All these fancypants mens magazines run segments trying teach impressionable boys who’ve yet to make a decision on their own how to drink more thoughtfully/responsibly/fashionably/manlyly. Instead of that, every St. Thursday’s Eve we’re gonna learn y’all drunkards how to think. Here we go…
For our inaugural week, we going BIG. While you’re boozing this weekend, pick up James Joyce’s Ulysses. You may know this book as either (a) a completely inscrutable text, (b) a great running reference in Tom Robbins’s Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, (c) a literary snob’s bludgeon in any argument, or (d) all of the above. But hear me out…
First, this thing looks badfuckingass on your shelf. Just read that name: ULYSSES. Sounds old and tough and surly all at the same time. Plus, the text has heft to it, so it’s handy in a fight. These combined with the instant name recognition mean that when a visitor spies this hunk of modernist classic on the bedside table, they’ve been adequately warned of your physical and mental prowess.
Second, this baby was declared obscene until a US District Court ruled that it wasn’t pornographic, and therefore couldn’t be obscene. See, I’m partial to the Modern Library edition, which has the court’s opinion right up front. You want to know Judge John M. Woolsey’s deciding factor on whether to ban the book or not? Here you go:
…I checked my impressions with two friends of mine who in my opinion answered to the above stated requirement for my regeant [a person with average sex instincts]. These literary assessors…were called on separately, and neither knew that I was consulting the other, They are men whose opinion on literature and on life I value most highly. They had both read “Ulysses”, and, of course were unconnected with this cause. Without letting either of my assessors know what my decision was, I gave to each of them the legal definition of obscene and asked each whether in his opinion “Ulysses” was obscene under that definition. I was interested to find that they both agreed with my opinion: that reading “Ulysses” in its entirety, as a book must be read on such a test as this, did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts but that its net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women.
BOOM. That’s the fucking law, folks, in 5 easy steps. Step 1: Form a loose opinion on your own. Step 2: Quiz a couple buddies on their sex lives, see if they’re “average.” (Note: What do you think the odds are that (a) these friends would admit to anything perverse, (b) this judge will find his own friends’ sex lives perverse, even if they admit it, and (c) then say so in a published opinion?) Step 3: Hand these non-lawyer pals a legal definition (no doubt elucidated by you). Step 4: Ask if that fits the facts at hand. (Note: What do you think the odds are that either of these friends would admit to reading an obscene book to a friend who also happens to be a judge they had to know was rendering an opinion on the matter?) Step 5: If they agree with you (shocking, I know, the same opinion shared amongst friends), you are correct in your ruling – throw that shit right there in the opinion. The system WORKS, people.
Third, and here’s the real beauty of the book – it’s fucking intoxicating. And I mean that seriously and in the drinking context. Crack this baby open at the end of your boozing shift, and it will take you straight to Dreamland. Not in the “boring you to sleep” way – in the “language is bending your mind into magnificent sleep” way. It’s mesmerizing. So what if you have no fucking clue what is going on in the story; just a few sentences in, it FEELS great just to be reading it. There’s a lullaby cadence that will ring some primordial bell in your lizard brain. You may not know what you’re reading or why you like it, but that won’t matter one whit.
So there you have it – a boozy book written by a hard-drinking Irishman that would’ve been banned for being pornographic had not a couple of the Good Judge Woolsey’s friends stepped in on its behalf. Drink a flagon, turn a page, and you’ll be thinking in no time.