Why is Paulo Coelho slamming James Joyce?(Read article summary)
Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho says of Joyce's book 'Ulysses,' 'There is nothing there.'
Gore Vidal v. Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer v. Tom Wolfe. Salman Rushdie v. John Updike. Ernest Hemingway v. Gertrude Stein. Henry James v. H.G. Wells. Charles Dickens v. William Thackeray. Literary feuds are as old as literature itself. Alternating between PR stunt, outright bullying, vigorous intellectual debate, and exercise in ego-bashing and -boosting, literary feuds are nothing if not pure bibliophilic entertainment.Â
â€śToday writers want to impress other writers,â€ť Coelho told Brazilian newspaper Folha de S Paulo. â€śOne of the books that caused greatest harm was James Joyceâ€™s 'Ulysses,' which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, 'Ulysses' is a twit.â€ť
Fighting words from the usually eloquent Coelho.
Joyce, of course, is well positioned for a literary attack. (The first rule of literary feuding: aim to knock down the king, not the servant. The more celebrated, well-known, and esteemed the author, the better the feud.) The great James Joyce is widely considered one of the most influential modernist avant-garde work writers of the 20th century and â€śUlyssesâ€ť a landmark that has been heralded as the epitome of modernist literature.
And as the Guardian writes, â€śUlysses has topped poll after poll to be named the greatest novel of the 20th century.â€ť (Modern Library ranked it No. 1 in its list of â€ś100 Best Novels." Interestingly, another Joyce masterpiece, â€śA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,â€ť was No. 3.)
No matter, Coelho says. â€ś[W]riters fell into disgrace when they sought recognition through form, not content,â€ť writes Folha, echoing Coelhoâ€™s words. â€śUlysses,â€ť Coelho opines, failed because it focuses on form over substance â€“ one of the first novels to start this damaging trend.
Coelho was speaking with the Brazilian newspaper about the publication of his 22nd novel, â€śManuscrito Encontrado em Accra,â€ť a historical spiritual work set in 1099 Jerusalem as the Crusaders prepared to attack Muslims. â€śManuscritoâ€ť has sold more than 115 million copies in 160 countries.
Coelho told the newspaper he credits his own popularity to the fact that he is a modern writer, â€śdespite what the critics say.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m modern because I make the difficult seem easy, and so I can communicate with the whole world.â€ť
â€śUlysses,â€ť which was published with a print run of 1,000 copies in 1922, tells the tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he passes through an ordinary day in Dublin. The novel alludes to Odysseus of Homerâ€™s â€śOdyssey,â€ť and Joyce established a series of parallels between characters and events in the epic poem and his own novel. â€śUlyssesâ€ť weighs in at 265,000 words, with an impressive lexicon of 30,030 words. Today, the novel is read around the world and has been adapted for theater, film, and television.
All that, of course, only sets Joyce up for attack â€“ and Coelho isnâ€™t the first to go after the celebrated author. In 2004, Irish novelist Roddy Doyle said â€śUlyssesâ€ť â€ścould have done with a good editorâ€ť and said he doubted judges ranking it in a list of top 10 books ever written â€śwere really moved by it.â€ť
Too bad Joyce isnâ€™t around to counter. If his fluency in writing is any indication, we think heâ€™d make a fine debater.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.