Another Bloomsday.

This one is subdued, commemorated in a quiet house on a hot sunny day. In years past, UD has performed parts of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the Irish Embassy, won a prize at the Harvard Club Bloomsday in Washington for her reading (and singing) of parts of the Sirens chapter, crawled through the pubs of Dublin, and met up with a few of her students at a local DC bar for Irish food and recitation.

Here’s what she did this year. She downloaded the score of Mein junges leben hat ein end by Sweelinck (1562-1621), played it at her piano, and thought of this passage from the Eumaeus chapter of Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom really begin to talk to one another. These are Bloom’s thoughts as he listens to Dedalus name and sing some songs he likes.

Exquisite variations he was now describing on an air Youth here has End by Jans Pieter Sweelinck, a Dutchman of Amsterdam where the frows come from. Even more he liked an old German song of Johannes Jeep about the clear sea and the voices of sirens, sweet murderers of men, which boggled Bloom a bit:

Von der Sirenen Listigkeit
Tun die Poeten dichten.

These opening bars he sang and translated extempore. Bloom, nodding, said he perfectly understood and begged him to go on by all means, which he did.

A phenomenally beautiful tenor voice like that, the rarest of boons, which Bloom appreciated at the very first note he got out…

Bloom knows good singing, being married to Molly, and from the first note Dedalus gets out (recall that Dedalus is exhausted, beat up, and drunk) he recognizes his exceptional voice. We are also reminded here (he perfectly understood) that finally, at the end of a trying day, both men have found someone to whom they can talk honestly and by whom they can (to some degree) be understood.

The full lyrics to the Sirens song go like this:


From the Sirens’ craftiness
Poets make poems
That they with their loveliness
Have drawn many men into the sea
For their song resounds so sweetly,
That the sailors fall asleep,
The ship is brought into misfortune,
And all becomes evil.

Both songs express definitive Ulysses themes: With the death of his mother, Dedalus has indeed in some important sense come to the end of his youth; yet it’s clear from his self-destructive behavior throughout June 16 1904 that he’s resisting growing up, or let’s say that he doesn’t quite know what next step to take. The sirens song suggests one reason for his paralysis: Dedalus not only has that rarest of boons, a great singing voice. He’s – more importantly – a great writer. Yet something in him fears the pull toward the aesthetic, and though he concludes Portrait of the Artist stupendously, euphorically sure of his vocation, he has in fact grown up quite a bit by the time Ulysses begins. He has not produced the great art he thought he would by fleeing Ireland; in fact in Proteus he looks back with self-loathing on his childish narcissistic aestheticism while on the Continent:

Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand year, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once…

How to avoid the narcotic element of the aesthetic – the aesthetic as pure escape? Dedalus doesn’t yet know (his encounter with Bloom will presumably help him along here), and he is dealing with this not knowing – and of course with the pain of his mother’s death – by losing himself in the narcotic of alcohol. Indeed, the Sweelinck lyrics describe not just the end of youth, but the end of life, and Dedalus, who doesn’t eat, drinks like a fish, wears only black, is deeply depressed and angry, has earlier in the day given up his job and his lodging, and refuses any touch of (life-giving) water, himself seems drawn toward death.

Our last view of him has him quite alone, walking who knows where in a still-dark Dublin dawn.

Snapshots from Home: The Flood.

As UD‘s metro train, yesterday afternoon, lifted itself out of the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue and ran above Rock Creek Park, UD looked down and saw thick brown water heaving past the creek’s banks. Croppings of wildflowers barely showed through the flood, and the sycamores were all shaken up. UD was shaken. This scene, usually a calm span of green between the Beltway and Parkside Apartments, was turbulent and strange; and the rainfall wouldn’t break for awhile.

Earlier, in Foggy Bottom, she’d watched the sky disappear, watched her office windows go gray and fill with long streaks. She had the closed-in feeling you get in an airplane taxiing in a storm: There was the turbulent world, inches away; here was a world weirdly – barely – immune.

