Essay / Education

Amazon.com: Books: Ulysses (Vintage International)

Amazon.com: Books: Ulysses (Vintage International)This book was one of the first of the gnostic cult of literature sold by smut. Homer packaged profound truth in a way even a drunken lord deep in his wine could understand. Shakespeare was great and understandable to the masses, even when writing about the Greeks. When English literature decided to move past Dickens (also popular) and Trollope (my guilty pleasure) and become Serious, it had a problem. A good reader knows what is happening in Dickens. Good readers can be produced at the high school level and then what will happen to the humanities prof? A very astute grandmother may have as much, or more, insight into the character of Lily Dale in “Small House” as a twenty-something literature professor. Just being an informed guide to great literature is a wonderful job, my own job in fact, but it does not make one an Expounder on the Secrets of the Age. Along came works like “Ulysses.” At first the naughty bits drove sales and made the book seem daring. Of course no one could actually read the entire book and it made little or no sense, but that was fine. This allowed the book to operate as a perpetual ink blot text where Ph.D. work without end could be produced with no hope of falsification. “Ulysses” was perfect in its obscurity. Challenge its greatness and you could be accused of being dim. So generation after generation sits with “Ulysses” trying to make sense of it, when they should just go get Homer. Homer’s “Odyssey” is hard to the post-literate modern, but it makes sense in the end. It also contains a fair bit of truth. One can read “Ulysses” for a lifetime and never escape ones own thoughts. The literary snobs did not like Tolkien. They loved books like “Ulysses.” That is because they hated Tolkien’s world view, traditionally Catholic, and hated the fact his work was masterful and readable. Not all popular books are good, see any “Star Trek” novel, but I will venture the claim that every great work was once popular. The odd thing is that the literature types should have just waited. Liberalism has so destroyed education that literacy is now a gnostic and secret skill. Teaching people to read well in the age of the Look-Say method is now a secret art. Plot twists more difficult than those in the “Starsky and Hutch” movie are now hard for even grown ups.

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