Friday, June 16, 2006

Tackling James Joyce

Today is Bloomsday. While I am not going to undertake Ulysses, I figured it would be an auspicious day to begin reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The choice of book is part of my New Year's Reading Resolutions which I have managed thus far to ignore. No more!   I like to consider myself a fearless reader. I am not afraid to read any book no matter how difficult it is purported to be. I might end up not liking said book, or understanding it, but I am not afraid of giving it a go. Joyce, however, is my Achilles heal. For this I blame the bad teaching.   I read Portrait of the Artist during my senior year of high school. My English teacher that year was the best I ever had, but she failed on Joyce. Her mistake was telling us how hard Joyce is over and over. No doubt she meant to encourage us in our struggles but it only served to make me feel like it was beyond me and that I had no hope of understanding it. This was reinforced by her constant explication of what was really going on. I don't think she liked Joyce. She taught it because she was supposed to prepare us for the advanced placement exam and she knew Joyce always turned up somewhere on the test. I have absolutely no recollection about the book itself except that the main character's name is Daedalus.   In college I had an even worse Joyce experience. I took a sophomore lit survey class. The professor was a retired Marine and ran the class like a boot camp. He told us that only one person out of the class of thirty would be receiving an A and several of us would get Fs. If someone made a good observation he'd say something like, "Well you might be the one who gets the A in this class." If someone was unfortunate enough to ask what he considered a dumb question, he'd say "Looks like the A might be out of your reach."   In this class we read a piece by Joyce. I don't even remember what it was. All I remember is there was a silver bracelet. I remember the silver bracelet because the professor spent quite a bit of time berating us for not figuring out what the bracelet meant. Even after this horrible day where he suggested that perhaps none us were worthy of an A, I still didn't understand what the point of the bracelet was. To me it was just a stupid bracelet and I suspected the professor of making up a bunch of stuff about it just so he could have his fun bullying the class and making us feel stupid.   So you can understand why I approach James Joyce with trepidation. I want to read Joyce so I can prove something to myself and to erase a bit of my bad experience with him. I hope I end up loving Joyce, though I expect that might be going overboard. I will be satisfied if all I manage to do is make peace with him. Wish me luck.   And in case you are wondering, I was not the one who got the A. I got a B.