Saturday, January 05, 2008

Reading Ulysses . . .or not?

I admit right out that I have not yet read Ulysses, but it does sound interesting - and because I really like Virginia Woolf's style in The Waves, I'm thinking, based on what I've heard, that I would enjoy Ulysses, too. In college I only read 19th century British authors, so that when I arrived in Dublin in 1971, I was pretty clueless when our hosts wanted to show us all the Joycean spots of interest. I do recall with pleasure, however, a late afternoon "tea" of Irish coffee and sandwiches of smoked salmon on brown bread eaten in a hotel lobby before a blazing fireplace. Delightful.

Anyway, maybe I don't have to read Ulysses just yet, according to Pierre Bayard's new book How to Talk About Books you Haven't Read, in this review by Toby Lichtig from the Guardian. However, I will have to disagree with Bayard's perspective --
Taking it as given that no one actually reads for the pleasure of the process, Bayard proceeds to investigate the meaning of bibliographic cultural capital
-- because the pleasure of reading is indeed at least half of why I read. On the other hand, I can certainly see the point in this perspective:
'Non-reading' for Bayard, is 'a genuine activity'. It implies an engagement with literature and is different from mere 'absence of reading'. A 'true reader' is simply 'one who cares about being able to reflect on literature'. With so little time and so many books, he argues, it is better to spread the net wide and settle for a general sense of the multitude.
in terms of caring about books - and the ideas they include. And Bayard's point about situating ideas is particularly intriguing:
'Relations among ideas are far more important than the ideas themselves,' he insists. Thus, it is only ever necessary to get a rough sense of what any particular book is about - and where to place it in the 'collective library'.
Certainly I'm always telling students how important it is to gain a sense of the conversation about ideas. And isn't that what Bayard is saying here, in part? So, I would agree with the review that the book certainly seems worth reading - both as Bayard says "with so little time and so many books" - I might get to Ulysses first.



Blogger Michael Faris said...

I have disagree with Bayard on his claim that we should cast the net wide. Isn't this the same, tired postmodern breadth without any depth? What does it matter if I can connect ideas if I can connect them only superficially? And I'm not trying to make a romantic call on the past — when everyone certainly read in depth — because I don't believe that necessarily existed. But why not read in depth?

I certainly agree that you should know about other ideas, even if you aren't immersed in them, and to connect them. But certainly, some ideas and texts (the ones deemed valuable by the reader, perhaps? i don't know) should be engaged with depth.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Sara Jameson said...

But do we have to decide on breadth OR depth - why the binary? I would argue that I can have both - depth on some texts/ideas/genres and breadth on others. For example, I read (or used to when I had time) lots of poetry by NW women poets -- great depth. But I didn't read as much poetry by other poets. So more breadth than depth there. Which is what you are saying, actually - "some ideas and texts . . . should be engaged with depth." Is Bayard really saying that NO ideas or texts should be engaged with depth? That I would not agree with.

10:52 AM  

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