venturing forth

I’m now about 150 pages into Ulysses, so I figured it might be a good time for an update. I think with a book like this, it would be too much to wait until the very end to write about it. Also might be interesting to note down my thoughts on it progressively, and see if my understanding, perspectives and opinions on the story change or develop.

So far, I find that Ulysses has a very staccato rhythm. It’s very “stream of consciousness”, which I suppose is basically what it is, as we are immersed in the innermost thoughts of the two protagonists. It’s very much the most raw and unedited version of thought, intended only for the thinker — no context or subtext explained (since it’s already known and understood by the thinker), and no need to round out each thought as a fully formed, grammatically correct sentence.

The style of writing — with all the short, sharp sentences — seem to give the novel a faster pace. At times, I’ll be reading Ulysses, and find that I’m breezing through it, but then I’ll suddenly realise that I’ve been reading without really understanding or absorbing what I’ve just read. Yes, sometimes that happens with other novels, but it seems to happen more with Ulysses, and actually it feels easier to go faster and further before I realise I should probably slow down and think about what I’m actually reading.

But that’s the nature of thought, isn’t it? There is a lot of conscious thought, but also a lot of subconscious thought, and it all happens so fast. It’s possible for the mind to jump from one thought to another so rapidly, and so seamlessly, no matter how unrelated each subsequent thought happens to be.

Overall, reading Ulysses is more enjoyable than what I expected. But to be fair, I’m not entirely sure that I expected to enjoy it at the start. Maybe I was afraid I wasn’t going to understand it, and I’d just be stumbling through until I got to a point where I was forced to admit defeat. So expectations were probably low.

I mentioned in the previous post that I’m using a reading guide that I found online. However, I’m now at a point where I’m actually considering abandoning the reading guide. This is not because I think I don’t need it anymore, but because it actually has some spoilers. The guide is divided into chapters, and does a pretty good job of explaining what’s happening, but the writer seems unable to refrain from pointing out the foreshadowing of, or connection to, future events. Useful, interesting and insightful, but spoilers always feel like they detract from the pure immersive experience.

Anyway, perhaps I’ll stop consulting the reading guide for a while, and we’ll see if it affects my understanding and enjoyment of Ulysses. Up until now, I would basically read a chapter, and then check the reading guide to see if I missed any important details, or misunderstood what I read. I think I’ve done ok with grasping the general gist of things, but there are events or scenes that the guide has definitely clarified for me. Is 150 pages enough “experience” for me to venture forth on my own now? I guess we’ll find out…