Later, watching the fast river Rokeby Avenue became, she remembered Henry Miller’s nod to James Joyce in The Tropic of Cancer.

“I love everything that flows,” said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love ev­erything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with its painful gallstones, its gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul; I love the great rivers like the Amazon and the Orinoco, where crazy men like Moravagine float on through dream and legend in an open boat and drown in the blind mouths of the river. I love everything that flows, even the menstrual flow that carries away the seed unfecund. I love scripts that flow, be they hieratic, esoteric, perverse, polymorph, or unilateral. I love everything that flows, ev­erything that has time in it and becoming, that brings us back to the beginning where there is never end: the vio­lence of the prophets, the obscenity that is ecstasy, the wisdom of the fanatic, the priest with his rubber litany, the foul words of the whore, the spittle that floats away in the gutter, the milk of the breast and the bitter honey that pours from the womb, all that is fluid, melting, dis­solute and dissolvent, all the pus and dirt that in flowing is purified, that loses its sense of origin, that makes the great circuit toward death and dissolution. The great in­cestuous wish is to flow on, one with time, to merge the great image of the beyond with the here and now. A fat­uous, suicidal wish that is constipated by words and par­alyzed by thought.

In time for Saint Patrick’s Day, the Dublin City Council…

votes against demolishing the Ormond Hotel, where Simon Dedalus so beautifully sang “Martha” in the front room, while, in the back room (having told a waiter to keep the door between the rooms open so he could hear), Leopold Bloom so feelingly listened. (To hear more or less what Simon Dedalus would have sounded like singing that afternoon, go here and click on Play Music Clip.)

In its plans [the developer] argued that the original fabric of the hotel no longer existed and that the literary associations would be best preserved through the retention of the name of the hotel, the erection of a tourism plaque, and the use of the name ‘Sirens’ for the bar.

The James Joyce Centre was among several objectors [there was also a petition] to the development on the site of the hotel which was the setting for the Sirens episode of Ulysses.

A city preserves a real hotel because an imaginary character sang in it while another imaginary character listened to the singing. UD finds this civic act more moving than, say, New York City preserving the site of the Algonquin Room, where real people met…

Fictive realer than real. Aristotle. Plausible, and free of the need to be faithful to what actually was. In the hands of a genius read by all and then … percolates over time into the real city. Seeps. Visitors see the city through the mist of its genius-recreator…

There. A little Leopold Bloomesque stream of consciousness to try to get at why a room with Dorothy Parker in it may mean less to us than a room with Blazes Boylan in it.

Here’s some of what was said and thought about music in the bar of the Ormond Hotel on June 16, 1904. This is from the Sirens chapter of Ulysses:

[An unidentified narrator admires and somewhat ridicules Simon Dedalus’s sentimental rendition of a sentimental song.] It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the etherial bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness …….

**********************

[Bloom thinks about Simon’s voice as he sings the sad Martha song.] That voice was a lamentation. Calmer now. It’s in the silence after you feel you hear. Vibrations. Now silent air.

**********************

[After he sings “Martha,” Simon gets excited, recalling, with one of his friends at the bar, how he first heard Italians singing.] It was the only language Mr Dedalus said to Ben. He heard them as a boy in Ringabella, Crosshaven, Ringabella, singing their barcaroles. Queenstown harbour full of Italian ships. Walking, you know, Ben, in the moonlight with those earthquake hats. Blending their voices. God, such music, Ben. Heard as a boy. Cross Ringabella haven mooncarole.

*********************

[Bloom’s thoughts as he ponders the omnipresence of music.] Sea, wind, leaves, thunder, waters, cows lowing, the cattlemarket, cocks, hens don’t crow, snakes hissss. There’s music everywhere. Ruttledge’s door: ee creaking. No, that’s noise. Minuet of Don Giovanni he’s playing now. Court dresses of all descriptions in castle chambers dancing. Misery. Peasants outside. Green starving faces eating dockleaves. Nice that is. Look: look, look, look, look, look: you look at us.

