An award-winning Irish filmmaker and animator just received crowd-sourced funding to kickstart his plan to turn James Joyce's Ulysses into a virtual reality video game.
The concept is to immerse players in Joyce's stream of consciousness by dropping them into the shoes of the work's two protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom.
Eoghan Kidney writes on funding site FundIt that his project will allow users to "inhabit the characters of Ulysses and experience the density of Joyce's language in a fun and accessible way."
On the most basic of levels, Ulysses narrates a day in the life of Dublin through the thoughts, travels and actions of Dedalus and Bloom. But Joyce's stream-of-consciousness writing, layered with allusion, reference and parody, attracted a massive following, many of whom strive to squeeze every bit of meaning out of the dense work.
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That the book, seen by many to be one of the most important English-language novels of the 20th century and a chief pillar of the Modernist literary movement, feels so unapproachable to first-time readers, makes this project very appealing to Joycean scholars.
It's the type of project, they say, that Joyce would have loved.
"He probably would have befriended Mr. Kidney, become a drinking partner of his if Mr. Kidney drinks, and enlisted him in the various plots and schemes Joyce developed after the publication of Ulysses to promote and explain the book," said Gregory Dobbins, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis and author of Lazy Idle Schemers: Irish Modernism and the Cultural Politics of Idleness
For now Kidney has 4,553 Euros in donated funds to launch his project. The plan, he writes, is to start with the third chapter of the book, "Proteus."
Kidney chose the most approachable episode to re-create from a graphics perspective, but conceptually and narratively speaking, it's a plunge directly into Joyce's thoughts.
"Proteus" finds Dedalus wandering the Sandymount Strand, a large, relatively unremarkable beach, lost in thoughts about his life and family. The section is written in a stream-of-consciousness and packed with obscure references.
Kidney writes that players will use a VR headset, like the Oculus Rift, to walk along the beach as the book is read aloud 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," he wrote. "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 says his reading and understanding of the book, in particular its "almost impenetrable" first three chapters, was guided by the work of scholars.
Ulysses presumes that readers have a level of education and knowledge about such a vast array of ideas and written works, that having a literary guide is almost required. That Kidney's project uses virtual reality means readers may consume the book in a way that blends the annotations and the original work into a single experience. The approach, if it succeeds, could be the start of another type of literary scholarship.