MonthJanuary 2019

The Theology of Hell’s Kitchen (2)

Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen isn’t really so much a picture of hell, as it is a picture of pagan worship.

But, in a sense, the latter is a picture of the former.  The interactions between the contestants in Hell’s Kitchen are seasoned with the bitter tastes of hell.

The interactions between the contestants in Hell's Kitchen are seasoned with the bitter tastes of hell.Click To Tweet

Hell’s Kitchen: The Community

The god shapes the community of worship.  Ramsey lays out how the community is to function on Hell’s Kitchen.  He’s very sparing with his blessings and establishes a competition–for his favour.  In this competition, there will be one winner.  All the others, eventual losers.

Each contestant is pitted against the others.  “Friendships” are largely opportunistic.  If another contestant goes out today, then I stay.  If someone wins, I lose.

In a sporting context, there are always winners and losers.  In Hell’s Kitchen, the competition doesn’t stop after the contest is won and lost.  It moves into the dorms and the jacuzzi.   Ramsey promotes it–“Go back to the dorms and determine which people you want to put forward for elimination.”  And we get to watch this agonizing process.  Like I said, it’s hellish.

C. S. Lewis writes about the ethos of hell in The Screwtape Letters.   In this excerpt, an experienced devil, Screwtape, explains it a novice tempter, his nephew:

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. “To be” means “to be in competition”.

In this sense, Hell’s Kitchen is hellish.

There are many contexts in which we find ourselves in hellish circumstances.  It’s when we encounter someone who believes everyone is against them and they will use us, and anyone else for their own gain.  They use people for financial gain, to feed their ego, for sexual pleasure, or because the need to be in control. They will take, and never give, unless there is something in it for them.

But this doesn’t describe all of our experience with others.

Christianity and Competition

In our daily lives, many of us experience a little heaven now and then

The whole philosophy of Heaven is, logically, opposite as that of Hell.

This philosophy rests on the recognition of the axiom that one thing is part of other things, and, specially, that oneself is another self.  My good is your good and your good is mine.  What one gains the other also gains.

We often experience the philosophy of heaven in the best moments of our lives.

When we give of ourselves to our spouse, their gain is also our gain.  When we sacrifice for the sake of our children; what we give up is eclipsed by what we receive from their joy or flourishing.  We give time to colleagues, students, even strangers and receive many times the blessing back, sometimes just in the form of a smile.  The math doesn’t work, and this is incomprehensible to the devils like Screwtape and those humans who buy into his logic don’t.  They just can’t imagine how it’s possible to can give and get back more back.  Happily, most people get it–the math of heaven.

I think Gordon Ramsey gets it.  We catch glimpses of it in all of his shows.  I don’t think his moments of sacrificial kindness are simply a means to more viewership.  Yes, he does it for ratings, but perhaps deep down he does it because heaven feels better than hell.

One such moment was in episode six of this season’s Rookies versus Veterans edition.   Chris decided to step out of the competition.  He was on the verge of a breakdown.  The show is stressful enough, but he had also been involved in a serious accident nine months before coming to the show.   Sous Chef Christina and Ramsay caught wind of Chris’ plight.  Their response was sympathy and by urged Chris to seek professional help.  It’s a small thing, with hardly any sacrifice, but for a moment I believe that Ramsey was acting almost completely in Chris’ best interest.

On Hell’s Kitchen we see quite a bit more hell than heaven.  That’s why I stopped watching it.  But I never miss an episode of Master Chef.

The Theology of Hell’s Kitchen (1)

patticake1601 / Pixabay

I used to watch Hell’s Kitchen.  I like Gordon Ramsey, despite the arrogance.  He knows what he’s doing in the kitchen and his food is amazing.  I’ve eaten it.  And he knows how to run a restaurant.  Always a little harsh, he’s nearly altruistic in Kitchen Nightmares and the new Hell on Wheels; he’s almost nurturing in Master Chef.  But I’ve stopped watching Hell’s Kitchen because it’s way too hellish.  Ramsey is abusive and the contestants are mostly a bunch of cocky malcontents with personality disorders. To have to go out to dinner with these people would be hell enough. To have to live and run a dinner service with them, I don’t have to imagine–this is the subject of the show.

Although Ramsey is not all that religious, he’s given his show a name that is foundationally Christian.  Is the kitchen in the show anything like the scullery where the reprobate will eternally toil in “adamantine chains and penal fire”?