That’s joyful I can feel. Never have written it. Why? My joy is other joy. But both are joys. Yes, joy it must be. Mere fact of music shows you are. Often thought she was in the dumps till she began to lilt. Then know.

*******************

[Later, the narrator writes this, as another person performs The Croppy Boy.] The voice of dark age, of unlove, earth’s fatigue made grave approach and painful, come from afar, from hoary mountains, called on good men and true.

*******************

[Ultimately:] And deepmoved all…

*******************

Vibrations sustained almost a century now over silent air.
Strings plucked again each moment a lover of art opens the novel.

As always, the master of English prose in our time is…

James Joyce.

A UD reader (thanks, Dirk!) sends UD a link to…

… the full film, on YouTube, of DeLillo/Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. UD, a DeLillo fanatic, found Cosmopolis so disappointing she could barely finish it. And then this novel, of all DeLillo’s novels, gets filmed…

She avoided the film, especially when bad reviews started coming in. But of course she has been curious about it. And here is an easy way for her to see it.

So she’s been watching it today, between lawn mowing, pumpkin gathering, and car washing.

The curious thing is, she’s also been watching, over and over, the trailer for Gravity; and these two films together have her thinking about their rather strange similarities. Both films feature the cuttingest-edge postmodern American technology along with the new sorts of people this technology spawns. Both films put these new sorts of Americans in conditions of absolute surreal silence.

Outside of this silence, in its background, revolves a very real world. The background in Gravity is Earth, and as I watch the trailer my homing eye is always moving away from the astronaut and instead following Sri Lanka and Florida and Chad… The revolving stage of beloved bluegreen Earth …

Manhattan’s the background in Cosmopolis, and the anarchic city churns and churns behind the deeply tinted, armored, windows of Eric Packer’s stretch limo.

The films share, that is, this perennial dual focus, this inside/outside, silence/noise, technologically mediated environment/natural (or semi-natural/semi-cultural) environment. Both really allow one to think about mediation, about the odd estranged relationship many contemporary Americans are able to have with actuality. DeLillo’s best-known novel – White Noise – is all about this, from its title onward… our white-noisy electronically mediated daily experience…

Yet Cosmopolis is the work of a moralist; indeed, for me, its weakness is precisely its moral hectoring about the psychopathology of great wealth, and in particular the way great wealth immunizes itself from the pain of humanity. I love the theme – but in most of his novels DeLillo approaches the theme subtly, satirically. Here there’s a grim sermonizing that forces the film’s actors simply into one anti-capitalist screed after another.

Gravity’s trailer (good name for a film in itself) suggests that this film uses the dual focus bit in a much more human and (I hate the word, but it fits) poignant way, conveying our new yearning for a life of embeddedness and proximities and raggedy no-tech imperfections in the wake of all that shiny mediation.

It’s like what Stephen Dedalus says in Portrait when he realizes he’s an artist:

He smiled to think that it was this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father’s house, and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul.

Bloomsday at the Beach

UD‘s exciting Bloomsday last year, where she sang and read from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in front of a packed gathering at the Irish embassy, is followed by a quiet one now, beachside.

Beachside like Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, Chapter Three, where, in despair, he walks along a beach near Dublin. A young ambitious writer who’d gone soaring off to the continent to write his great books, he’s come crashing to earth – and Ireland – in the guilty, grieving aftermath of his mother’s death. The whole chapter’s his interior monologue on themes of soaring life, haunting death, sex, love, family, and ambition, as he broods along the beach.

His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm over the sand furrows, along by the boulders of the south wall. He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls. Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.

proud rhythm/sand furrows: You see the matched pair, the metered poetry, mirroring his metered walk. Also the subtle assonance of it all: the f‘s and the v (feet/over/furrows), the monosyllabic, final d of sand and proud, taking along with them for good measure the d of sudden. The poetry too of those liquid l‘s in along/boulders/wall; the yet more poetry in all those long lovely open ah’s: march/along/wall. This is gentle prose, echoing the gentle setting of sand and waves and wind on a summer afternoon, the quietness of a solitary man walking and thinking. The storm is inside his mind; when we come to his monologue’s content, to the thoughts themselves, the prose will take a much harsher turn. But here we are still in third person, the consciousness of indirect discourse picking up on externalities.

