For Bloomsday.

I have come to the conclusion that it is about time I made up my mind whether I am to become a writer… I foresee that I shall have to do other work as well but to continue as I am at present would certainly mean my mental extinction. It is months since I have written a line and even reading tires me. The interest I took in socialism and the rest has left me. I have gradually slid down until I have ceased to take any interest in any subject. I look at God and his theatre through the eyes of my fellow-clerks so that nothing surprises, moves, excites, or disgusts me. Nothing of my former mind seems to have remained except a heightened emotiveness which satisfies itself in the sixty-miles-an-hour pathos of some cinematograph or before some crude Italian gazette-picture. Yet I have certain ideas which I would like to give form to: not as a doctrine but as the continuation of the expression of myself which I now see I began in Chamber Music. These ideas or instincts or intuitions or impulses may be purely personal. I have no wish to codify myself as anarchist or socialist or reactionary…

A 1906 letter from James Joyce to his brother.

A Memory about Saul Bellow and James Joyce, for Bloomsday.

The notes I took are gone, but I remember certain things. The pleasant disorientation of watching Augie March teach Nathan Zuckerman, for example. And the week we discussed Ulysses. That morning, we sat nervously as Bellow took his seat. “Have you finished the book?” he said. Had we read every page of one of literature’s most famously difficult offerings? In a week? Not one of us had gotten to that last Yes. Bellow laughed — not the marvelous, head back, teeth-bared laugh for which he was famous, but a small laugh — and brandished an ancient copy of the book, which, he said, had been smuggled into the country for him in the 1930s. And for the next hour, he read to us from Ulysses and, without notes, annotated it. Bellow’s deep recall, fluency, and confidence seems, now, to be a beautiful, cerebral high-wire act.

Bellow was eighty-five then…

Bloomsday, Chestertown

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Bloomsday, Chestertown Maryland.

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The little theater where UD just listened
to a couple of guys talk about why
Ulysses is great.

**********

The day is overcast – typically Irish… But Joyce’s novel takes place on a freakishly sunny and warm June day in Dublin.

Chestertown’s old and charming and set along a river. After the lecture, UD strolled the waterfront (full of gray geese and black vultures), and now relaxes with a chai at Play it Again Sam. There’s an open mic (five minute limit) Ulysses reading next door in about an hour. Maybe UD will take part. Something morbid, she thinks; from the Hades chapter.

UD listened to the guys talk very intelligently about why the novel’s worth is far above rubies. Wearing her James Joyce sweatshirt, scribbling in her Essential James Joyce (she met the editor, Harry Levin, at the home of Wiktor Weintraub‘s widow), UD wrestled down her impulse to comment on virtually everything they said… When she did finally say something (about the nature of artistic genius and artistic originality), one of the guys said “That person is clearly a plant.” — meaning to suggest that somebody must have custom-ordered a commenter who would sound like an English professor who teaches James Joyce.

But really it’s hard to say why Ulysses reigns supreme. One spends a lifetime with the book, trying to figure out how Joyce was able to write like that. You feel like Salieri gazing at a Mozart score. Ultimately it doesn’t seem possible that a human being could write so well. Think and feel so well. If it were only beautifully written, dayenu. If it were only beautifully written and brilliantly descriptive of social life in a city, dayenu. If it were only wise and humane and hilarious and deeply accepting of our vileness and pathos, dayenu. If it were only steamy dreamy streams of consciousness, dayenu.

Your head it simply swirls.

Bloomsday exists because the peculiar over-excitement you feel reading this book is deep and specific and shared by others.

Another Bloomsday Post

Trump does Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, starting at 5:18.

Bloomsday. Morrissey.

I went to see The Smiths, in Leisureland in Galway, age 18, with a copy [of Dubliners] sticking out of my back pocket. “Oh man,” said their sweet-natured guitarist, Johnny Marr, after the gig, “Morrissey practically has that book tattooed all over himself.” He introduced me to Morrissey. We talked about James Joyce; Morrissey told me Dubliners was his favourite book.

[See post below this one.]

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.

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.

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.

Part Two of UD’s Bloomsday Series…

… is now up at Inside Higher Education.

My Second Bloomsday Post…

… will appear at Inside Higher Ed tonight.

A Bloomsday Website

Bloomsday Central, part of the Rosenbach Library website, lists details of Bloomsday (June 16) celebrations all over the world. It doesn’t yet list Washington’s, in which UD will perform, both at the Irish Embassy and at the Cosmos Club.

UD will read, at the Club, from the end of the Ithaca chapter from Joyce’s Ulysses, when after a long day Leopold Bloom finally falls asleep next to his wife, Molly. UD loves the way, as Bloom loses consciousness, the text itself drops off.

He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.

The visible signs of postsatisfaction?

A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection.

What followed this silent action?

Somnolent invocation, less somnolent recognition, incipient excitation, catechetical interrogation.

With what modifications did the narrator reply to this interrogation?