The simple answer is, of course, no.  And Ramsey is not really anything like a devil.

All images in the show’s opening credits suggest Gordon Ramsey is the boss of hell.  Horns, pointy tail, glowing demonic eyes, but if you look at the show theologically, Ramsey occupies a position similar to that of a pagan god than the Christian Satan.

The opening credits of Hell's Kitchen show Gordon Ramsey with horns, pointy tail, and glowing demonic eyes, but if you look at the show theologically, Ramsey occupies a position more like that of a pagan god than a devil. Click To Tweet

Pagan Worship

Life was hard in the ancient world.  Floods and drought threatened vital food supplies as did marauders who were forever running off with the harvest.  In this world of uncertainty, vulnerable humanity sought the aide of the gods to ensure fertility and security.  Survival, they believed, depended on their ability to humour and mollify these gods.

The gods themselves were very unpredictable. The slightest thing could set them off.  The demanded attention, the right kind of attention.  They were jealous when they felt others received more attention.  When resentful, they lashed out against the people.

How do you manage gods like these?  Invariably, people came to the conclusion that the gods needed to be manipulated.  In almost all religions the gods need to be appeased.  Worship was, and in many cases still is, appeasement.  If you can please the gods, blessings will follow.  Failure to do so means disaster.  The rain ceased to fall, and the land failed to bear fruit and the women were barren.

It is no accident that in places where there were no natural barriers and the climate was most unpredictable, the sacrifices demanded by the gods were far more costly than in places with more reliable food supply and less threat from enemies.  The bad things were thought to be an indication of the gods’ displeasure with the sacrifice, so the ante had to be increased.  This is why some cultures ended up sacrificing their children, so high was the gods’ price for blessing.

Appeasing Gordon Ramsey

In Hell’s Kitchen, worshipers must obey and appease a powerful and aggressive diety in order to earn favour and blessings.  Through appeasement and performance, contestants attempt to earn, the salvation for which they hope: survival into the next episode and ultimately, a dream job in the restaurant business.

In Hell’s Kitchen, appeasement is both individual and collective.  The most competent team is rewarded with a cool culinary field-trip; the losers are given a hellish chore, and one member of the losing team will be sent away.

There are three means by which Ramsey is appeased.

Appeasement in Hell’s Kitchen means getting good food out fast.  “Two scallop”  means two, perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented scallops at the pass when Ramsey wants it.  If your number, cook, seasoning, presentation, and timing are perfect, or nearly so, you will earn a blessing–a “nicely done” or “the scallops are perfect.”

Woe to the chef who fails in one or more aspects of this complex ritual.  Many cooks will be berated for failure to appease, but one will be banished.  Banishment from the presence of the god, banishment from the community and the hope for salvation will be dashed.

There are other means of appeasement in  Hell’s Kitchen.  As you stand before Gordon Ramsey facing eliminations as one of three, he asks you, “Why do you think you should stay in Hell’s Kitchen?”  He can be appeased, it seems, if a would be Executive Chef can convince him of her passion.  Passion is what one must bring to the altar.

The third way to appease the pagan god, and Gordon Ramsey, or more accurately avoid his curse, is to submit.   Muttering under your breath, talking back, or directly defying Ramsey will bring down his wrath.  No ego but Ramsey’s is permitted in Hell’s Kitchen.

Christian Worship: Favour First

Christian worship is different from pagan worship because the Christian God is different.

God is love and he is also holy.

He loves us.  He wants to be with us.  This is mostly for our sake, not his.  It’s good for us to be with him; he desires our good; therefore, he wants to be with us.  The problem is, we can’t be with him–we are not holy.  Unholy things can’t be in his presence–they couldn’t survive.

As in pagan worship, Biblical worship involves sacrifices and offerings to God, but not to appease him, but to purify ourselves.  Purification comes from the blood of sacrifice.  The purification from the blood of animals was very limited.  There were still many barriers between the Holy God and his people.  But they laid the groundwork and created a pattern through which his people could understand his holiness and their need for his grace.

In pagan worship, the people acted first so that the gods would give favour.  In Old Testament worship, God’s acts first–in giving favour.   It need not be earned, we have it already.

