Virtual ‘book club’ to discuss Joyce masterpiece as part of Themester

Despite its oft-used tag as one of the most important books of the 20th century, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” can feel like a daunting task. It’s long, confusing and so crammed with allusions that it generally requires several reference books to help even the most seasoned reader stumble through its “episodes,” which jump from a narrative style to Old English to something that reads like a play script.

joyce-textorized by Max Froumentin. This image is being used with permission from the artist.

Now, readers can enjoy their own personal guide to Joyce’s masterpiece: IU’s own Stephen Watt. Starting Thursday, the English professor and former associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences will guide an online discussion group for the novel as part of Themester.

The virtual “book club” is open to anyone with a broadband internet connection, speakers and a Web browser with a Flash plug-in. The program will allow participants to watch and hear Watt speak via video, while they’ll be able to type questions and share thoughts in real time.

The magic of the Internet will also help Watt deepen the learning experience for participants by creating a platform where he’ll share images and details of buildings, locations, people and items mentioned in Joyce’s masterpiece, including the historic beauty of the National Library of Ireland and the swoon-worthy matinee idol one of the book’s tween characters imagines when she encounters protagonist Leopold Bloom.

Watt said the idea for the online-only course came to him after he was approached by an alumnus who asked how he could participate in Themester activities while living elsewhere; but it was also sparked by a conversation about supporting the arts and humanities in a broader context.

“I think that if the arts and humanities are going to survive this unbelievable economic dilemma in which we find ourselves, we can’t just talk about how important these things are,” Watt said. “We have to get out there and help enrich people’s lives, if we can, with serious debate and intellectual conversation. We have to walk the walk. We simply must do that.”

Participants need not have any prior knowledge of Joyce, but they should be aware that “Ulysses” contains some adult content. The discussion group will “meet” virtually at 8 p.m. each Thursday for approximately 12 to 15 weeks.

Want to join? Register on the Themester website.

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