Then, earlier this year, my wife and I planned a trip to Ireland (my first, though I dare say not my last). I generally endeavor to read some classic piece of literature from or about the region while I'm there, if only to
And so, about two months ago, I began reading Ulysses, Joyce's classic tale of everyday life in Dublin as superimposed on the wandering plot of Homer's epic, The Odyssey, which Joyce himself held in the highest esteem. I tried hard to focus on the lyrical value of Joyce's prose, though I was often lost in its meaning, and I managed to follow the action through several chapters before I began to feel the old frustration starting to build. It was at that point that I
Then I stumbled on a downloadable, college-level course on Ulysses by Princeton Professor James A.W. Heffernan. I have listened to a few of these courses now on topics as diverse as classical music to Buddhism to anthropological study of the modern Maya, all of which have been produced and distributed by The Teaching Company. To be perfectly honest, I find them somewhat hit and miss (though, to be fair, they are more than hit than miss). If you are truly interested in a particular subject matter, they can be, not only worthwhile, but very entertaining. Be forewarned, however: there is no getting around the dork factor, and you have to be willing to be labeled as such if and when you are caught listening by your friends and family.
Anyhow, the Ulysses course has changed my perspective on the work entirely. I now recognize that without a working knowledge of either Anglo-Irish history or Homer's Odyssey and preferably both, no one is likely to take much away from the work other than its quirky characters and its lyrical prose, which is truly only scratching the surface. I won't bore you with what I've learned--suffice it to say that the characters and the story have come alive on both a human and a mythic level. Only approximately a third of the way through the course materials, I now not only look forward to reading the balance of Ulysses, but I want to return to the beginning to reread the tremendous amount of material that passed through my mind wholly unappreciated.
My question for all of you is this: is this a legitimate practice in the appreciation of works of literature? Does the fact that a particular work requires explication make it more or less of a great work in your eyes? And, finally, who's buying that next round? Seriously, I'm all tapped out ...