Christian Worship: Gratitude, not Appeasement

In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–16) we see two offerings.  Able’s offering was acceptable to God.  There was something about Cain’s offering that wasn’t acceptable.  It is not certain, why God rejected Cain’s offering, but I think there is a good possibility that Cain’s offering was meant as appeasement–a bribe for divine favour.  He sacrificed in a manner consistent with the pagan nations.  Abel’s offering, then, was a gift of gratitude.  An appropriate attitude toward the God that he knew.

The sacrifice of animals on the Old Testament was inadequate.  It was always temporary and symbolic.  To purify all of humanity and all of creation, a much bigger sacrifice must be made.  Bigger and completely perfect.  The only one who meets these requirements is God himself.  He would have to bring the sacrifice; he would have to be the sacrifice.

Jesus is God and his death on the cross was the once and for all sacrifice that purifies all of creation, including humanity for all eternally.  We can only be in God’s presence if we are clothed in the blood of Christ.  We are not thus attired unless we accept the sacrifice.  This is all that is required of us, but it makes all the difference.  If we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we can be in God’s presence because we are covered in the blood of Christ.  He took on our sin received the effects of sin, we take on is purity and receive the effects of his purity.

Christian worship can’t be about appeasement, because we had his favour before the sacrifice.  We couldn’t bring any offering that would have purified us, so God made the only sacrifice that could save us.

1 John 4: 8-10 is the summary.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

We don’t get what we deserve; we receive salvation at his expense.  What can we do now, but be grateful?  This is central to Christian worship.  And Christian worship isn’t limited to church services.  Christian worship is a life lived out of gratitude for what God has done.

My favourite part of all of Gordon Ramsey shows is when he comes down from his throne and offers grace to one of the lesser folk.  He takes on the price for someone else’s benefit.  These moments are always poignant, but even more so on Hell’s Kitchen where we are usually experiencing Ramsey’s continuous wrath.  Viewers like these gracious moments.  I think something resonates in us when we see moments of grace.  Perhaps because this is what our hearts were made for.

The Meaning of Life: Consumption

 

A manufactured object obviously has a purpose that was built into it by its designers, but a lot of people do not believe this is true for human beings.

comment on TED in response to the question, “Does humanity have a purpose?” says, “Humanity has no unified purpose and I suggest that history shows us that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous (religion, eugenics…).”

It is true that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when the single purpose is one for which we were not designed.  If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder, the results can be disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose.

Giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when it's one for which we weren't designed. If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder--disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose. Click To Tweet

There is a danger in living for the wrong purpose, but perhaps it is just as dangerous to avoid purpose if we were actually created for one.

Our Default Purpose–Consumption

In our culture, one of the purposes we have collectively chosen for ourselves (or perhaps it has been subtly imposed upon us) is that of consumer–we buy things, lots of things.  The things we buy are designed to wear out after a time, or they are improved upon, so we throw out the old thing and buy another thing.  We are manipulated to be ever discontent and then offered things that will make us content.  It doesn’t work, of course, but that’s OK because contentment would be bad for the economy.

Were we made to consume?  Is this the purpose for which we were designed?

Zombies and Consumption

This question is a weak spot in the fence of our cultural identity and the hands of the undead are pawing at it.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume.  It ever eats, but is never satisfied.  It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.

Perhaps humans were not made for religion, but the zombie tells us that we weren’t made for consumption either.

If we were made for another purpose, the cure for the zombie is to orient its whole life toward that purpose.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume. It ever eats, but is never satisfied. It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.Click To Tweet

Designed for Relationship

I suggest that humanity is designed for relationship.

Not just any relationship, but the kind that is more interested in the flourishing of the other than the flourishing of the self.  Most people have caught at least a glimpse of what this relationship can be like.  Some lovers are like this–they are so interested in the happiness of the other one that they forget themselves.  Parents constantly set the needs of their children higher than their own.

The paradox in these sorts of relationships is the more you give, the more you get back–and not usually from the kids or even your lover.  It comes from someplace else and it’s so fulfilling.  It’s like you are a swivel chair being used as a swivel chair.

Sadly, not everyone has experienced this sort of relationship.

Zombies haven’t.  They are too busy eating other people.

In a consumer culture, other people can easily be reduced to something we can to use–in essence, something to consume–it makes us zombies.  Some people treat their employees this way.  Some men treat women this way, and women men.  Some kings, their subjects and some mothers, their children.

The good news is that there is a cure for zombies.

Here’s more analysis of the meaning of zombies.

