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  • Writer's pictureIshfaaq Peerally

Painfully Beautiful

"If I gave it all up immediately, I'd lose my immortality. I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality."

- James Joyce

Chapter 18 of Ulysses

Many would argue that James Joyce's Ulysses is the second most difficult book ever written (The first being Finnegans Wake by the same author). I've recently read Ulysses and I'm going to read it again, maybe in the year 2026. I've got ten years to grasp the last reading. Why is Ulysses a difficult book? And If it is difficult why would I want to read it again? And why am I writing about it?

If you're looking for a great story then I would not recommend Ulysses but I would recommend Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary but then you'll realize how wrong Emma Bovary was about her reading choices and how this led to her wrong interpretation of life and you won't want to repeat her mistake... And you'll eventually end up reading Ulysses. Ulysses' story is not that great but the book itself if agonizingly great and painfully beautiful. The story is a parallel to Homer's poem Odyssey. In fact, Ulysses is the latinised name of Odysseus (the hero of Odyssey).

However, the real reason why I liked Ulysses so much is because of its structure. 18 episodes each one with a different writing style. Almost every sentence is a joke. And with these jokes James Joyce managed to voice out his opinions about the British Empire, British colonisation of Ireland, the rise of antisemitism in Roman Catholic Ireland and female sexuality (in 1922). Coming back to the episodes, there is one episode written in scientific style, one in newspaper style, one with two different narrators, some without narrators,... But my favourite episode would be the last one, not because it was the easiest to understand but because it made use of the stream of consciousness. I'll write about the stream of consciousness in another blog. In fact, I am writing my novel using the stream of consciousness and this is the reason why I've decided to read Ulysses in the first place.

In Ulysses, James Joyce has taken the liberty of breaking the English language rules or language rules in general. Although all languages are different, they all tend to have the same underlying structure. For me, Ulysses is more than just a novel, it is a scientific work. After reading this book, I've been asking myself questions about the human thinking process and communication. After all, we are just monkeys who think, know that they are thinking, and expressing these thoughts to each other. On the other hand, chimpanzees think and express their thoughts without knowing that they are thinking. The one thing that makes us more intelligent than our cousins is that we can study our own thinking. To think is one thing, but to know that you are thinking is what makes us humans. And Ulysses is the only novel I've read that goes so deep into this study. Reading Ulysses was painful but it made me discover the greatness of being human.

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