Proud means bold means our genius is going to choose boulders, and gold , but never bold; he won’t say bold, but while we read, inside our own internal monologue, the word bold, the idea of boldness aligned with pride, will somehow bubble up, somehow subaquatically accompany all of this — haunt it, if you like, the way Stephen’s mother’s death will haunt his thoughts, present, and even insistent, but not quite there on the page. And that is the mind, that is the way it is, as our feet march in proud rhythm. Under the rhythm there’s another rhythm, deeper and always insinuating and complicating and – for Stephen, right now – dead calming, keeping him, despite his full-of-beansness, his amazing libidinal energy – from soaring.

(For an American analogue, there’s this famous passage, from A River Runs Through It:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

James Joyce can actually capture these underflows verbally. Norman Maclean wrote a great book but like virtually all other writers, he can’t do that.)

He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls.

Stephen’s morbid set of mind perceives the boulders as massive skulls, a collective grave all piled up, and of course he’ll think much more directly in those everything-I-see-is-death terms in this chapter — Omnis caro ad te veniet he will say to himself a few moments after this passage; all flesh shall come unto thee. From a requiem mass.

The beach is a graveyard of all manner of things tossed up after being spun forever in the underworld. Much of this chapter will be Dedalus describing the washed up dead things he sees. But the narrative of this short paragraph, like the narrative of his long day and night, June 16, 1904, will be an effort to rouse himself from his dead calm, to defy death and the guilt and fear and despair it occasions, so that he can live and love and write:

Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.

It’s high summer, mid-June, a very sunny day; the world bids him notice the buzzing above the oceanic cemetery. As it bade him in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, just before he left for the continent:

A soft liquid joy like the noise of many waters flowed over his memory and he felt in his heart the soft peace of silent spaces of fading tenuous sky above the waters, of oceanic silence, of swallows flying through the sea-dusk over the flowing waters.

A soft liquid joy flowed through the words where the soft long vowels hurtled noiselessly and fell away, lapping and flowing back and ever shaking the white bells of their waves in mute chime and mute peal, and soft low swooning cry; and he felt that the augury he had sought in the wheeling darting birds and in the pale space of sky above him had come forth from his heart like a bird from a turret, quietly and swiftly.

Joy; the sky above the waters. So Dedalus will, in this slender Ulysses paragraph, go with the sun, with the brightness that illuminates a rickety but real world – the slender trees, frail but lit up; the lemon houses, lemoned for a moment by the sun. It’s just a moment, but it’s real enough. It’s even poetic, with slender and lemon making another assonantal pair.

Soon enough, Dedalus will meet up with our man of the moment, Leopold Bloom, the two of them making a pair that poeticizes and makes bearable, makes legible, and lovable, the world of the living.

So these two guys are making a book…

… containing the philosophy of Leopold Bloom as it appears in the novel Ulysses by James Joyce, of which you may have heard.

It’s going to be a handmade book, and… well, watch the film. It tells all.

Now that Joyce’s work has been liberated from the grasp of his grandson, projects like this one are flourishing. UD is excited, and has just done her bit – by way of a financial contribution – to The Works of Master Poldy. She can’t wait to see it.

Milo O’Shea, who embodied Leopold Bloom very nicely…

… in this film, has died.

Finnegans Wake…

… comes to China.

[See AP photo here.]

UD, a James Joyce Fanatic…

… is ambivalent about this latest homage, a portrait of the artist made out of tulips. It’s a co-production of the Dutch Embassy and the Irish Botanical Gardens, and all you can see right now (here’s another image) is Joyce as a bunch of bulbs and stakes.

The specific tulip in the design is a new Dutch cultivar intended as a gift to Ireland and named Molly Bloom.

I dunno. It’s a bit on the sweet side for Jamesy. Not as bad as, say, Prague creating a smiley-face balloon homage to Kafka, but similarly problematic.

