November 25, 2008
Encyclopedia Joyceana, 1904
Amardeep Singh on teaching James Joyce’s Ulysses:
The encyclopedic quality of Joyce’s novel does pose somewhat of a problem for people who write about Ulysses. There is simply too much there, too many examples, too many variations on the major themes. The best essays on Ulysses tend to take a narrow theme as a focus, and use the development of that theme as a way of finding an angle or a reading of the novel. A classic structure is to take a theme that interests you, and show how it develops in three stages (possibly, amongst the novel’s three major characters). For instance, if you were interested in cooking and food, you could take a look at the food that is cooked at Martello Tower in Episode 1 (where Stephen does not eat), one or more of the episodes involving Bloom eating through the middle part of the novel, and finally Molly’s own references to food and eating at the end. The goal, of course, is to find an argument that shows some sort of movement or growing awareness relating to food, as described through these three glimpses into Joyce’s characters’ minds.
Even if Ulysses weren’t itself an encyclopedia, you could put all of these papers together and make one! Food in Ulysses. Porno in Ulysses. Jesuits in Ulysses. Tramcars in Ulysses. Soap in Ulysses.
You could do the same thing with Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Proust, or The Bible, but it is sometimes hard not to think that Joyce’s book is the Borgesian book that contains all other books.