Negative: he omitted to mention the clandestine correspondence between Martha Clifford and Henry Flower, the public altercation at, in and in the vicinity of the licensed premises of Bernard Kiernan and Co, Limited, 8, 9 and 10 Little Britain street, the erotic provocation and response thereto caused by the exhibitionism of Gertrude (Gerty), surname unknown. Positive: he included mention of a performance by Mrs Bandman Palmer of Leah at the Gaiety Theatre, 46, 47, 48, 49 South King street, an invitation to supper at Wynn’s (Murphy’s) Hotel, 35, 36, and 37 Lower Abbey street, a volume of peccaminous pornographical tendency entitled Sweets of Sin, anonymous, author a gentleman of fashion, a temporary concussion caused by a falsely calculated movement in the course of postcenal gymnastic display, the victim (since completely recovered) being Stephen Dedalus, professor and author, eldest surviving son of Simon Dedalus, of no fixed occupation, an aeronautical feat executed by him (narrator) in the presence of a witness, the professor and author aforesaid, with promptitude of decision and gymnastic flexibility.

Was the narration otherwise unaltered by modifications?

Absolutely.

Which event or person emerged as the salient point of his narration?

Stephen Dedalus, professor and author.

What limitations of activity and inhibitions of conjugal rights were perceived by listener and narrator concerning themselves during the course of this intermittent and increasingly more laconic narration?

By the listener a limitation of fertility inasmuch as marriage had been celebrated 1 calendar month after the 18th anniversary of her birth (8 September 1870), viz. 8 October, and consummated on the same date with female issue born 15 June 1889, having been anticipatorily consummated on the 10 September of the same year and complete carnal intercourse, with ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ, having last taken place 5 weeks previous, viz. 27 November 1893, to the birth on 29 December 1893 of second (and only male) issue, deceased 9 January 1894, aged 11 days, there remained a period of 10 years, 5 months and 18 days during which carnal intercourse had been incomplete, without ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ. By the narrator a limitation of activity, mental and corporal, inasmuch as complete mental intercourse between himself and the listener had not taken place since the consummation of puberty, indicated by catamenic hemorrhage, of the female issue of narrator and listener, 15 September 1903, there remained a period of 9 months and 1 day during which in consequence of a preestablished natural comprehension in incomprehension between the consummated females (listener and issue), complete corporal liberty of action had been circumscribed.

How?

By various reiterated feminine interrogation concerning the masculine destination whither, the place where, the time at which, the duration for which, the object with which in the case of temporary absences, projected or effected.

What moved visibly above the listener’s and the narrator’s invisible thoughts?

The upcast reflection of a lamp and shade, an inconstant series of concentric circles of varying gradations of light and shadow.

In what directions did listener and narrator lie?

Listener, S. E. by E.; Narrator, N. W. by W.: on the 53rd parallel of latitude, N. and 6th meridian of longitude, W.: at an angle of 45ø to the terrestrial equator.

In what state of rest or motion?

At rest relatively to themselves and to each other. In motion being each and both carried westward, forward and rereward respectively, by the proper perpetual motion of the earth through everchanging tracks of neverchanging space.

In what posture?

Listener: reclined semilaterally, left, left hand under head, right leg extended in a straight line and resting on left leg, flexed, in the attitude of Gea-Tellus, fulfilled, recumbent, big with seed. Narrator: reclined laterally, left, with right and left legs flexed, the indexfinger and thumb of the right hand resting on the bridge of the nose, in the attitude depicted on a snapshot photograph made by Percy Apjohn, the childman weary, the manchild in the womb.

Womb? Weary?

He rests. He has travelled.

With?

Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer.

When?

Going to a dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc’s auk’s egg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbad the Brightdayler.

Where?

At the embassy, UD will get about five minutes to read excerpts she’ll select from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. She is grazing that grassy consciousness now, seeking outcrops.

Bloomsday at the Beach

UD, who usually takes part in Washington’s Bloomsday reading, is this year at Rehoboth Beach.

The Irish beach Stephen Dedalus walks:

The grainy sand had gone from under his feet. His boots trod again a damp crackling mast, razorshells, squeaking pebbles, that on the unnumbered pebbles beats, wood sieved by the shipworm, lost Armada. Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath. He coasted them, walking warily. A porter-bottle stood up, stogged to its waist, in the cakey sand dough. A sentinel: isle of dreadful thirst. Broken hoops on the shore; at the land a maze of dark cunning nets; farther away chalkscrawled backdoors and on the higher beach a dryingline with two crucified shirts. Ringsend: wigwams of brown steersmen and master mariners. Human shells.

Sentences and phrases from this chapter that UD loves:

Paris rawly waking, crude sunlight on her lemon streets. Moist pith of farls of bread, the froggreen wormwood, her matin incense, court the air.

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

Who ever anywhere will read these written words? Signs on a white field…. You find my words dark. Darkness is in our souls, do you not think?

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

One Last Bloomsday

UD‘s friend James sends her this article from the Chicago Tribune about Steve Diedrich, who for years organized Ulysses readings in that city.

He was too sick, with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, to take part this year. He died a few days after the reading.

When June 16 arrived this year, he was in the hospital. He insisted that the Bloomsday reading at the Cliff Dwellers Club downtown go on without him. His friends sent him a videotape.

Two days later, he lost consciousness, but not before he videotaped a reply, mustering a smile and the words “Thank you.”

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

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