Pearls Before Swine (AMS) lives up to its name today, because Ulysses really is, and always has been, a case of casting pearls before swine.
Joyce didn’t much care if people “understood” it, though he added even more layers of riddles, inside jokes and obscure references to Finnegan’s Wake, next to which Ulysses reads like a Bobbsey Twins adventure.
Rat’s hostility to challenging material aside, it’s fun to read a book that makes demands on the reader, and the nice thing about Ulysses is that it does contain a narrative you can more or less follow, even if you don’t catch all the references.
I’ve read it twice, once on my own as a high school senior and once as a college senior, and it was two very different experiences, partially because, by that second reading, I’d absorbed a lot of classic literature and philosophy to explain some of Joyce’s references but mostly because I had a professor who could practically recite it and the assistance of an excellent secondary source.
That first time around is worth discussing, because I had no assistance. My high school library — the only source of books in town — didn’t even have the book itself and we had to drive an hour to buy a copy, and our library certainly didn’t have any secondary sources and, in the absence of an Internet, I was left to flounder through the thing myself.
The resulting paper, my senior project in English class, is pretty superficial, but not bad for someone operating without resources. Still, it points to the value of the Internet in education, because if I were the same kid doing it today, I’d be gobbling up the online interpretations and study aids.
While Rat was playing Call of Duty and having his mother write his senior paper for him because he didn’t have a girlfriend to do it.
Which I would contrast with the late Richard Thompson, who hadn’t actually read the book but was entranced and respectful of it, producing a parody whose humor is based on Joyce’s real life detachment from commercialism:
Fact is, if you want to understand Joyce, you don’t have to read Ulysses but, rather, read Brenda Maddox’s biography of his wife, Nora, who had very little formal education but was apparently a brilliant woman with a level of patience that boggles the mind, because James Joyce was a difficult and demanding individual. Not abusive, mind you, but someone who needed a wife who genuinely, genuinely loved him.
Even if he portrayed Molly Bloom as a passionate, unfaithful wife who read popular crap instead of real literature, which I suppose was no kinder a portrait than, in the persons of Leopold Bloom and Stephan Dedalus, he somewhat portrayed himself.
Thompson, despite not having actually read the book, managed to absorb enough of it not only to spoof Joyce’s attitude towards fame and fortune, but to do a masterful send-up of the book itself, the mark of which is that those of us who have read and studied it still find this graphic compression hilarious:
I wish I’d had it in high school. The trick to this, as with Richard’s other work, was that he was always more mischievous than mean. He seems here to respect the book he parodies.
Even this silly take shows a certain knowledge of what he is joking about — both Joyce’s classic and the cartoon characters.
And it was respectful, even if he couldn’t suppress his sense of humor as he explained it all:
I will disclose that I haven’t tried Pynchon, but I’ll also disclose that Richard and I were personal friends, a friendship that began before I was doing Comic Strip of the Day. I dropped him an email to politely tell him I’d used one of his strips on my personal blog and he wrote back, “I know. I read your blog.”
After I picked myself up off the floor, we began a correspondence that went on until the Parkinsons ended his ability to write back. It was a combination of mutual affection and respect.
Pardon my lack of modesty in posting this, but you can keep your Eisners and Reubens and Pulitzers and suchlike, because making Richard’s blog was cool enough for me.
His friends not only maintain his blog today but continue to raise funds (including at this link) to help Michael Fox’s Foundation seek a cure for Parkinson’s. This year’s “Drink and Draw” event is in progress as we speak and includes art donated by a huge variety of artists.
They’re not too far, entering this year, from a promised overall goal of a half million dollars, but I have a feeling reaching the goal won’t end the efforts. (That’s Chris Sparks with this year’s banner at Heroes Convention.)
All this happens in part because it’s a good cause but in even larger part because Richard was such a good guy, not simply a funny cartoonist but one of breathtaking talent. Jason Chatfield has an appreciation of him that will verify that.
The way I’ll verify it is to report that digging up his Bloomsday piece led me down a delightful rabbit hole. I miss him, but my goodness he left behind some terrific stuff.
I’d nearly forgotten his periodic “Restaurant Closings.”
Note the classical reference to Medea as well as the pop culture reference to Le Pétomane. As with Joyce, there is a breadth of references embedded in Richard’s work, and it’s not necessary to catch them all, but it’s so much more fun when you do.
And then this take on TV shows I wouldn’t have watched either:
Which is not to say they wouldn’t be put on the air. There are a raft of similar shows I wouldn’t even know existed if they weren’t promoed on football games, usually as America’s New Top Hit, which is kind of frightening.
Mostly because this is the logical, inevitable result:
And if you want more Ulysses spoofs, John Glynn has assembled a collection, starting with Richard’s work and going on from there.
Having been searching Bloomsday references, I was reading Richard’s Poor Almanac rather than Cul de Sac, but you’ll find reruns of both at GoComics on those links. And his stuff holds up: If you haven’t seen it before, you’ll be delighted and if you have seen it before, you’ll still be delighted.
But for goodness sake be careful out there!