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Scandal of "Ulysses": The life and afterlife of a 20th century masterpiece Paperback – Jun 2004

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable narrative on editorial & literary dissension 9 Mar. 2005
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is written by an ideal reader for Ulysses--outside the Joyce industry that (mostly professionally and from within academia) manufactures readings of Joyce and those who read him. But close enough to take us inside the passionate debates that have raged since around WW1, hard to believe, about the state of what we see packaged as the text of Ulysses. [Out of the whole volume, I only found one typo and one persistent misspelling: The Irish Literary Supplement's editor being not Robert Lowerey but Lowery.] Scandal is lively, intelligent, and rewarding in its evocation of the complicated birth, growth, and now perhaps immortal lifespan over the past eighty-odd years. With a parlous history of a manuscript that from the start emerged in multiple copies, the problem of a proof or a copy-text that later readers could assume was that intended by Joyce became more and more difficult to solve.

Arnold's clarity, sly wit, and fair-minded treatment of those literary detectives who sought to reconstruct what Joyce had never left behind--one reliable manuscript of the massive novel--makes for a fascinatingly told and challenging puzzle. Arnold guides you through an immense amount of learned material in an impressively clear and coherent command of the details. He stays outside any partisan cheerleading, and takes pains to reveal his opinions while keeping them apart from the facts arranged by the many participants who have labored to patch what Joyce did not.

You learn about obscenity and its effect on the clandestine and widely scattered serialisation of the nascent novel and why it never was actually delivered as one complete draft; Anglo-American vs. German editing theory; the aging Richard Ellman's inability to think straight about Gabler's strategems; copyright laws or their lack when it comes to the U.S. and Ulysses; how cowed those entrusted with overseeing the Gabler project gave in to what Arnold shows is a gallant but flawed campaign to create a "continuous manuscript text" out of nothing but the editor's determination to drink from a mirage; the hostility of most entrenched scholars to any upstart daring to take on the Joyce establishment, tenured, moneyed, and often arrogant; the machinations of the Joyce estate to protect their income generator from chugging into the public domain and staying there; the John Kidd vs. Hans Gabler battles recalling David vs. Goliath after the "corrected" {from what, exactly, in the first place?) text is published 1984-6; and, in this updated printing of Arnold's 1992 study, the aftermath of "the Joyce Wars," the return to power of the Joyce Estate, the failed assault by Danis Rose, and the current stalemate, given that few in the world among the 400 "Joyceans" have the knowledge, the stamina, or the finances to improve the faults that Gabler perpetuated (his edition turning eponymous rather than "corrected" in later printings) as he sought to eliminate the 5000 supposed errors in the 1922 text.

Again, this all makes for an engrossing read if you like Joyce and/or literary detective work. It reminds me of Richard Altick's books on earlier case studies by editors long before the computer age. Now, editors like Gabler use the machine, but how can artificial intelligence catch what humans do not proofread first? And, when it comes to Joyce sans pariel, how do we know what that clever Dubliner meant anyway? Such questions, as JJ predicted, still keep the professors busy, animated, and stimulated. You'll be too, after reading this. And, as Arnold concludes, read the original text, in whatever edition, most of all, for its endless languours, frustrations, and delights.
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