Happy Bloomsday! Celebrating James Joyce's Ulysses

marilynmonroereadsjoyceOkay, I’m only up to page 310, but I’m going to celebrate gosh darnit! Why? Because it’s rude and delicious and I’m enjoying it very much.

So what is it all about? you may ask. This guy (who owns 15 copies of Ulysses) explains it better than I could right now, at this half-way through stage.

Here are some of my favourite passages thus far ( just roll around in the language with me a bit):

‘Phantasmal mirth, folded away: muskperfumed.
         And no more turn aside and brood
Folded away in the memory of nature with her toys.’ (p. 10)

‘Warm sunshine merrying over the sea. The nickel shaving-bowl shone, forgotten, on the parapet. Why should I bring it down? Or leave it there all day, forgotten friendship?’ (p. 12)

‘That phrase the world had remembered. A dull ease of the mind. From a hill above a corpsestrewn plain a general speaking to his officers, leaned upon his spear. Any general to any officers. They lend ear.’ (p. 28)

‘With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.’ (p. 29)

‘Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.’ (p. 34)

‘On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.’ (p. 45)

‘I am almosting it. That man led me, spoke. I was not afraid. The melon he had he held against my face. Smiled: creamfruit smell. That was the rule, said. In. Come. Red carpet spread. You will see who.’ (p. 59)

‘A quiver of minnows, fat of a spongy titbit, flash through the slits of his buttoned trouserfly. God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain. Dead breaths I living breathe, tread dead dust, devour a urinous offal from all dead.’ (p. 63)

‘A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken c**t of the world.
Desolation.’ (p. 73)

‘He tore the flower gravely from its pinhold smelt its almost no smell and placed it in his heart pocket. Language of flowers. They like it because no-one can hear. Or a poison bouquet to strike him down.’ (p. 95)

‘Pause.
If we were all suddenly somebody else.
Far away a donkey brayed. Rain. No such ass. Never see a dead one, they say. Shame of death. The hide. Also poor papa went away.’ (p. 139)

‘ – The ghost walks, professor MacHugh murmured softly, biscuitfully to the dusty windowpane.’ (p. 156)

‘It’s always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream. All kind of places are good for ads.’ (p. 193)

‘ – Sad to lose the old friends, Mrs Breen’s womaneyes said melancholily.’ (p. 198)

‘Hot mockturtle vapour and steam of newbaked jam-puffs rolypoly poured out from Harrison’s. The heavy noonreck tickled the top of Mr Bloom’s gullet.’ (p. 198)

‘Never knowing anything about it. Waste of time. Gas-balls spinning about, crossing each other, passing. Same old dingdong always. Gas, then solid, then world, then cold, then dead shell drifting around, frozen rock like that pineapple rock. The moon.’ (p. 212)

‘A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore.’ (p. 214)

‘Walking by Doran’s public house he slid his hand between waistcoat and trousers and, pulling aside his shirt gently, felt a slack fold of his belly. But I know it’s whiteyellow. Want to try in the dark to see.’ (pp. 232-233)

‘Glittereyed, his rufous skull close to his greencapped desklamp sought the face, bearded amid darkgreener shadow, an ollav, holyeyed. He laughed a low: a sizar’s laugh of Trinity: unanswered.’ (p. 236)

‘Space: what you damn well have to see. Through spaces smaller than red globules of man’s blood they creepy-crawl after Blake’s buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow. Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ (p. 238)

‘He walks. One life is all. One body. Do. But do. Afar, in a reek of lust and squalor, hands are laid on whiteness.’ (p. 259)joyceulysses2

‘Jest on. Know thyself.’ (p. 277)

‘A laugh tripped over his lips.’ (p. 277)

And hundreds of pages left to go! Here are some other people’s words, which may or may not convince you to go for it:

* There is a new book out titled Ulysses and Us, by Declan Kiberd. It is reviewed in the Independent by John Walsh, who also shares some facts. I like this one: ‘Devotees of the novel will be intrigued to learn that the author wrote much of it lying on his bed, often in a white suit “so that the light would be stronger and his eyes less tired”; that he seldom ate at lunchtime but drank copious amounts of white wine…’

* Here’s another thoughtful review of Ulysses and Us: ‘It is time to reconnect Ulysses to the everyday lives of real people. The more snobbish modernists resorted to difficult techniques in order to protect their ideas against appropriation by the newly literate masses; but Joyce foresaw that the real need would be to defend his book and those masses against the newly illiterate specialists and technocratic elites. Whereas other modernists feared the hydra-headed mob, Joyce used interior monologue to show how loveable, complex and affirmative was the mind of the ordinary citizen.’ If you’ve read it, what do you think? Is it for the people? Should it be?

