UD to Utah

I leave this afternoon to join Mr UD in Utah for a few days. We’ll stay in the mountains, and of course blogging will continue as always.

My graduate school mentor, Wayne Booth, grew up in American Fork, Utah. I’ll make a little pilgrimage there in memory of him, and I’ll write about it here.

Want to know what Booth was like? Read this letter (scroll down to Remembering Wayne Booth). Just the thing for the day after Bloomsday.

UD’s currently cooling down…

… after her long Bloomsday night at Guapo’s Restaurant.

So long that she left before the thing was over. It’s still going on even as I blog. But — hot city, hot restaurant. Had to get some air.

Here are notes on the experience, direct and unedited from UD‘s journal of the event…


16 June 2010

Bloomsday 2010. Did not drink enough (only had a sip of Nalewka) to get through this four-hour thing (I’m reading from Lestrygonians and Sirens), so must start in on that when I get to Guapo’s.

Maybe the booze will lighten this rather tense, heavy feeling I’ve got. Feel as though instead of being in my life, doing one thing, then another, flowflowflow, I’m a bit blocked. My strange silent days in an empty house outside of which immense summer storms rage (La Kid’s vacationing at the Outer Banks, Mr UD‘s at a conference in Utah , the dog is in the kennel) are pleasant, but the very placidity of it makes this – joining humanity around the Tenleytown metro – quite a wrench. Heart pounds, rear feels plugged.

… I’m very conscious of my essential absurdity. (Other people don’t seem to have this problem.) I expect other people to perceive this absurdity and laugh at it. This makes me nervous.


Upstairs at Guapo’s. Every seat is taken! Margaritas and chips all around, and everyone’s leafing through their copy of Ulysses.

Throughout the event, the 1967 black and white film of Ulysses plays silently on a screen behind the readers. It was a good idea to do this — The fumbling sincerity of that account of the book has a sweetness that lightens the night.

And here’s Courtney, once my student, now my friend, who drove in from Baltimore for this. She’s brought another friend with her. I’m very moved that Courtney’s gone to this trouble.

The readers preceding me are all fine, but as always there’s the accent problem. We’re Americans, and if we try to be Irish we’ll be ridiculous… On the other hand, our hard American edges aren’t right for this lilting prose…

And one of the readers is doing Molly’s voice wrong — has her as a rasping harridan. Molly’s a singer, and a good one, and must have a pleasant speaking voice as well.

One of the readers, when he finishes, goes around to all the tables handing out a ten-question Bloomsday quiz. First question: When was Ulysses allowed to be published in Ireland? Damned if I know.


I feel very warm, although my table mates assure me that it’s air conditioned up here. Booze does that to me. Also nerves.


My turn! Hoopsa girlagirl! Hoopsa!

I drag my bones up to the mike – some readers sit, some stand… I decide to stand! What the hell! Go all out! In order to get through Sirens I have to sing M’appari as Simon Dedalus would have! I have to fart loudly and repeatedly! Let’s let it rip!

The crowd was quiet for me, so that was a good sign right there. And I did do accents a little – softened my hard American voice into a vaguely British/Irish something… And I went ahead and sang out that way high COME! at the end of Simon’s performance. Held it for a long time, too, and that seemed to work…


The audience applauded a lot when I finished, and one guy even called out Bravo, which made my plugged-up heavy feeling go completely away …




From an email UD just got from her colleague, Christopher Griffin, who stayed at the event until the end:

Dear Margaret:

Well done on your vivid dramatic reading of “Sirens.”  After you left, there were some missing readers, so Robert Aubry Davis filled in for two of them.    When we got to “Penelope,” the reader was missing, so the MC called for Margaret Soltan. When you did not respond, Rebecca Boggs came up and did a fantastic reading.

