Unfortunately, despite the rather declarative nature of the title of this article, I suck quite a bit at giving good bits of normative advice. I’m not nearly perspicacious enough to really have a good perspective, and I seriously doubt anybody ought to govern their lives in accordance with my notions anyway.
To that end, this digression will mostly concern a great love I have, and its texture. I am, after all, a literature nerd, but only of the most shallow variety perhaps, and I will always take the opportunity to trumpet my continued admiration for the works of James Joyce.
Yes, yes — I know. Another perfect mediocrity describing his love for a white male author. If anybody who even passively knows me stumbles upon this, I’ve probably mentioned Joyce to them once or twice.
I wish my story was more special. Hopefully, since it isn’t, it’s relatable as a result. My mother introduced me to “Dubliners” when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and while I didn’t take it to heart immediately, I returned to his work freshman year of high school.
Except, instead of “Dubliners,” the one that I actually tried was “Finnegans Wake.” I remember leaving the empty lot of Barnes & Noble excited to try the “hardest book ever made.”
While reading I pestered an English teacher of my high school endlessly, and even submitted essays about the most minute of things, like the absence of an apostrophe in “Finnegans Wake.” I still appreciate that the teacher didn’t elect to simply throw me out, like a few others did.
See, this was the time when I was quite obsessed with proving my reading comprehension skills, so I dragged up a list of the “hardest books” and there lie “Finnegans Wake.” I knew Joyce, my mother spoke of him fondly, I had tried him, so I’d found my target.
Joyce’s two more difficult works, “Finnegans Wake” and “Ulysses,” are a lot like Chinese finger traps. The more you struggle against them, the more you try and figure them out — as if unlocking a trap or maze — the less you’re going to get out of experience.
It was only when I abdicated my control as a reader and let myself absorb the words passing on the page that the texts were truly allowed to bring me to peace. It was, at least for me, a literature experience I’ve yet to replicate, but it was a supreme catharsis.
And while this article is perhaps only tangentially about a love for language, the much-adorned lyricism of the prose of “Finnegans Wake” is what made me know I wanted to write for a living. Not quite like poetry, which at times feels a bit rigid, even in its free-form style, Joyce’s prose to me is the closest English has ever gotten to music.
A thing which perhaps appears unintelligible written, but manifests itself in full body spoken. I think that revelation has colored and shaped my work far more than any other — an epiphany, if you will. The modern usage of that word dates back to Joyce, funnily enough.
From that experience, I read “Dubliners” next, which I had abandoned before finishing the first time around. It was one of the first works to bring me to tears. I know I’ve mentioned “Ulysses” beforehand but that didn’t come till later. The three stories which I pinpoint from “Dubliners” as uniquely miraculous are “Araby,” “Eveline” and “The Dead.”
All quite popular choices for a Joyce nerd. Unfortunately my love for Joyce has always manifested itself in the most popular of ways. My other favorite passage from him is Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in “Penelope” so I’m not exactly pulling out any haute choices from his bibliography.
In the end, ask anybody with a cursory knowledge of Joyce about my readings and they’d probably say that they were rather lacking. Probably about high school level reading comprehension. I say we all have to find the author, or the artist, or in truth any one thing which lets us relive that time.
If there’s any advice I can give, dear reader, it is just that. For me, that thing is Joyce. I can, whenever I wish upon him, release myself back through the past, when the reading of the text most pursuant to my interests wasn’t its allegiance to materialism or the bourgeois, its interplay with Plato or so-have-you, but when the thing that was most important to me was how it forced my heart to act.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the other stuff. Indeed, as we speak, I’m writing a final paper about “Ulysses.” But I will never forget how the likes of “Finnegans Wake” or “Dubliners” made me feel those years ago.
I won’t say anything as trite as our memories don’t change, as such a thing isn’t true in the slightest. But, so long as I live, I can retain my basic relationship to Joyce, the pure emotion therein, and I do hope all of us have that somewhere.
Jason Han is an assistant sports editor for The Daily Nebraskan. Reach him at email@example.com.