* Here’s a different (odd, interesting) take on Ulysses, in the Stranger: ‘Ulysses‘s primary project is to break the ruling power of English and transform its energies into its opposite, a liberating power.’ I might re-read this when I’m finished the novel.

* Link to the official James Joyce Centre, which tells you what’s going on with Bloomsday worldwide – you might still have time to make it to a reading! Here’s what’s happening in Melbourne.

* Here’s something fun: an online graphic adaptation Ulysses “Seen”.

* And a first edition copy of Ulysses recently sold for a record amount of dosh….

24 thoughts on “Happy Bloomsday! Celebrating James Joyce's Ulysses

  1. Glad you’re loving it Angela.

    Is it just me or is odd that on a literary blog there are more comments on a thread about blogging than there are on one about perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th Century?

    I think Declan Kiberd is onto something in his Ulysses and Us.
    [After the mid-twentieth century, that common culture was replaced by the creation of specialist elites. Democracy was no longer seen as the sharing in a common fund of textual knowledge, but as providing access to this or that super-educated grouping. No longer was the prevailing idea that anyone bright enough could read and understand Hamlet or Ulysses, but that anyone sufficiently clever could aspire to become one of the paid specialists who did such things.]

  2. Interesting point Grog.
    If I had to predict I’d say the only way JJ would be read in the 21st century would be via blogging his work…
    We had a minor celebration- with readings from the top of desks- today. The looks from other classes (and colleagues) required some explanation.
    I wish I had 15 copies of Ulysses, that means I could give them out to 14 people.

  3. Grog – it always surprises me that there are way more comments on the personalised posts than the ‘literary’ ones – BUT the author interviews etc. (on which there are sometimes no comments) generally get a lot more hits! I suppose people feel intimidated or something?

    He does have a point, doesn’t he? I find the continuing elitism frustrating. People won’t even look at Shakespeare or Joyce because they’ve been conditioned to think it will be a hard slog. So much enjoyment is missed! But then – am I just being presumptuous and egocentric in a way – thinking that other people will enjoy the things I do if they’re open to the possibility of it? Anyway, good to have you here!

    Do you have a favourite passage?

  4. Wait until you get to chapter 18 and you come across – snort – a 36-page-long female orgasm. It’s monumental. Yes, yes, yes.

  5. [Do you have a favourite passage?]

    To be honest not really. Whole chapters, yes.

    The one passage that for some reasdon always sticks with me though, is not one of the word play ones, but from the Nausicaa chapter, where Bloom is on the beach and is observed by Gerty MacDowell:
    [Till then they had only exchanged glances of the most casual but now under the brim of her new hat she ventrued a look at him and the face that met her gaze there in the twilight, wan and stangely drawn, seemed to her the saddest she had ever seen.]

    I must admit I don’t comment on the author interviews – most likely because if I don’t know the author’s work I don’t feel I have anyhting to add – but they are good reading.

    Personally on the elitism front, I do think we have become better readers. Back in the 80s (before youre time!) an airport bookstore would be all Jackie Collins and Jeffrey Archer; now they’re as likely to have the latest Booker winner as Dan Brown. But there does seem to still be the reticence towards “the high literarture” like Joyce. Perhaps the lack of a decent film is hurting him! Perhaps someone needs to do a “The Hours” type treatment.

    I doubt it’ll ever be popular, though – the length if anyhting will ward people off (though that shouldn’t be the case with the Portrait)

  6. Yes, I suppose the length would put people off…

    You know I read Portrait a few years ago and it bugged me at the time. I must revisit. I always liked the short stories.

    An ‘Hours’-like treatment would be great! I’m a huge fan of Michael Cunningham – and that book. And the one he did featuring Walt Whitman – Specimen Days. Incredible writer.

  7. [An ‘Hours’-like treatment would be great!]

    Done! You write it; I’ll only ask for 5% royalties 🙂

    Portrait is an odd little book – only 6 chapters, but the last is 100 pages. I’ve read it probably about 4-5 times now (studied and taught it). I love the part where young Stephen gets in a fight over Byron and Tennyson:
    [-What are you laughing at? asked Stephen.
    – You, said Heron. Byron the greatest poet! He’s only a poet for uneducated people.]