Can I Please Have an Extension?

kang_hojun / Pixabay

This is a post for my students and their parents.  I’ve received emails from frustrated parents because I was hesitant to grant a request for an extension on a writing assignment.  Here I explain my refusal, not just to justify myself, but also to provide information so that parents and students can proactively avoid the circumstances that cause the frustration in the first place.

I have explained my two-draft system for teaching students how to write academic papers.  It’s a great system because student writing improves significantly, but it comes at a cost.  There is so much marking to do, and it’s the hardest kind of marking.

When I started this two-draft system, my marking was inefficient.  Today a class set of papers takes me 16 hours, a few years ago is was closer to 24.  I was marking for two weeks solid, as the papers trickled in.

Here's the thing about marking--if you mark 10 papers in one session, it will take just less than 2 hours. If you mark those same papers one at a time, It will take you over 3.Click To Tweet

I didn’t want to abandon the whole system, student writing was improving, but I needed to streamline the process and get the marking under control.  Now, I’ve done it.  Not only is my marking down to 16 hours for a set of papers, but I am seeing even better writing from students as a result of these changes.

The changes place some more responsibility on students.

Managing the Marking

Right now I have nearly 60 English 12 students, and I’m marking most papers twice.

In order to make the marking more manageable, I have established a due date/time for the first draft.  This date is firm.  If the paper comes in by this time, I mark it.  If it does not, I won’t even see it. I stop when I finish the last one.

The papers are always due on Saturday at 8 am.  Remember, there is no requirement to turn in the first draft, but if you want the feedback there is one condition–you have to turn it in for me to mark it.  And I mark them on Saturday.

It takes 10-12 minutes to mark each paper. I usually get around 45-50 first draft papers.

This adds up to about 10 hours of marking.  In order to get the papers back to students as fast as possible, I mark them all that day.  I mark until I have no more papers.  Then I stop.  If a paper comes in after this, I will not see it.

I have a due date/time for the second and final copy of the paper.  This time is also firm.  If a first draft paper has been submitted, this second draft is optional.  If a student wants me to mark their re-write, they need to turn it in, on time of course.  If I don’t get a paper, I assume the student has chosen to take the mark they earned on the first draft.

Sharing the Cost

Student writing has improved so much, that I regularly have students return to thank me for preparing them so well for university writing.  Their success is due in part to this two draft system.  But this success comes at a cost. The cost is shared by the students and myself.  The price I pay is giving up some Saturdays to provide thorough, valuable and immediate feedback on first drafts and then marking them all again.  The student’s cost is they must turn in their best work by the time I get to the last paper.

All this isn’t as harsh as it sounds.  High school papers are a long time in development.  We work on them for 3 to 4 weeks.  We’ve had discussions and done activities that help the student to understand the task.  I do all I can to get students started with a clear sense of direction.  Paper writing can start more than 2 weeks before the due date.  There is time enough to write the paper.

Not all students start early enough.  They are busy with other things, many of them worthwhile.  In the week before the paper is due, those who haven’t started predictably begin to experience stress.  This gets them going.  Some students are involved in a lot of things but haven’t yet developed a system by which they can be busy and get their school work finished.

Some of these will ask for an extension.

Extensions

I will, of course, give an extension for significant illness or an unanticipated family crisis–these are unplanned an unavoidable.  I will also give students more time if they started their paper early and have been diligently working for weeks and still need more time.  I usually have a pretty good idea as to who these students are.

I am very reluctant to give extensions because of a lack of time management.  I totally understand why they want one.  I understand why the parents are frustrated with me for not giving one.  I get it.  In last week before the due date, the student has 3 shifts at Tim Horton’s, the hay needs to be taken off before the rain, grandpa’s 75th birthday party, volleyball practices, piano lessons, and a Taylor Swift concert.  And they have hardly started their paper.  There are tears and frustration–even yelling.  All could be well if only Mr. De Jong would give an extension.

This is when I get the email.

By making the paper a little bit of a priority, and starting early, the busiest student can get a decent draft of a paper completed in two weeks.  Students take between 4 and 12 hours to write a large paper.  They know how long it takes them.  If they are busy and slow, they must start earlier, and take every 30 minutes where they can get it.  They have to say “No” to Starbuck’s and Hockey Night in Canada for two weeks.  This is the price they must pay if they want feedback.

Remember, there is an extension built into my system–there is no obligation to turn in the first draft–it’s completely optional.  They don’t even have to inform me.  They can decide to take an automatic 5-day extension.

