JOE WEBB AND CO. – THE WRITTEN WORLD

From Third Bass’s Guide to Hitting Triples…

Posted in Uncategorized by The Books Production Team on January 19, 2009

typewriter4          Editor’s Note: Today we’ll be taking a break from our normal Dr. Wizard’s Advice posting schedule to highlight some of the site’s new features.  If you scroll through the tabs on the right side of this page, you’ll notice that we now have posted links to the development page for The Ivory Towers, our fledgling television project about “some of the world’s smartest people struggling desperately not to make incredibly stupid decisions,” and Third Bass’s Guide to Hitting Triples, Matt’s new series of posts about enjoying the special little things that make a life outstanding as you transition out of college and into adulthood (in a sense, it’s our own version of The Office’s “Finer Things Club”).  Below, we offer a sample lesson from Third Bass’s Guide – which tells you why you should tackle the incredibly difficult task of Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (in case you were looking for a headache and couldn’t find a wall to bang your head into).  We’ll be back with a completely different post – one championing the virtues of The Road Trip – tomorrow. 

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jj_fedora            Read Ulysses – I’ve spent the majority of my teaching career attempting to persuade my students that the things I enjoy are just absolutely fucking awesome.  Say what you want, but in all seriousness, this is my job (well, that and disseminating information, cultivating intellectual conversation, and fostering critical thinking practices). All-in-all, I suppose that what this says about me is that I come from the educational school of Homi Bhabha, Judith Butler, and John Paul Riquelme (kind of) – in that I agree that there has been a shift away from the pedagogical to the performative in the university classroom. So, in a way, I guess I’m just a really smart clown. Anyhow, you should read James Joyce’s Ulysses.

          Now here’s why this is a worthwhile endeavor: Oscar Wilde envisioned the critic as artist, and I agree with his perception of criticism.  I generally refer to my performative teaching style as künstlerpädagogik – not only because it sounds nifty and it employs two umlauts, but also because understanding the connections between creative and critical thinking produces unexpected connections in a serious kind of play—essentially, it’s Lévi-Straussian bricolage in practice.  When texts confront me with the limits of understanding and force me to think on a variety of levels to begin seeing important relationships and understanding complex interpretations, I often find myself creatively bridging gaps to uncover meaning.  For example, to help understand the musicality of James Joyce’s language in Finnegans Wake you should turn to Louis Armstrong’s 1926 recording of “Heebie Jeebies” in which he produces the nonsensical, improvised singing method known as scat. Why is this academic mumbo-jumbo important? Essentially, this is what life is all about: creating connections, seeing interesting relationships, and (if you recall from the previous post) consciously creating a constellation of obsessions that compliment one another. Ulysses is a marathon in its own right…and contains all the glorious variety that seduced you into that newly cultivated pipe-smoking habit.

          Ulysses is a book about the fundamentals of humanity: love, compassion, forgiveness, adultery, masturbation, flatulence; not to mention it consistently tops every list of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Unlike Citizen Kane, which consistently tops every list of the greatest movies of all time and which most people have not seen (Editor’s Note: This is because Citizen Kane kind of sucks), Ulysses is still being read in massive numbers (albeit by disgruntled undergraduates in mid-level English courses, and even then they are only reading excerpts, and really – if we’re being honest – they are probably only reading an online summary from Amazon.com).

          So why should you read it? For the same reason you’ve decided to read this blog, run a marathon in 50 states, and begin pipe smoking: to be awesome.  That way, next time you’re at the bar with your co-workers for Friday evening happy hour, and Mike from accounting launches into a diatribe about Drunk History or The Will Arnett Sex Tape (in all seriousness, if Mike starts talking about either of these things you should immediately befriend him because he is already pretty damn awesome), you can fire back with an intelligent allusion to James Joyce’s Ulysses, probably something from the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode (although you may have to do a bit of quick work to fit in your witty and intelligent remark – or you may suffer a verbal beating for not understanding the patterns of basic conversation).  In all seriousness, though, in the end, there is little more satisfying than completing an enormous and potentially overwhelming project. Joyce’s novel is a door-stopper, it’s written in a number of different genres, employs a complex and convoluted schema, and ignores basic punctuation guidelines.  It might take a year to read, another year to re-read, and even longer to understand (you should probably plot it out using the same method that folks use to read The Bible in a given 12-month span).  Sure, reading Ulysses is a pain in the ass, and you’ll probably throw it at your wall at least three times, but when you’re done, you will have accomplished something significant.  And hey, at least it isn’t Finnegans Wake.

          Here’s a website to help get you started: The Brazen Head

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