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Joyce is reputed to have said apropos Ulysses, ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries’ (although it now seems likely that this quotation is spurious). Is Ulysses (just) for academic puzzle-solvers or can there/should there be a wider audience (what Cervantes called the ‘Desocupado lector’ [idle reader])?

Joyce is reputed to have said apropos Ulysses, ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries’ (although it now seems likely that this quotation is spurious). Is Ulysses (just) for academic puzzle-solvers or can there/should there be a wider audience (what Cervantes called the ‘Desocupado lector’ [idle reader])?

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Nicholas Bland. Originally submitted for English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Sam Slote in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Nicholas Bland. Originally submitted for English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Sam Slote in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Joyce is reputed to have said apropos
Ulysses
, ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries’ (although it now seemslikely that this quotation is spurious). Is
Ulysses
(just) for academic puzzle-solvers or can there/should there be a wider audience (what Cervantes called the ‘Desocupadolector’ [idle reader])?ABSTRACT:This essay tries to explain that
Ulysses
is no longer a plausible text for generalreading, unless the notion of general reading is radically updated. It takes DeclanKiberd’s book,
Ulysses and Us
, as the starting point for a discussion that touches onthe idea of whether or not
Ulysses
was intended for a mass audience, and whether or not
Ulysses
 
 should 
be read more widely. Kiberd argues that Joyce’s intentions werefor 
Ulysses
to be accessible to everyone. This essay argues that Kiberd’s point ismade forcefully but that it’s overly idealistic. Whatever Joyce’s intentions were,
Ulysses
is no longer a bestseller. This is because its prose and narrative sense iscomplex and demands intense scrutiny. However,
Ulysses
suggests a revolution in theway we read.Part of the debate surrounding
Ulysses
concerns the idea that the academy hastaken exclusive ownership of the book. I argue that Kiberd’s book is successful in thatit is not written exclusively for an academic audience. In my research, I looked atclose academic commentary of 
Ulysses
built on notions of modern literary theory – for example, genetic criticism can enlighten us rewardingly about Joyce’s treatment of the reader on specific occasions during the text. I also looked at analyses of 
Ulysses
within books geared towards wider readership, and how reading for pleasure differsfrom reading for self-development. I felt John Carey’s argument that Leopold Bloomwould be unable to read
Ulysses
was central to answering the question. This essaydisputes Carey’s sense of Bloom’s intelligence. More broadly, but related to that point, the essay tries to find substance in the nebulous concept of who exactly thegeneral reader is, by contextualising the notion of Cervantes’ ‘Desocupado lector’. Iargue that readers who enjoyed Joyce’s earlier work are likely to notice the arc of stylistic development, and are better conditioned to be enthused by it than put off by
1
 
it. The essay explores ‘Oxen of the Sun’, ‘Ithaca’, and ‘Cyclops’ in detail asexploration of the challenges and rewards of 
Ulysses
for general readers.My investigation shows that the question of whether or not
Ulysses
should beread by the common reader is a sociological question as well as a literary one.Literary assessment of the question demonstrates the difficulty of particular passagesand it can assess Joyce’s notion of character from within the narrative. But the finalquestion of whether or not people
 should 
read the book is amorphous. Kiberd’sargument relies on characterising the academy as something remote and separate fromsociety. But every reader of 
Ulysses
is confronted by knowledge outside of his/her  prior understanding. The book demands study from any of its readers.
Ulysses
is notowned by academics, but they are able to provide instructive analysis of the book toall readers.The essay concludes by noting that many of 
Ulysses
complexities cannot besolved. The book will challenge general readers and academics alike; but it isaccessible to anyone willing to engage with the text that has time to read it.5 KEY WORDS DESCRIBING THIS SUBMISSION:Everyman. Academia. Difficulty. Challenging. Rewarding.ESSAY:Declan Kiberd’s
Ulysses and Us: the Art of Everyday Living 
has a picture of Marilyn Monroe on its front cover. The photograph shows Monroe transfixed by whatappears to be the last chapter or so of 
Ulysses
. The reader might assume this is Kiberdand his publishers making a joke at their own expense. Monroe reading
Ulysses
: nowthat
is
an impossible narrative. But the story behind the image is surprising.According to Eve Arnold, the lady who photographed her, Monroe used to keep
Ulysses
in her car, and had been reading it for a while at the time of the photo: ‘Shesaid she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense
2
 
of it – but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively.’
1
 The pictureentertains a number of cultural preconceptions about
Ulysses
- whether or not itintends them: is
Ulysses
a novel people feel they ought to have read? Do people pretend to have read it? Is
Ulysses
comically abstruse rather than a serious culturalartefact? Undercutting these questions is the reality beyond the camera: Monroe’slove of the euphonious language in
Ulysses
, which is tempered to some degree by thedifficulty of the text. If we take Monroe to represent ‘the general reader’, her readingexperience finds echo in students and professors. Parts of 
Ulysses
are delightfullyreadable, but some of it can be laboriously challenging. In this essay, I want to explainhow for ‘the general reader’,
Ulysses
initiates an approach to reading that collapses(still) conventional methods of reading; for 
Ulysses
is not just a revolution of language, it is a revolution of the way we read literature.If 
Ulysses
revolutionises reading, it is worth considering what we mean by the‘idle reader’. The term can be misleading when applied to
Ulysses
. At no stage and inno way can
Ulysses
be read idly, but James A. Parr explains that the term‘Desocupado lector’ was used in Cervantes’ prologue to
 Don Quixote
to differentiate‘the idle reader’ from ‘the ideal reader’;
2
by reading the book attentively, it is hopedthat ‘the idle reader’ will be closer to ‘the ideal reader’ than the kind of reader he/shewas when commencing the book. In this essay, I will use the terms: ‘idle reader’,‘general reader’, and ‘casual reader’ to refer to a collective wider audience.We might see something of the idle reader in Leopold Bloom. He reads for entertainment, rather than from professional obligation. We know that his copy of Denis Florence McCarthy’s
 Poetical Works
is bookmarked at page 5, and that an‘envelope bookmark(17.1371) is inserted at page 217 in his copy of WilliamO’Brien’s
When We Were Boys
. We also know Bloom’s eclectic literary interestsinclude an edition of 
Soll und Haben
, a six-volume novel notable for its anti-Semiticcontent – a strange, if not unfathomable, book for the half-Jewish Bloom to own. No bookmark is identified in Bloom’s copy of Shakespeare’s
Works
, and, as is pointedout by Kiberd, we know from the same episode (‘Ithaca’) that Bloom has referred to
1
Richard Brown, “Marilyn Monroe Reading
Ulysses
: Goddess or Post-Cultural Cyborg?”, R.BKershner, ed.
 Joyce and Popular Culture
(Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996) 174.
2
James. A. Parr,
 Don Quixote: A Touchstone for Literary Criticism
(Kassel: Reichenberger, 2005) 56-8.3

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