Bronze by Gold

Today In University Life begins with the theft of “tens of thousands of dollars worth of bronze” from the base of a statue of James Joyce at a Jesuit university in Denver.

The sculpture was a tribute to ‘Ulysses.’ In the book there are 18 chapters and at the bottom of the sculpture there used to be 18 bronze plates.

“There was a quote from each of those chapters on each of the plates,” said Regis administrator Dr. Tom Reynolds.

UD thinks it sporting of the Jesuits to honor Joyce, who didn’t exactly praise them to the skies in his writing, and she thinks it’s a pity that they’ve lost part of what looks like a beautiful statue.

The news story about the theft includes the sort of spelling error Joyce would have put in Finnegans Wake (maybe he did): “It’s not just a chunk of inconsiquential detail.”

UD in today’s Washington Post

When Soltan finished delivering Molly Bloom’s orgasmic finale in the ambassador’s formal living room — “His heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes” — Collins stepped up the microphone and said, “Yes, indeed!” He noted that “Ulysses” had never been banned in Ireland.

An account of Bloomsday at the embassy features your blogger.

As I say in the post below, I’m not sure the ambassador’s “Yes, indeed!” was unreservedly thrilled …

UD does Molly.

This Bloomsday started like all of them – on the metro.

Hours before I’d been at the beach, and the sky was clear blue and the water windy and gray. I didn’t want to leave, of course, and I thought about a quiet life always at the shore.

***********************

I walked north from Dupont Circle up Connecticut Avenue, then climbed the hilly street of fine houses and clever little urban landscapes to the Irish Embassy. It was warm, but not too warm, and UD was nervous, but not too nervous, because before she left home she glugged some Gdansk Gold-Wasser Zlota Woda.

UD seldom drinks, but when she does, she’s amazed at how well it works.

***********************

The ambassador greeted me at the door. “You’re one of our readers!” he said.

“Yes. I’m your Molly Bloom.”

I said I’d worried a bit about the soliloquy’s obscenity. “My husband said there might be clergy in the audience.”

“Oh yes! There will certainly be clergy… I must say, I was listening to some actors practicing the Molly Bloom section earlier today and I was rather… uh… ”

“Well, I’ve chosen a series of short passages and nothing too over the top.”

*********************************

Four men preceded UD, reading a bit from various earlier chapters. It was a very full room, everyone standing and holding drinks. Some guests wore period costumes. UD spotted two priests.

The readers stood in front of a large fireplace; nearby windows gave out on a view of lawns and hydrangeas.

The ambassador stood just to UD‘s left — inches away. And as UD read Molly’s endless complaints about her husband (could have been a prima donna only I married him… O but then what am I going to do about him though…), she found herself using the ambassador as a stage prop, making him her Bloom. She cocked a finger in his direction with each complaint.

This certainly amused the crowd. I think it amused the ambassador, but I’m not sure.

****************************

I like performing Molly. After many years reading her thoughts, I think I am in love with her. Bloom and Stephen are Mr and Mr Gloomy Gus; Molly perks things up considerably with her unstoppable erotic drive.

The danger in reading Molly is melodrama. Overdoing it. The temptation is to be vulgar – either sexually or sentimentally. Molly is explicit, but she’s not out there.

I think what’s most striking about her – especially at the famous conclusion of the soliloquy – is her happy relationship to her own past. Her memories of her sexual power excite her, and indeed Molly gets the last word in the novel not only because she insists on living a full emotional, aesthetic, and erotic life, but also because she loves what she has been, cherishes her exotic past, and, in recalling it, delights and renews herself. At the end of Ulysses, Molly is ready for another day.

Today is Bloomsday.

If you’re finally in the mood, here are UD‘s recent Bloomsday posts.

She and Mr UD are packing up to go back to Washington for UD‘s Bloomsday gigs at the Irish Embassy and the Cosmos Club.

Getting Sentimental…

… in my latest Inside Higher Ed post.

Read it here.

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