The winner was Robert Aubry Davis, so he came up to pick some prizes.  The first runner-up was
you, but since you were not present, Coilin Owens was the next runner-up, so he picked a prize.  I figured that you deserved a token, so I went up saying that I represented you and would like to pick an item for you.  So I picked the best of what was left, which was a picture of Joyce’s face on Ireland. I will drop it off to your mailbox or office door sometime next week.

June 16


Lawrence Mynott

Habermas on Ulysses

He’s in Dublin today, accepting the Ulysses Medal.

Paul Gillespie: You are being presented with a Ulysses medal in University College Dublin and have a long-standing interest in James Joyce’s work. What attracts you to it and what do you think it has to tell us about today’s world?

Jürgen Habermas: You must not expect any special expertise on my part in this area. I am simply one of the countless admirers of one of the most outstanding works of literature of the twentieth century. For me, Joyce, the itinerant European author, combines things in Ulysses that are otherwise seldom encountered together. He combines the artifice of a highly self-reflective, aesthetically uncompromising modern novel whose allusions are almost indecipherable with an unmistakable, though by no means uncritical, attachment to the all-pervasive ethos of his Irish native country. The novel is a declaration of love to the streets and pubs of Dublin and to the rich tradition and spirit of the country. It could be that this mixture is gaining a new resonance in times of “glocalisation”, that is especially in places where the local is entering into strange combinations with the global.

Why is Bloomsday so Popular?

Various writers attempt, each year, to answer the question.

… “St. Joyce has replaced St. Patrick in the new, post-Catholic Ireland,” the columnist and critic Fintan O’Toole once quipped to me.

That doesn’t explain the many who will gather in American cities to observe Bloomsday. There will be dramatic readings, broadcast on the Web, in various theaters up and down New York’s Broadway and special commemorations at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library, where the autographed manuscript copy of “Ulysses” is housed. Many will listen to the readings and lectures because they’ve never read the apotheosis of high modernism. In fact, the book may grow more inaccessible each year, since most young readers lack the grounding in the classics that Joyce took for granted in his future audience.

Declan Kiberd, the most original of contemporary commentators on Joyce, speculates that the enduring appeal of “Ulysses” rests in the author’s egalitarian impulse that transformed the ordinary into the epic; that ended in quiet fellowship between the petty bourgeoisie Bloom and the poet, Stephen Dedalus; with Molly’s deathlessly erotic monologue and the realization that she loves Leopold still…

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

Details on…

… New York City’s incredibly elaborate Bloomsday. It’s tomorrow.


Another Bloomsday Blogpost.

[Tom Stoppard’s play Rock ‘n Roll] starts in a Cambridge garden in 1968 with a piper playing the Syd Barrett song, Golden Hair.

Barrett, the Pink Floyd writer and singer, appears now and then in the play, a figure for the seductive, subversive glory of art…

Golden Hair. It’s Barrett’s song, but it’s James Joyce’s poem.

The charismatic rock star undone by drugs (In Stoppard’s play, we see him in his mother’s Cambridge garden. Barrett retreated there, mentally broken, in the mid-seventies, and stayed until his death not long ago, at the age of sixty.) took the James Joyce poem, Golden Hair, from Joyce’s 1904 collection Chamber Music, and in 1969 set it to stark guitar, stark voice, cymbals, and a low drone.

Here are Joyce’s words.

Lean out of the window,
I hear you singing
A merry air.

My book was closed;
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.

I have left my book,
I have left my room
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom,

Singing and singing
A merry air,
Lean out of the window,

Barrett changes the words in the first stanza a little:

Lean out your window
I heard you singing
In the midnight air.

Barrett makes of this poem (which, in its pull toward the passion of art and away from the chill anxiety of intellect, has much in common with the Yeats poem about Fergus that echoes through Ulysses) a very private chant. His notes go nowhere; he ventures only one or two changes. His song is musing, minimalist, hesitant, circular, self-absorbed, even though the poem’s content is clearly celebratory, the speaker energized by the fire of the woman’s singing to throw away his book, leave his room, and beg her to lean from her window, so he can see her.