All Decisions Come at a Price

Who should pay the price for a student’s involvement in the school play or the missions trip?  Or the hockey game or rock concert?  Almost all students accept the fact that they ought to pay the bulk of the costs for their decisions–for the good ones as well as the bad.  All decisions demand a price.  It’s a fact of life.  Deciding to go on a leadership trip to our nation’s capital is good, but it will cost you.  Many students pay this cost by organizing their schedule in such a way so as to submit the first draft before they leave–that’s five days early.

Students ought to pay for their decisions--for the good ones as well as the bad. All decisions demand a price. It's a fact of life.Click To Tweet

I usually deny a student’s request for an extension because they are, in effect, asking me to negate the natural consequences of the decisions they made. They would like to have their cake and eat it too.  Someone must pay the price, but they’d rather it would not be them.

What lessons will they learn by a refusal of an extension?  What lessons will they learn by a granting of same?

“It’s only one paper.”

One exception will quickly turn into 10 and I’d be back where I stared–the additional 8 hours and marking spread out over two weeks.  I’d go back to students turning in one paper and cut down on the comments.  I’d be doing things just like my high school teachers.  And most students wouldn’t become better writers.

“What about grace.”

I worry about the lessons that are learned if I give an extension.  I think the most gracious thing to do, long term, is to deny the extension.  The kids that are busy need to learn how to manage busy-ness–their life won’t get less busy when they get to post-secondary or move into their career.  I’d also hate to think what a child learns when they don’t pay the price for their decisions.

“It’s not fair.”

59 other students are paying the price of their own choices.  Is it fair that one does not?

 

An Effective Approach to Teaching Writing

stevepb / Pixabay

When I went to school, students would turn in their major papers by the due date, or lose 10% per day for 5 days and then they’d get a zero.  When the papers were returned 2 or 3 weeks later, we’d ignore the underlined spelling mistakes, the little circles where the commas should have been, and the few comments written in red ink.  We’d just look at the mark at the top and toss the paper in the trash.  Funny thing, I got exactly the same mark on all of my English papers–a B.  I was happy with that.  I went to university without a clue as to how to use a comma, let alone write a paper.  I took one English class in university–it was the basic one for people who were unprepared for university writing.  I didn’t earn close to a B.  There were many section of this course. Apparently my case was not unique.

Somehow I ended up being an English teacher.

Perhaps a lot of the responsibility for my failings as a high school writer rest with me, but I vowed that I would do anything I could to make sure that what happened to me, didn’t happen to my students;  I would have to take a different approach to teaching student how to write.

Improving Student Writing

The first thing to eliminate was the deduction of 10% per day for late assignments.  Marks measure competence if they are used for punishment they no longer measure competence.  For the same reason, I don’t give zeros for assignments that are not turned in.  Also because I don’t think students have the right to decide to not to do the work and still pass the class. (I’ve written on these issues here.)

The major feature of my system for teaching students how to improve their academic writing is to have them submit an early draft of their paper on which they receive detailed feedback.  They then immediately revise and resubmit their paper.  I use this system for summative assessment–each written piece of student writing  in a series from an analysis paragraph, to an essay, to a larger term paper.

Students can turn a first draft of their paper.  This is optional, but most students choose to do it because they get a lot of individual feedback on this paper.  They receive a mark out of six on six different categories: 1st Paragraph (thesis), Analysis, Format, Organization, Expression, Conventions (grammar, punctuation, etc.).  They also receive a lot of comments. I usually return the papers within 12 hours of the time it was due.

Based on this feedback, students can make revisions and resubmit the paper.

The students who did not turn in the first draft, for one reason or another, receive feedback as well.  I dedicate a good part of the next class to going over the general issues I noticed in the paragraphs I marked.  This helps all students improve in their paper writing.

There are those who don’t turn in either draft.  These cases are referred to a Vice-Principal who employs any number of strategies that helps students get their work done.

Benefits to the Student:

  1. Higher marks: The second drafts are so much better than the first drafts.  So students’ marks are higher.  Although they like the higher marks, this is not the most important benefit.  They’ve actually earned the higher marks because the papers are so much better.
  2. Better Writers:  Students are actually working with my feedback–trying to understand and apply it to their writing.  I don’t begrudge my high school teachers for writing little of significance on my papers, because they knew I wasn’t going to read their comments anyway.  I love it that my comments are read, even scrutinized, and then applied to significant effect.
  3. Immediate feedback:  Within 12 hours of turning in the paper students know what they can do to improve the next draft.  By making improvements to a paper just written, student learning improves. This is so much more effective than having to remember the comments on a paper written a month ago and apply them to a new one.

