Sunday, March 20, 2011

Joyce's Ulysses, Early New York Times Review from 1922

It's funny, how when Joyce's classic novel Ulysses first came out
in 1922, few people knew what to make of it. While they sensed
brilliance, they also felt frustration with this new form of art.

For instance, check out this early review from the New York Times.
The professor, Dr. Joseph Collins, clearly appreciates Joyce's genius, calling Ulysses "the most important contribution that has been made to fictional literature in the twentieth century."

At the same time, he laments at the work's abstruseness:

"...Moreover, he is determined to tell it in a new way. Not in straightforward, narrative fashion, with a certain sequentiality of idea, fact, occurrence, in sentence, phrase and paragraph that is comprehensible to a person of education and culture, but in parodies of classic prose and current slang, in perversions of sacred literature, in carefully metered prose with studied incoherence, in symbols so occult and mystic that only the initiated and profoundly versed can understand -- in short, by means of every trick and illusion that a master artificer, or even magician, can play with the English language..."

Well, despite the book's Delphic ambiguity, the professor turned out to be right. Ulysses did go down to become one of the best books of all time, at least according to this list from the Modern Library.

It makes one wonder about the artist's aesthetic, as Joyce explores in his first novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Should an artist follow a Kantian perspective, focusing on "art for art's sake" and disregarding all else (including $), except one's own Muse? And if the work is accomplished to the artist's wishes, is he "successful" in realizing his vision, regardless of outside understanding and recognition?

More musings later...

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