English 440A Special Studies in Literature: Ulysses
Class Meetings: MW 2:30-4:20
This seminar will explore James Joyce’s Ulysses, the summit of literary modernism. Ulysses is an extraordinary book: it is an encyclopedia of literary genres and styles, traditions and conventions, parodies and experimentation, recondite erudition and low popular culture, and it changes narrative method and format as it moves along. Every step of the way it challenges--and often mocks--our assumptions and human limitations, forcing us to rethink everything we think we know: it is the ultimate test of what you have learned as an English major.
To dispel fear of Ulysses, we’ll read the book one episode at a time, tracking its Penelopean weaving and unweaving of sense. Discussions will address the book’s Irish and European contexts and influences, and Joyce's exuberant transvaluations of all novelistic values (narrative devices, generic conventions, topics, perspectives, styles and humors). A portion of each meeting will be devoted to music in Ulysses, from Palestrina, Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner to Irish street ballads and turn-of-the-century music-hall favorites.
In addition, we’ll use the occasion to reflect on the fate of what a famous media critic once called the Gutenberg Galaxy: is the era of great books, from Homer to Joyce, the books that made our civilization what it is, about to end?
This is a seminar for advanced English majors. There are no requirements but the list of desiderata is long: familiarity with Homer, Shakespeare, Defoe, Swift, Sterne, Yeats, Flaubert, and Ibsen and, first and foremost, an interest in sly uses of language (the cunning of Odysseus won the Trojan War and saved his skin but not before getting him in big trouble). Please note: Ulysses is a delightful but very demanding book. To succeed in this class (and benefit from it) you’d need to commit unusual amounts of time and energy. One quarter is a very short time: start reading the book over the winter break. (At the end of the autumn quarter I’ll post additional instructions.) At the beginning of the seminar I’ll briefly touch on Joyce’s earlier work, and in my English 340 I’ll be teaching Dubliners and other Irish works relevant to Joyce.
Text: Ulysses: The Corrected Text, ed. by Hans Walter Gabler, (available at UW Bookstore and elsewhere).