How to Flourish

There are a few things that students need to understand in order to get the most out of this approach, to take full advantage of the learning opportunities.

  1. Use class time efficiently.  Class discussions, group discussions, and assignments all help you with understanding the material that you will be writing your paper on.  Take careful notes on the discussions.  All of the points you will make in your paper, are being discussed, explored and references at these times.  This is especially important for busy people and those who struggle to understand more conceptual content.
  2.  Start work on your first draft early.  A minimum of two weeks before the due date.  Make the paper a priority.  If you are having a hard time getting your head wrapped around the task talk to me.
  3. If you have a lot of other things happening in the weeks before the due date, establish a work plan for completing the paper and keeping up with your other commitments.
  4. Turn in the best first draft you can.  The feedback you receive will be far more impactful on your learning if you submit your best work.  For the same reason, turn in a complete paper, including citations and a Works Cited page.
  5. If you can’t turn in the whole paper, turn in what you have.  I can give you a lot of good feedback on the first two paragraphs and a Works Cited page.  Just turn in these.  Just a caution, though–you will have a lot more work to do from Saturday to Thursday as you write your second draft.
  6. Don’t ask for an extension: If you do the above, you will learn a lot more and an extension will be completely unnecessary.

I was defeated by Ulysses

Photo by Tbel Abuseridze on Unsplash

I was defeated by Ulysses.

Well, that’s not so bad, so was the entire city of Troy, 200 suitors, and the Cyclops Polyphemos.

I mean the book. The one by James Joyce.  I quit half-way. I’m supposed to be smart. I teach literature.  I did War and Peace, Moby Dick, and Don Quixote in the same year.  I read Infinite Jest in three months, for crying out loud!  (Read this; it is really funny.)

There was that time when I threw Wuthering Heights across the room. But that was when I was young, and I later read that one no problem.  Not so with Ulysses.  I know when I have been beaten.

Maybe this is just round one.  I can go back to it later, to keep up my record.

I don’t want to. Not even a little bit.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I took a British Literature class.  We read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I enjoyed parts of this book, particularly the description of hell in Father Arnall’s sermon.  But there was something inside me that said this book was too much of something.

Here is an actual dialogue I had with a fellow student in this class after reading this book:

Professor: Is A Portrait a novel?

Me: No, a masterpiece but not a novel.

Brown-noser: Of course it’s a novel.

Me: No, it’s just Joyce showing all the neato things you can do to a novel.  Novels are meant to be read, this book is not.  It’s meant to be studied.

Brown-noser: Just because it’s not like a typical novel . . . if a painter uses a lot of new techniques we still call it a painting.

Me: If a painter brushes his initials onto a rock with water-soluble paint and then throws it off a cliff into the ocean before anyone sees it, do we still call it a painting?

The “too much of something’ in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was many times too much in Ulysses.

Ulysses: Life is too Short

I agree with Ron Rosenbaum in “Is Ulysses Overrated?

Actually, Rosenbaum doesn’t even agree with Rosenbaum, as much as I do.

I was fascinated by the fact that the plot of this book covers just a single day.  It’s witty.  Each chapter is written in a different style. For some people, all the allusions get in the way, but I thought they added to the meager appeal of the book.

I think that my main problem is that the book overturns almost every traditional way of telling a story.  Is this book, change for the sake of change?  One might argue that this is no worse a sin than writing in traditional modes for the sake of writing in traditional modes.  And one would be right.  Except one wouldn’t be holding Ulysses as one said it.

Traditional modes or writing need to be rejuvenated with new approaches, absolutely.  But in Ulysses, Joyce has evolved the novel brilliantly, but this has not ended up with a book I want to read.

It’s a masterpiece.  By all means, study it, but don’t bother reading it, for there is no joy there.

Or perhaps all this is simply justification and defensiveness arising from my humiliation–perhaps.  If it ends up to be this, I will be posting a refutation and celebration of having finished Ulysses and proclaiming it’s brilliance.

Ulysses is a masterpiece. By all means, study it, but don't bother reading it, for there is no joy there. Click To Tweet

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