James Joyce

The following quote does well to sum up one of the many reasons why James Joyce’s Ulysses is my favorite book:

Ulysses, published in 1922, marked a departure from the 19th-century novel. In its account of a day in Dublin, the novel depicts events, but largely ignores plot and suspense – the conventional realist structure, in other words, of enigma leading to final disclosure. As an alternative, Ulysses offers dazzling wordplay and the pleasure of unexpected formulations, explicitly displaying language as a succession of games in which the main opponent is convention itself. Nor does Ulysses much resemble Homer’s Odyssey, the work it continually alludes to and parodies: the brilliance of Joyce’s ironic reinscription of the epic depends on that difference. Ulysses is overtly, jubilantly textual and intertextual. Its pleasures reside in the signifier, not in an imagined space on the other side of the writing.

Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey, (103)

In reading this little volume, I’ve come to a strange understanding of why I like poststructuralism so damn much: it corresponds very well with my worldview. I am an atheist, but not a dogmatic or an angry one. I’m not an atheist because religion has done something to piss me off, or because I think science offers truth. Deep down, I just don’t think there is such a thing as truth.

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Magritte - Pipe

The Treachery of Images, 1928-29

I’ll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about art. I can name at most two dozen famous artists and match their names to their famous works, and I can even bullshit a bit about symbolism, but that’s about it. But lately I’ve been reading Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey, and I’m starting to get into the art of René Magritte in a big way.

I first came across the above image while reading Scott McCloud’s essential graphic non-fiction, Understanding Comics. That comic was my first introduction to poststructuralist thought, though I hadn’t realized it at the time. McCloud explains that the painting isn’t a pipe, it is an image of a pipe, which is a very different thing. McCloud goes on to write, “Do you hear what I’m saying? … If you do, have your ears checked because no one has said a word.”

If that sort of thinking blows your mind, or at least intrigues you a little bit, then check out these paintings by Magritte, and check out Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction. If you’re like me, a newcomer to poststructuralist thought (though you’ve undoubtedly experienced it in some form already, it’s very pervasive), then this volume is a must-read.

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