Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2009 8:36 pm 
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I happen to be reading Ulysses for the first time this summer (I've read IJ prob 2.5 times, once all the way through and then picking it up and reading sections ever since; it's pretty much been my "coffee table book" for the last 4 years). I'm about 250 pages in and I have to say: Why does everyone act like this is an easy book? Ok, maybe they don't act like it's an easy book but no one who has read it seems to mention that it's freakin' hard. This is semi- in response to everyone who is either complaining that IJ is too difficult or whining about his supposed "pyrotechnics for pyrotechnics sake" style. It just seems like everyone's criticisms about IJ seem like they would be more appropriately levelled against Ulysses.

I guess I'm just wondering if there are people out there that find IJ super-hard and Ulysses a cakewalk, or would all the people who think IJ is really hard and/or a big case of literary show-off-ness never in a million years get through Ulysses?

-D


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:48 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:49 pm
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I think Ulysses is much harder than IJ, but it is still one of my all time favorite books because it is beautiful and true and complicated and weird and sad and boring, just like life. I highly recommend Harry Blamires's The Bloomsday Book. After each Ulysses chapter, read the corresponding Blamires chapter. It is quick, unintrusive, clear, and unpretentious. Stay with Ulysses; you will be rewarded.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 12:39 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 7:58 am
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Ulysses is a bear, no doubt about it. I found it far more difficult than IJ, partially because it's 80-some-odd years removed from the present day so a lot of the unexplained references and language is totally baffling. But I 2nd the Bloomsday Book, and would also add Gifford's Ulysses Annotated, which basically just explains a lot of the confusing references to places, people, history, slang, etc.

I find both books equally rewarding -- one of the best parts about reading them is that in order to fully understand the books, you have to really dig in and research a whole bunch of things you otherwise wouldn't know anything about. Say, Irish history for Ulysses, or 20th-century avant-garde film for IJ. Each book is like a liberal arts education unto itself, if you read it that way.


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 Post subject: It's Kenner, It's Fun
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 2:55 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 4:25 am
Posts: 7
Hugh Kenner wrote a book on Ulysses that's so good (and short!) that it will provide a way into Joyce's masterpiece for anyone prone to giving Ulysses a try.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 10:41 am 
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Joined: Thu Jul 16, 2009 8:48 am
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The reason, I think, that Ulysses is arguably more difficult than IJ is more to do with narrative and pacing than anything else. IJ is to a certain degree a page-turner in terms of the story itself - it also has a number of different (but related) plots going at once. Ulysses is more focused on one track, for lack of a better word, and the action isn't as straight-forward as IJ.
That's my excuse for being unable to get past page 400 of Ulysses, anyway.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:10 am 
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I am finding my first reading of Infinite Jest to be much easier than my first reading of Ulysses. I'm not reading any commentaries or supplemental material with IJ, whereas I would have been mostly lost without The Bloomsday Book the first time I read Ulysses. I agree that narrative (and "action") has a lot to do with it. IJ has one I can more or less follow. Ulysses, not so much.

I know this is a month too late, but I highly recommend going to a Bloomsday reading. I liked Ulysses well enough the first readthrough, but it wasn't until hearing it read aloud I really "got it." Bloomsday Books in Kansas City has the best Bloomsday celebration I've been to, but there are several bookstores across the country that do it every year.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:02 am 
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Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:37 am
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I read IJ first, and I would say that Wallace is the reason I read Joyce. The two are now tied for the title of "my favorite author." I agree with everyone who says that U is harder: IJ's sentences and paragraphs are long, he uses a lot of show-offy vocabulary, but it's a real page turner, and it's very accessable for the contemporary reader. U, while a wonderful book, requires a little more work to understand the Irish (and Catholic) milieu it was coming out of.

I, personally, am not crazy about Blamires. I always suggest that the first time reader of Ulysses (or any book, really) just power on through and get lost in the language, and not worry about what everything "means." There will be time for that, as you return to the book again and again over the course of a lifetime.

This might be a topic for another thread, but what about Gravity's Rainbow? Where do people stack that against Ulysses and IJ in terms of difficulty and reward?

Or, to name one of IJ's contemporaries, and a book concerned with many of the same themes: DeLillo's Underworld?

Or, to name a slightly less canonical text, what about Samuel Delany's Dhalgren? Also very Joycean, and fragmented and weird. Any thoughts on that?

Those are my BIG books.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 3:12 pm 
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I'd put Gravity's Rainbow pretty close to IJ in terms of difficulty. In terms of reward, and here I'm speaking as someone who is only halfway through IJ, I would rank Gravity's Rainbow below both IJ and Ulysses. When I finished GR, my reward was more "Hey, I finished GR!" than "Whoa that was amazing." That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did (although I probably liked V just as much), but I'm enjoying IJ much, much more.

As far as other BIG books, I'm not that ashamed to say that I've started Gaddis's The Recognitions twice, read 200-300 pages both times, and was not able to pick it back up, and I never, ever do that. Ever. I'll read it one of these days, I guess.

I'm also off a fresh reading of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, all three Baroque Cycle novels, and Anathem, which average ~1000 pages each. Reading them all in the span of 4-5 months is probably what gave me the impetus to start IJ. There's not much of a difficulty factor (with the exception of the first 200 pages of Anathem, before you get the hang of the language), but I haven't read too many books that were more rewarding.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:01 am 
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Joined: Sat Jul 18, 2009 9:54 am
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This is kind of eerie, since I have also read IJ 2.5 times, and am reading "ulysses" for this first time this summer. I don't know who you've been talking to, but I have never heard "ulysses" described as"easy," but rather as almost impossibly difficult. I would say IJ is much, much easier to read than U. With the exception of this first passage the first time I read it, there have been few moments in reading IJ that I didn't have a decent idea of what was being discussed. "ulysses"? Not so much.

I am, as another poster suggested, "powering through" and enjoying the gorgeous, brilliant prose, even if I have no bloody clue what they're talking about. Thus far, though (I'm only on page 142, but I have a new baby, so the going is slow), it feels more like a book I would admire, rather than love. And I love IJ, way deep down in the creaky crevices of my soul.

I've also read "V." and "The Crying of Lot 49" (and really liked them both), but have given up on "Gravity's Rainbow" three times, and recently said to hell with "Against the Day" after hundreds of pages of waiting for anything like a plot to surface. Pynchon seems to lack the sweet, humane and insightful spirit that makes IJ such a moving, sorrowful but beautiful and funny book.


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 Post subject: Re: Ulysses vs. IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:51 am 
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In terms of difficulty, Ulysses > Gravity's Rainbow > Infinite Jest. I have also never heard anybody describe Ulysses as "easy", and if I did, I would automatically assume this person was a liar. I mean, there's no way you can read The Oxen of the Sun episode (where Mina Purefoy gives birth) your first time through and have any idea WTF is going on without outside assistance.

I think GR is more difficult than IJ mostly because IJ is significantly more readable IMO, in spite of its length. Ulysses is an order of magnitude more difficult than GR, however.

Underworld is the next encyclopedia I plan to read, so I have no opinion on that yet.


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