Barrett isn’t going to the woman. He isn’t going anywhere. He even brings his voice down, decisively, in the last line, as if to close out any possibility of release from his trance.


With Bloomsday coming up, UD ponders not only the generativity of art, the way Joyce’s work sings through the work of Syd Barrett, Samuel Barber, Kate Bush, John Cage, Jefferson Airplane, and many others (to note only his musical influence), but also the suffering of the artist, the suffering out of which art emerges. Stephen Dedalus, on June 16, 1904, is going the way of Barrett, after all, drinking himself to an early grave if he doesn’t watch out… Like Barrett, he’s acting outrageously, self-destructively, getting into fights…

And certainly part of what our hero Bloom attempts to convey to Stephen is how deadly intellect, understood as a kind of arrogant self-absorption, can be to the creation of art. Art’s passion is a human passion, and Dedalus isn’t human enough yet. Hasn’t loved. Holds himself aloof from humanity. Bloom humanizes Stephen by embodying for him the capacity for selfless love. Bloom barely knows Stephen, but intuits, as a compassionate and perceptive human being, the depth of his suffering. He follows him around late at night in Dublin, worried that Stephen will get into trouble.

Stephen duly gets into trouble, and Bloom gets him out of it, takes him to his home, gives him hot chocolate, talks to him late into the night, escorts him out of the house (Stephen politely declines Bloom’s invitation to stay the night), and watches with him, from the yard, the quiet spectacular starry sky. This night sky watching produces one of the most famous lines from Ulysses:

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

The line incorporates much of what one loves in Joyce’s prose: Neologisms (Nightblue is a kind of partner to skyblue; and, no, night isn’t black, or it’s not always black. Night and day aren’t always all that different; in Key West, I was amazed at how white clouds appeared in the sky late into the evening…Heaventree is heavenly. We might also hear lemontree. ). Assonance (humid nightblue fruit). Metaphor (The constellations make trees; each star is a fruit on the tree). Alliteration (heaventree, hung, humid.)

More deeply, there’s something exhilarating about the implicit humanizing, naturalizing, worlding, call it what you will, of the entire universe in this sentence. The distant, enigmatic, intimidating stars which make us feel small and transient are in this sentence gathered into our earth, made an extension of our trees and forest, our earthly garden. There’s a sort of heady insolence about this Romantic gesture, this pulling of the heavens down to earth, this re-sizing of the cosmos to fit us. This is Walt Whitman, claiming the universe, embracing all in his human arms.

More than anything, perhaps, we love the way this famous line seems ineffably balanced, as the stars seem balanced on the heaventree; somehow in the very composition of the sentence, in its smooth stately self-control, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

But of course this is the power of the artist, the power of art, that we’re registering. To be lifted up by a perfect phrase or sentence is to hear the piper in the Cambridge garden and follow him. It is to hear the woman singing through the gloom and follow her.

Barrett and Dedalus — and Bucky Wunderlick, the rock star in Don DeLillo’s novel Great Jones Street (a character in part inspired by Barrett) — these people, these fictions, draw our attention not so much to our own experience of aesthetic rapture, as to the cost to the artist of aesthetic creation.

Why Leopold Bloom? Why Bloomsday? …

… is the title of my latest Inside Higher Education post. It’s here.

UD Prepares for her Bloomsday Reading.

This year, she’s reading parts of the Sirens chapter from Ulysses — the one that begins with hoofirons and ends with farts.

The reading is open to the public and jointly sponsored by the Harvard Club of Washington and American Independent Writers. Details here.

Sirens is the most musical chapter of the novel — and the novel is full of music. Little bits of two songs are featured in UD‘s reading. The songs are:

Martha (In English.)

This version of The Croppy Boy

She will try to sing them, as Simon Dedalus and then Ben Dollard sang them.

Here’s the Washington Post announcement of the event.

Bloomsday, New York City.

