OK Nephorm, I have heard the points that you just made in the preemie thread about Joyce’s work, right out of the textbook. That’s nice, BUT…
This is the argument that I was having with the other students who took the trip with me: students of Joyce say that the only way to REALLY understand Joyce is to BE there, to walk the streets of Dublin and see the places he was writing about. Well, I have been there, and done that, at great tedious length. No dice. His writing style --no identifiable grammar, occasional slipping into Latin or Greek, unbelievable amount of unexplained inside references and jokes, seemingly ludicrous statements thrown in at random, wandering narrative – make this book unreadable. Here was the crux of the argument – having read what JOYCE said he was trying to do, make this “masterpiece” conciousness-stream epic journey semi-autobiography – OK. Now read his book and HONESTLY say that you get it, in any way shape or form. You can’t, and if you haven’t LIVED in Dublin of the 1930’s you Oficially Really Really Can’t – most of the book is not-understandable unless you have an idea about at least some of his millions of inside references. So at what point has Joyce left the “Ooh! I’m writing in so many layers and with so much metaphor” level and gone to the “Wow! I’ve just made a book that is incomprehensible to everyone else but myself” level? I don’t think that the book is should be considered a classic simply because the writing is so POOR that we have to take his word for what he was doing.
The students that I lived in Ireland fell in to two groups. The first group did not like Joyce after his earlier (and in my opinion vastly superior) books, and found his writing to be so obscure, confusing, and filled with insider references that it was just a morass of garbage. The other group professed to like Joyce, but when pressed could not not actually come up with any reasons. They too did really not understand it (the plot, the characters, or anything else that can usually be found in a story). They did not get the message that the professors claimed was there, most likely because the only reason that we know what the message was is that Joyce told everybody what the message was supposed to be. When asked about story elements they could give you a nice thumbnail a la the dust jacket summary, which itself is gleaned from the fifteen or sixteen wonderful “normal” passages in the book. Any attempts to explain other parts of the book tend to become aimless, uncomfortable, and to trail off in confusion.
So to my mind there is a direct correlation between Joyce and the many of the “Modern Artists” of the same period – whether or not it took a huge amount of skill and talent to get to the point where some of these works were made, the result is the same for somebody reading/observing – Crap. Why is this considered a classic? I’ll tell you what was classic – at the annual James Joyce festival in Dublin, something like 85% of the people polled admitted that they had never made it past the first fifty pages of Ulysses!