Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Borges on Joyce's Ulysses

I confess I have not cleared a path through all seven hundred pages, I confess to having examined only bits and pieces, and yet I know what it is, with that bold and legitimate certainty with which we assert our knowledge of a city, without ever having been rewarded with the intimacy of all the many streets it includes.

After reading Ulysses this summer, I feel exactly like Jorge Luis Borges did - I've only barely scratched the surface, but I've scratched deep enough to know some of the wonders that lie beneath. Borges wrote that line in a 1925 review, just a few years after the first published edition of 1922. I've had much more time than he did, but - what can I say? - I'm a slow reader.

Here's another line from the same review, some of the most poetic criticism I've ever read:
The duality of existence dwells within this book, an ontological anxiety that is amazed not merely at being, but at being in this particular world where there are entranceways and words and playing cards and electric writing upon the translucence of the night.
In case you were wondering, ontological means "relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being." The world of Ulysses is so fantastic, so all-encompassing, and often so overwhelming - I found it useful to bring a guide, and a dictionary. Reading Borges' impressions makes me anxious to return to that world, though, and wander down those elusive streets again.


LSL said...

I remember hearing Borges' comments of Ulysses and was happy to hear that even the smart literary people were not sure how to understand the lenghty tome of Joyce's made up words. But I was thinking the other day, that like the movie Mulholland Dr, which is completely mysterious for most watchers, that the most intriguing works of art are those whose meaning lies layered underneath the action that is concretely occurring on the surface. You know that each time you revisit the work, you will discover more and more things, and yet you realize you will probably not understand everything represented. But that's ok- it's the challenge of seeking the meaning that captures one's interest, simply because it isn't the most obvious or self-evident.

Unknown said...

Borges' metaphor of Ulysses as a city is great. It works on numerous levels.

Julie said...

May I ask where you found the review? I have been looking all over the internet for it, would love to read it in full.