curiously that the 4+ hours it takes to read (or listen) to Circe as Norton does, is actually meant to be heard at half that reading speed. I gather that Norton was simply trying to gather up as much of Circe as he could onto CD’s. I do think that, based on Norton, Circe is actually about an 8 hour play. A major discovery to me, and I’m glad that Audible makes it easy to control the speed on Android.

    –My Modern British literature professor, Dr. Dorothy MacMahon, seriously believed that Ulysses was the next book of the Bible. And in my own sense, it and Moby Dick and the Bible are my own legacy.

    –I’ve had an obsession with Ulysses since I was 18 years old. I’ve read it countless times, and I enjoy the wonder of going to sleep at night as a chapter is read to me.
    –Ulysses influences my thinking everyday. This is a story of the connections we make with one another, rather than becoming morose lonely souls. I am cheered on by the courage and optimism of Leopold Bloom.

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