Strolling through Ulysses

Robert Gogan’s one-man show, “Strolling through Ulysses” (ongoing at The Stag’s Head pub and other venues, Dublin) is ideal for anyone from the James Joyce scholar to the intrepid reader who found the work impenetrable. The former will be engaged by how Gogan highlights certain layers – especially the potentially humorous ones – of that manifold work, and the latter will be delighted to find a perfectly accessible presentation of Ulysses as a piece of entertainment. Even those who have never tried the tome will have no trouble following the plot and pleasures of Gogan’s show.  Mainly, for those of us who read the novel with a mixture of admiration and frustration, Gogan brings back the good memories without triggering the bad.

Probably the lynchpin of the show is Gogan’s delivery style – the facial expressions, the rhythm and pace, the lingering on key phrases from the book (e.g., “scrotum-tightening sea”) that are pregnant with humor and with deeper meaning at the same time. Part of the story’s pace is driven by the erratic transitions (“ok, let’s get back to…”; “anyway…”). This is no oversight but a reminder that perfect continuity was never the point in Joyce’s writing. Gogan teases us into enjoying the associative flow without getting anxious about “losing the thread.” That, indeed, might be the best learned secret to enjoying Joyce’s longer works.

If any improvement could be made, Gogan could perhaps use props and dynamic movement to better distinguish the characters. One could picture a bit more color and prancing about. The second act is more polished in this regard, especially in the excellent segments on Gerty and Molly. Gogan’s epilogue of contemporary criticism fit well and could even be extended a bit for my taste. But as I press to think of how to pull out more potential, even that pressure is a sign of the show’s strength. As in Ulysses itself, part of the richness lies in the sense that there are always, no matter how many readings you give, more hidden opportunities to be dug out of the text.

 

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Jung on Joyce’s Ulysses

Thanks to fellow blogger, Manja, for the following:

In 1932, renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote a largely critical piece for Europäische Revue on the subject of UlyssesJames Joyce‘s groundbreaking, controversial, and famously challenging novel. From Jung’s essay:

“I read to page 135 with despair in my heart, falling asleep twice on the way. The incredible versatility of Joyce’s style has a monotonous and hypnotic effect. Nothing comes to meet the reader, everything turns away from him, leaving him gaping after it. The book is always up and away, dissatisfied with itself, ironic, sardonic, virulent, contemptuous, sad, despairing, and bitter […] Yes, I admit I feel have been made a fool of. The book would not meet me half way, nothing in it made the least attempt to be agreeable, and that always gives the reader an irritating sense of inferiority.”

In September of that year, Jung sent a copy of his article to Joyce along with the following fascinating letter.

Dear Sir,

Your Ulysses has presented the world such an upsetting psychological problem that repeatedly I have been called in as a supposed authority on psychological matters.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about three years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I’m profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter. I also don’t know whether you will enjoy what I have written about Ulysses because I couldn’t help telling the world how much I was bored, how I grumbled, how I cursed and how I admired. The 40 pages of non stop run at the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil’s grandmother knows so much about the real psychology of a woman, I didn’t.

Well, I just try to recommend my little essay to you, as an amusing attempt of a perfect stranger that went astray in the labyrinth of your Ulysses and happened to get out of it again by sheer good luck. At all events you may gather from my article what Ulysses has done to a supposedly balanced psychologist.

With the expression of my deepest appreciation, I remain, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,

C. G. Jung

xxx

Gary to Manja:

Thanks, Manja, for that gem of cultural history. I often hear lavish praise or contemptuous disregard or sheer mystification from readers of Ulysses, but Jung captures the comprehensive experience best of all. The frustration, the admiration, the resentment toward Joyce, the moments of humorous tit-for-tat between reader and text – this is remarkably close to my own experience with Ulysses. And despite my large range of reactions, like Jung I feel the dominant one is that I have been fooled or defeated. For a more unambiguously satisfying experience with that modernist stream-of-consciousness style, I prefer Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I think it is the most successful expression of that style/period and one of the four of five best novels ever written in English. It unfolds into a wonderfully rich modernist novel without the maturbatory antics or readerly frustrations of Joyce’s prose. It too is a difficult novel, but while reading To the Lighthouse, I never once doubted that the difficulty was worth it. With Ulysses, I’m still not sure it was worth it.

Gary