An Exercise in Comparative Literature
For decades, the debate has been raging amongst literary scholars: "Which is better? James Joyce, or a train timetable?"
On the one hand, there are the scholars who argue that we live in an everchanging, metatextual world, and that we should be prepared to let in all types of literature to the canon. On the other hand, there are the classical scholars who think we should just stick with the train timetable.
So what's so good about James Joyce, anyway? Can it do something useful, like tell us when and where to catch a train?
In this essay, I propose to help settle this crucial philosophical debate once and for all by performing a comparative study.
ULYSSES vs THE BROADMEADOWS AND UPFIELD TRAIN TIMETABLE
A Study In Literary Quality
Let us consider the table. I have listed a number of criteria by which we may judge our two texts:
|What does it do?||Helps you get from A to B||Helps get you from A to L by way of Z, and making a slight detour through G and U before considering the Freudian and Jungian qualities of the letter S|
|What does it describe?||Trains departing from and arriving at various train stations||A day in the life of various Dubliners.|
|Best Line||"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network."||"Thou has done a doughty deed! Thou art the remarkablest progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding farraginous chronicle. Astounding!"|
|Worst Line||"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network."||"Poor Dignam!"|
|Difficulty level||Easy to read, and you don't have to read all of it to get the general idea. It is a bit boring.||Diufficult to read, and once you get through it all, you realise you have no idea what the fuck it was all about. It is a bit boring, even if you do read it.|
Clearly, our two texts are very closely matched.
Let us next consider some of the pros and cons of each text ...
|Pro: Can tell you when trains arrive|
Con: Trains are often late.
Pro: The letters and numbers are printed in a variety of pretty colours and shapes, making for a pleasing aesthetic experience.
Con: The literary quality is execrable.
Pro: Can be used as a bookmark, thus making it even more useful.
Con: Can be used as a bookmark in Ulysses.
Pro: Can tell you everything you need to know about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.
Con: You don't want to know. No, really, you don't.
|Pro: Can't tell you when the trains arrive, but they'll be late anyway.|
Con: A late train is better than no train at all.
Pro: Learned literary scholars tell us that it is quite well written.
Con: But alas, it is nothing without the pretty colours. :(
Con: Huge book. Can not be used as a bookmark, ever.
Pro: Can not be used as a bookmark in another copy of Ulysses.
Con: Cannot tell you all about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.
Pro: What if you want to catch that train?
In this final section, I will consider the opinions of various literary scholars, and attempt to draw a conclusion.
According to Fotheroy, Joyce was a "luminous beacon of twentieth century literature, an inspiration to all humanity. In these troubled times, we should all read some more James Joyce." But in the considered opinion of Jervinski, Fotheroy was a dirty old man who liked to invite young men to his office and fondle their lily-white bottoms. Arthurs-Ramfellough is on record as saying, "I do like to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a copy of the latest train timetable." On the other hand, we must give equal weight to the arguments of Jeeves, Blubinski, and Wuggles, who have stated that Ramfellough enjoyed writhing around naked in a bathtub of hot spam, singing all of Elton John's lesser-known hits.
I think I need a drink. Thank you for your time.
In next week's Exercise in Comparitive Literature, Tim asks the question: "Is it appropriate to read the Bible naked? If so, in what circumstances?"
Cross posted on Will Type For Food.