The Ultimate Novel
In 1982, when James Joyce, had he lived, would have turned a hundred, William Empson wrote a piece for the London Review of Books on ‘the ultimate novel’, which begins with some backhanded praise for Hugh Kenner – ‘it is wonderful how Professor Kenner can keep on about Ulysses, always interesting and relevant and hardly repeating himself at all’ – and then almost immediately takes issue with a ‘new idea’ of Kenner’s that ‘urgently needs refuting’. According to Kenner, Stephen Dedalus ‘is practically blind all through the book’; Empson demonstrates not only how that can’t be true, but also how Kenner came to fall into error. ‘The explanation is simple,’ Empson writes. But ‘this is not quite the end of it …’
Ulysses was published on Joyce’s fortieth birthday, 2 February 1922; today it’s the novel’s turn to turn a hundred. Joyce impersonators in pebble glasses, neat moustaches and Latin quarter hats can be seen stalking the streets of Paris. And this evening at Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop named after the bookshop that published the first edition of Ulysses a hundred years ago, Tom McCarthy will be in conversation about the novel with Susan Philipsz. You can buy tickets here.