The Chronicle of Higher Education recently claimed that Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg “plays the piano, loves James Joyce’s Ulysses, and taught himself to speak Norwegian.”
University Life is not in a position to comment on Buttigieg’s keyboard skills or fluency in norsk, but there is no way he has read Ulysses. That’s because no one has read Ulysses in its entirety since 1967, which is 15 years before Buttigieg was born.
According to Joyce scholar Sterling Pwesh, Professor Emeritus of English at Bowdoin College, “more people have falsely claimed to have read Ulysses than any other novel in history. The reality is that a greater number of individuals purchased Michelle Obama’s memoir on the day it was published than have read Ulysses in the 97 years it has been available in book form.”
Pwesh notes that “what almost always happens is that someone starts reading Joyce’s novel for the sex passages, but then realizes that it’s not worth the endless slog through the narrative in order to get to the juicy parts. Most would-be readers give up by page 27, and nobody is left after page 60. Vivid descriptions of sexual high jinks are now so readily available in fiction that Joyce has become superfluous. Heck, it won’t be long before you can satisfy the majority of your carnal needs by simply going to a local grocery store and shoplifting a box of Post’s Scratch-and-Sniff Shredded Wheat.” (Note: This product should be available in selected locations by the end of 2019. Check the Post website for more details).
But doesn’t Ulysses remain a staple in college literature courses? “Not really,” says Pwesh. “For one thing, Joyce is an extremely dead white guy, which works against him being required reading in the current era. Also, no professor would dare assign this 730-page brick of a book in a world of 40-second attention spans. Once in a while, in my Irish Cinema course, I’ll have the class watch the 1967 film version of Ulysses, along with the 1959 Disney classic, Darby O’Gill and the Little People starring Sean Connery. The students write a final paper comparing the psychodynamics of Leopold Bloom and Darby O’Gill. It works pretty well.”
University Life reporters interviewed dozens of Buttigieg’s classmates from Harvard and Pembroke College in England, where he obtained his master’s degree. None could recall ever seeing him with a copy of Ulysses, even after being shown various covers of the volume in an attempt to jog their memories. One acquaintance who preferred to remain anonymous remarked, “If Pete had been carrying it around, someone would have noticed. It’s a pretty fat book, you know.”
Is it possible that Buttigieg has confused Ulysses with Finnegan’s Wake, another Joyce classic? “Impossible,” says Pwesh. “There is no credible evidence that ANYONE has ever read Finnegan’s Wake. This tome resides in hundreds of thousands of libraries around the world, but not once has it been checked out.”
Candidate Buttigieg, the ball is in your court. What say you?