A Biden Joyce

[Joe] Biden received a first-edition copy of “Anna Livia Plurabelle” signed by the author, James Joyce, and valued at $3,500. The story is a chapter from the Irish writer’s famously complex novel, “Finnegan’s Wake.”

The giver was Margaret Spanel of Hightstown, N.J., a donor to Democratic candidates. The information was included in Biden’s annual financial disclosure report, released Monday.

Spanel, 97, sent the book to Biden after hearing him say Joyce was his favorite poet, the vice president’s office said…

James Joyce at the Olympics

From The Examiner:

Stephen [Colbert] made visits to a few international houses full of visitors from various countries supporting their teams. After pissing off a Swiss guy for implying that his main language was really just German, Colbert challenged him to a game of Fondue Pong, a variation of Beer Pong, but the loser had to drink a bowl of crazy hot cheese instead. At the Russia house, he played, and won, a game of table hockey. The best moment was when he was at the Irish house. He asked the crowd, “Who wants to celebrate Irish culture?” Then he proceeded to read James Joyce’s Ulysses to a miffed, befuddled audience. Boos and booze were prominent.

Ulysses 2.0

A writing program named after Joyce’s novel.


I couldn’t do it.

Or… maybe I could do it, if I got one pomegranate martini per reading.

It’s taken awhile – 13 years to be exact – but the “Finnegans Wake’’ Reading Group has finally finished James Joyce’s famously long and difficult novel. Formed by serious fans of the Irish writer, the group has been meeting weekly to read a page or so of the convoluted work of comic fiction. The uncommon exercise, which began at the Thirsty Scholar in Cambridge, concluded this week at the Corrib in Brighton. Published in 1939, “Finnegans Wake’’ begins with the last half of a sentence and ends with the first half of the same sentence. To mark the end of the marathon reading, the group’s members raised their glasses and ritually chanted the entire completed sentence.

Here are the initial and final phrases united:

A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Dead Meet

This is a new one on me. Along with the worldwide celebration of Bloomsday on June 16 every year, there’s a Dead Dinner.

On the January night James Joyce’s story “The Dead” takes place, Joyceans in New York and Washington dress up in period clothes and reenact the big Christmas dinner and the singing at the center of the tale.

… [Stella] O’Leary recalls starting her Dead dinners the year John Huston’s film came out. It takes [guest] Ambassador Michael Collins just a few seconds to find the year of Huston’s film on his iPhone. O’Leary gasps and crosses herself, saying “‘87, 97 . . . so it’s 22 years”. Guests sing the lyrics of Thomas Moore’s Endearing Young Charms from their iPhone screens.

As [a guest] reads Gabriel Conroy’s closing speech, a website news photo on a phone of snowy Ireland is passed around the table.

… In New York, consul general Niall Burgess and his wife Marie also hold an annual Dead dinner.

… O’Leary’s guests were from the business and diplomatic community. New York is the capital of culture, though, and Burgess’s friends include the novelist Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award in November, the Tony award-winning actor Jim Norton and Gabriel Byrne.

… “Just as the English have A Christmas Carol and the Welsh have A Child’s Christmas in Wales, The Dead is our Christmas story,” [says] Burgess…

A few years ago UD wrote about the final paragraph of “The Dead.”

What sort of a man reads Ulysses?


My first outing with the Welsh Labour leader, in September last year, was pure Rhodri.

There we were on a flight to Louisville, Kentucky for the prestigious Ryder Cup golf tournament.

From my seat in economy, I could see him up ahead, reading James Joyce’s fiendishly difficult novel, Ulysses. And wearing the scruffiest pair of jeans I have ever seen in business class…

The man who’s led the Welsh Assembly Government for nearly 10 years has no time for the modern obsession with image.

His advisers, though, would have loved him to have given it a bit more thought, especially when trying to boost Wales’ standing abroad.

On arrival at Louisville airport, his battered old suitcase actually began to fall apart as his welcoming party helped him get it into the waiting limo…

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