I’m seriously considering having book-plates printed. Something with my name and a distinct design to slap inside the cover of books that I’ve completed reading and adorned with my scribbles. Some sort of insignia to claim authorship for my notes, to take credit for my marginalia. If my literary career-path proceeds as planned, this sort of thing may seem some day relevant.
I have just set down a hard-cover copy of a seminal masterpiece that all educated students of Literature are often assumed to have a working knowledge of. Most seem to claim to, and nearly all have read segments. As I pored through the work, however, I wondered more with every page how many of the members of the Literatcia that claim to have read or understood the book had actually completed reading it.
My copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is battered, beer-stained, crumpled with dried coffee, and blackened through with ink. It’s been with me for more time at this point than I would like to admit; more time than it’s EVER taken me to read a single book. (This is predictable, of course… this is, after all, the book regarded by even those who know nothing else about it as ‘the most difficult book you’ll ever read.’ I was skeptical of this appellation when I began, and part of me hates voicing a regard that merely complies with the cliché upon completion.) It’s been with me as I dealt with some of the most severe lapses in motivation of my relatively short adult existence, and has proved a sort of support-structure through those time-periods, sitting steady beneath my shaking hand to remind me that “good” (or, rather, maybe “meaningful,” “worthwhile,” or “relevant”) Art and Literature CAN be, or more importantly, fundamentally HAS to be purposely difficult and challenging, HAS to, in order to deserve those titles, make you as reader WORK. Since I graduated from college, Joyce has been there to be my “rock” (I may as well continue to play with and mangle clichés) that assures me that rocks aren’t always solid, or maybe that there doesn’t even have to be a rock at all. Or maybe that the only “rock” is the one that artists create for themselves. And sure, in all of these regards, “Ulysses” is a perfect choice for that sort of “rock,” or no sort of “rock” at all.
Flipping through the physical pages of the book, which still sit stinging a bit from the abuses that I administered upon them, I can’t help noticing that my scribbles say as much about me and the place that I was personally at while writing them as they do about the printed text that contains them and was intended as their subject and inspiration. This seems, of course, in predictable posture for a critic writing in a post- Post-Modern era about a pivotal work of High Modernism. What is probably less predictable is how much I see in common between the ground that Joyce stood on and the ground to which critical thought has proceeded and, more importantly, could presently proceed further to. It seems almost fitting, for example, in regards to both the potentials of future scholarship and the critical ideology of the work in question that, rather than write another book about the book and fill it with one authors ideas about another authors ideas (which, don‘t get me wrong, is an interesting idea that definitely has its place), that a critic’s scribbles, notes, and thoughts in the margins of the original work might be reprinted and published in such a form, so that the readers of each (ideally the same reader) might be able to actively witness how the two works (and two authors) interact with one another.
The white-space at the end of the book proved a welcome silence after the book’s ending, a forty-four page marathon unpunctuated mental rant by a woman that I, at many points, wished to scream at to shut the hell up. In this gap, while still possessed by the post-traumatic headache that I feel fairly certain was much of Joyce’s intention at the end of the work, I jotted the following words-
“A reaffirmation, continuation of a destructive, yet affirmative cycle. Devotion comes in strange forms. Identities are constructed out of conflict/ conflicting conceptions.”
If you’re among what I’m guessing to be a small minority that has actually finished the book, you might know what I mean and to what it refers. Then again, you still might not. After all, my notes, and my personal understanding of the text, has as much, if not more, to do with me than it does with anyone named Bloom, Dedalus, or Joyce.
I’m open to suggestions as to what to print on my book-plates.