Thursday, 20 June 2013

Bloomsday doomsday

The shrine of the literary trainspotter
I gather Sunday, apart from being Father's Day, was also 'Bloomsday' the day when James Joyce fans with nothing better to do celebrate their master's work.

You might suspect that I am not among their number - and you would be right. I have had a couple of attempts at reading Joyce and failed miserably. In part it is because I absolutely hate stream of consciousness. I have never, ever seen it work acceptably. It is just boring. But also because, while I am prepared to put some effort into reading a book - I don't expect it all to be effortless page-turning - I do expect the author to have some expertise in putting information across, and, frankly, I think Joyce is terrible at it.

This is rather similar to my beef with the kind of artists where it is impossible to appreciate their work without an instruction book. Art should communicate. If you need help to understand it, it is bad art. It might take time for the language to be fully understood (think of the iffy reception the likes of Beethoven had early on), but the viewers/listeners should be able to get there on their own.

To me, being a Joyce fan is a bit like being a trainspotter or a mountain climber. (As far as I am concerned they are basically both people who like to tick things off in their little books, mental or otherwise. It's just the trainspotters have found a way to do it where you don't risk your life and you can  drink a flask of tea at the same time. We won't mention anoraks.) Reading Joyce is about patting yourself on the back for having managed to achieve the feat, but you don't get photos of yourself on the summit to bore your friends with.

Let's be clear. I have nothing against mountain climbers or trainspotters. But I think we need to put Joyce into proportion - and making the comparison helps clarify things for me.

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