    Somehow I don’t think there are too many fights in the school playground over poetry anymore…!

  8. It might not be possible in today’s moral climate to make a new film of Ulysses, particularly if it includes the Gertie/Bloom chapter. If you want to find them, there are quite strong paedophilic overtones in that section – she’s a schoolgirl and he gets an erection from looking at her socks. What would the moral majority think!

    Brings to mind a story my mother tells, of when the 1967 film was shown in her home town of Dunedin in NZ. She would have been 18 that year so was able to get in to see the film, but she wasn’t allowed to do so in the presence of persons of the male gender. Weird.

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  10. btw marktwain, I think you’re off mark with Gerty and Bloom – remember Bloom surmises she has “been left on the shelf”, and also there is the line:

    [As for undies they were Gerty’s chief care and who that knows the fluttering hopes and fears of sweet seventeen (though Gerty would never see seventeen again)…]

  11. It was a good attempt, Grog, but not an entirely successful one. I think it would work best as a radio play, preferably with north Dub accents (I might be wrong, but I don’t think Stephen Rea has one of those) but it would be a very, very, long play.

    I was in Dublin for a couple of years and attended one Bloomsday event (June 16 is my birthday, so I thought I’d indulge myself) which involved Guinness, fried kidneys and a couple of recitals of scenes from the early chapters, one of which was read by a senator from the Irish parliament. Unfortunately, the stout had such an adverse effect on my neurons that I can barely remember a thing.

    The Martello tower at Sandymount is great to look at when you’re walking your dog on a windswept day, however. I felt very Dedalus. Try it sometime, Ulysses in hand. You’ll look like an American tourist but it’s fun.

  12. Might be the Guinness talking again, Grog. I always got the impression she was either a schoolgirl or slightly retarded, both of which wouldn’t pass the censors.

    Are you sure it was her knickers that got him excited, not her stockings falling down? I’m going to have to go back for a re-read.

  13. Bloomsday is great fun, and most of the streets mentioned in the book are still there, so you can do a day-long walk following the route. It’s a bit touristy but the Guinness does make up for it.

    And you’ll love the last chapter of Ulysses – thousands of words, not one of them punctuated, and all leading up to a massive orgasm. What more can you ask for?

  14. [or slightly retarded]

    err not the phrase I would use… she is “lame”.

    She pulls up her skirt to let him see her stockings.

    I’ve never read Molly’s soliloquay as an orgasm (though it certainly is one reading of it); I find it much more ambivalent, almost wistful.

  15. Gertie’s got a dickie leg but there’s definitely something else wrong with her. No normal girl or adult female stands there while a middle-aged bloke masturbates under his mackintosh, particularly on a cold Dublin day.

    It’s actually one of the reasons I love Ulysses in particular – the obvious parallels to the father/son, older man/young man hoo-haa thingo are completely subverted by the last chapter. I’ve never read such a wonderful outpouring of the power of female sexuality that takes a female rather than a male point of view, and this from a male writer. I can’t see anything wistful in Molly’s soliloquy: certainly she is looking back at her sexual history, but to my reading the romanticism of the past is completely negated by the enjoyment of the present. (What is all the ‘yes, yes, yes’ stuff about, after all?) If Molly was thinking of her future, her thoughts may be interpreted as being wistful – as it is it’s all about what’s coming, so to speak.

    I actually think Joyce rivals Shakespeare and DH Lawrence in his attempt to put good old-fashioned, hot-blooded girlie goodness on the page. On him!

    I’m probably wrong but I don’t care. I love the book.

  16. I’ve always loved that dancing coins sentence – it’s one of those lines that jarred me when I read it, the image was so clear. I can still recall the feeling it gave, and it happens every time.

    There’s another passage which is one of my favorites:

    “Gone too from the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.”

    I had no idea what it meant the first time I read it, but the poetry and rhythm is simply beautiful – there’s no other way of putting it. The alliteration, the seeming contradictions, the imagery, the implied hidden meanings that are almost but not quite clear – it’s just a fantastic piece of prose (literally – it made me think of unknown and impossible worlds).

  17. I’ve tried to read Ulysses three times in the past, and I failed. Eccentricity is god in this book. But after reading the first 50 pages, I felt extremely gratified. Reading bits of Aristotle helped, but only marginally. It was probably Shakespeare and Borges who led me on, so I delighted in passages like Buck Mulligan’s “He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father”, referring to Stephen Dedalus’ idea of Hamlet.

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