Friday, January 30, 2009

ULYSSES ON THE LIFFEY by Richard Ellmann

While Richard Ellmann was a great biographer (his bios of Joyce and Wilde stand beside Edel's Henry James and John Richardson's multi-volume work-in-progress A Life of Picasso as models of the form), his critical book Ulysses on the Liffey doesn't impress me much. Ellmann's attempt to derive his own schema for Ulysses based on internal evidence ultimately produces a structural diagram so all-encompassing that many major literary works could probably be interpreted to fit it. His interpretation is neither convincing nor interesting, and he seems at times oblivious of how badly the novel kicks his interpretation's ass. Still, Ellmann being Ellmann, the book does contain some interesting asides. But it also suffers from a handicap seemingly endemic to academic Joyce criticism: humourlessness. The one question I would ask of any Joyce scholar is this: Does Ulysses still make you laugh? If not, it's time to move on...

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