James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World

James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World

James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World

James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World

Excerpt

In 1924 Edmund Gosse, the dean of English critics, exposed the worthlessness, impudence, and indecency of Joyce, a man not entirely without talent perhaps, but "a literary charlatan of the extremest order." Ulysses, Gosse continued, is "an anarchical production, infamous in taste, in style, in everything . . . There are no English critics of weight or judgment who consider Mr. Joyce an author of any importance." These remarks are typical of conservative opinion at that time. Even younger critics sometimes ignored Joyce or, when they noticed him, condescended a little.

It is easier for us than it was for these traditionalists to see Joyce as part of the great tradition extending from Dante to Ibsen and Rimbaud. It is easier for us to see how, within that tradition, Joyce made something important and new. Today he is generally recognized as one of the great writers of our time.

It still seems necessary, however, to defend him against the charge of obscurity. He is difficult, to be sure, but only as those who have many things to say are difficult. There is no sign in his work of willful obscurity. Like Beethoven and Picasso he advanced from the simple to the complex as he adapted his method to expanding needs.

His early works have a simple narrative level. In Ulysses the narrative level is complicated by symbols and techniques that sometimes interfere with easy reading. These complications are not so much of an obstacle as some suppose. Indeed, there is little in the book that a careful reading will not discover. Even what a careless reading gives us is of value, and, with rereading . . .

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