'Ulysses,' One Day, And One Line, At A Time Author Frank Delaney has undertaken a project that will take decades to finish — a series of podcasts that untangle the many threads of reference and character contained within James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses.
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'Ulysses,' One Day, And One Line, At A Time

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'Ulysses,' One Day, And One Line, At A Time

'Ulysses,' One Day, And One Line, At A Time

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June 16th is Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the life and work of James Joyce, and the events of the day he depicts in his novel, Ulysses.

Frank Delaney will celebrate, of course. But then, just about every day is Bloomsday for him. On Bloomsday last year, Frank began an ambitious project: he's deconstructing Joyce's Ulysses, one chapter at a time, for a weekly podcast called "Re: Joyce."

Mr. FRANK DELANEY (Author, broadcaster): That opacity connects the Ubermensch to Adam, because when Nietzsche had Zarathustra thus speak of the Ubermensch, he changed. But when the Ubermensch took his rightful place in the future and there would be no more man, no more ordinary man, the last man standing would therefore be the most reviled thing on earth.

SIMON: Got it? By Bloomsday this year, Frank Delaney will have completed chapter one - just 17 to go, and there have been more than 100,000 downloads.

Frank Delaney joins us from our studios in New York.

Frank, so wonderful to have you back. Thanks very much.

Mr. DELANEY: Hello, Scott.

SIMON: How long is this going to take?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, I did think when I started it was going to take around 20 to 22 years. But given that chapter one, which is one of the shortest and simpler chapters in the book, it has taken exactly one year, I've revised my estimates upward and I'm looking at around 28 to 30 years.

SIMON: Frank, will there be downloads in 28 to 30 years?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, there will be on the cloud somewhere. I've got to make sure that I'm not on the same cloud.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Of course, your 1981 book James Joyce's Odyssey is considered a classic by a number of us. Why did you decide to undertake this process now?

Mr. DELANEY: Heres the thing, Scott, you know, I am a passionate believer in democratization. I couldn't bear, when I was in my 20s, that a fellow countryman of mine had written a book that I couldn't understand. Not only could I not understand it, but a whole cadre of people across the world seemed to have a vested interest in making sure that nobody understood it. Because, of course, he entitled literary snobbery in a way that had never been done before. The snobbery around Joyce congealed. We couldn't break through it at all.

So I thought, this isn't good enough. I tried three times to read it. I failed every single time. I stumbled and sprawled across the doorstep of Ineluctable Modality of the Visible in chapter three, never got further. And then I made the breakthrough, I thought. If I'm to understand this book, I can't just read it, I must write a book about it, and then I'll have to understand it. What happened thereafter, call it falling in love.

SIMON: "Re: Joyce" was once a one-man show, now theres the podcast.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Heres another form of modern media youve taken on to tell the story.

(Soundbite of clip from "Re: Joyce Rap")

Mr. DELANEY: (Reading) He wasnt born into a house of artistry and intellect, his father was a bombast who found it hard to get respect. Yet Jim, from the time he went to school and then to college astounded all around him by the way he soaked up knowledge.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DELANEY: (Reading) These are well-known facts about his brain, his great capacity. But the fact is he's remembered chiefly for his great opacity.

SIMON: Not exactly Lil Wayne but it makes the point, doesnt it?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, its the "Re: Joyce Rap" in which all the great rappers of our time, meet Mighty Python introduced by Gilbert and Sullivan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DELANEY: I think thats the best way I can summarize it. Its part of a device Scott, to break through the idea that this man is impossible to understand.

SIMON: Frank, give us a line that means something to you that we can take to Bloomsday.

Mr. DELANEY: Oh, my god.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DELANEY: I brought the book with me. I have an early copy here. I have the 1928 edition. I've just opened it on page 24, and its Stephen teaching in a school at the edge of Dublin. And heres an idea of what I'm doing, Scott. In the middle of asking a boy a question about King Paris, Pyrric victory, a man who won all his battles but lost so many men in the process that it was more costly to win than to lose. While Stephen Dedalus, one of the protagonists, who is the autobiographic of Joyce, is actually teaching, his mind wanders and he says: Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid, final flame. What's left us then?

Now, whats in there is half a dozen references to that wonderful 17th and 18th century visionary and poet William Blake who wrote the words for Jerusalem. What was Blake's great remark, the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, thats in there. And no bird ever flew too high flew in his own wings, that's in there. Blakes apocalyptic vision of the end of the world, that's in there. So when I come to a phrase like this, and I'm working out the weeks podcast, which is only five or seven minutes, the excitement of unwrapping all these references is something unrivaled in my life. At the same time, it takes me away from my ordinary world and its kind of like a little private university to which one goes and in which one receives a diploma every single day.

SIMON: Frank, thanks so much.

Mr. DELANEY: Scott, thank you very much. Happy Bloomsday.

SIMON: And happy Bloomsday to you my friend.

Frank Delaney, author and Joyce scholar, despite himself sometimes. His podcast, "Re: Joyce," is available on his website, frankdelaney all one word dot.com, and on iTunes.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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