Useless Joyce explores the usefulness of literature

What is James Joyce’s Ulysses about?

That’s a question Tim Conley asks students at the end of his fourth-year seminar course on the famous novel, and the answers reflect the profound effect the book has: Life. Existence. Loneliness. Living.

“Joyce multiplies and deepens meanings,” says Conley, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature.

Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are often thought to be difficult and impractical texts, but Conley’s new book, Useless Joyce: Textual Functions, Cultural Appropriations (University of Toronto Press) invites readers to think differently about Joyce’s works.

“His work is constantly challenging and even overturning what I — and many other readers — think they know about language’s relationship to the world and our experience of it,” says Conley.

The professor uses Joyce’s works to explore the question of the usefulness of literature and art. He examines how Joyce challenges what it means to use another’s words, and how processes of editing, translation and annotation affect a text’s dissemination and use.

Conley also explores how Joyce’s works can be read as guides to public speaking, diet and even dating.

Useless Joyce is Conley’s most recent contribution to the field of Joyce studies. Previous publications include Doubtful Points: Joyce and Punctuation, Joyce’s Disciples Disciplined: A Re-exagmination of the “Exagmination of Work in Progress” [sic], and Joyce’s Mistakes: Problems of Intention, Irony, and Interpretation.

“Joyce makes us listen to the world more carefully, to hear all the things that it is saying,” says Conley.

And what is Ulysses about?

Ulysses is a universe, a multifaceted experience that cannot be summarized,” answers Conley.

Students interested in reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake are invited to join Conley’s reading group Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m. in GLN 146.

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