The infamous third episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Proteus, starts like this:
Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought
through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and
seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust:
coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was
aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his
sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro
di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane,
adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it it is a gate, if not a
door. Shut your eyes and see.
This paragraph alone may have done more than any other discrete section of Ulysses to give the book its reputation as prohibitively difficult; it’s certainly the point at which many readers give up on the great novel. That’s a shame.
Now Eoghan Kidney, an Irish director and animator with a totally fitting last name (in the fourth episode of Ulysses, we find out that our protagonist Poldy Bloom’s favorite food is “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented
urine”) has decided to use the Oculus Rift to make things a little easier. His “In Ulysses” is a virtual reality game that puts players in the headspace of Stephen Dedalus (Joyce’s alter ego and our narrator at the time of the daunting Proteus episode).
Here’s how the experience will work:
As a user of “In Ulysses” walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them - they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written - but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images and links. A user can stop walking (therefore stopping Stephen walking) and explore these illustrations, gaining insight into the book and adding to the enjoyment of it.
Kidney is about 3/4s of the way to his 4000-pound funding goal; after making the Proteus episode, he plans to do additional versions featuring later sections of the book.
I got through Ulysses the first time with the help of Harry Blamires’ indispensable 1966 guide. If Kidney’s project can help a new generation of readers persevere through this wonderful, life-improving book, it will be a very, very good thing.