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Bloomsday, June 16, 2012

Dear friends and readers,

Did you know today was Bloomsday? June 16th. The day all of Joyce's Ulysses takes place on. I had heard of a custom whereby people who love Joyce's book or want to celebrate great Irish literature and culture spend all day June 16th reading selections from Ulysses. We joined in for the first time today. The great irony is how originally the book didn't sell at all. Sylvia Beach, Joyce's publisher created an enormous artificial fuss about her production of a few copies and sold them at a very high price to collectors; the whirligig of time should make us ask, Why this book, then?

bloomsdayinauguralblog
Bloomsday in NYC today, 2012 (an inaugural occasion)

An interesting sideline: The admiral told me (I didn't check his accuracy) that until last year or the one before the heir to Joyce tried to or successfully did stop these kinds of activities. Surprising? Well Stephen Joyce may have wanted to be paid before people were allowed to read aloud his progenitor's book or not permit them to read it in public performances. But since his death more famous cities can join in.  This is one of the workings of copyright. Copyright was over a couple of years ago as Joyce has been dead more than 70 years now so he can't be a killjoy any more. The celebrations are also for Irish nationalism; the US has many Irish or Irish-descended people.

There were 3 events in Washington DC: an Irish-style breakfast at which selections from the novel were read; between 2 and 6 drinks and snacks in a well-known Irish bar-restaurant at Dupont Circle where again selections were read; and finally, at night in a nice restaurant (probably also Irish) for dinner where the last selections were read. One begins with Bloom making breakfast for himself and Molly and one ends on her great speech. A rehearsal or preparatory day took place 2 weeks ago where the Admiral went to the Cosmopolitan club and practiced reading aloud with the others.

Today we went only to the afternoon session. Alas the room for the reading was not set apart sufficiently from the bar and the noise was too strong to hear at first.  In the bar there was Irish TV on, rugby, an Irish team playing a New Zealand one. We did have a mike; there were at any time about 50 people sitting in the room. At first not enough chairs but then there were enough. My admiral was among the best readers. he read dramatically and loudly and very well. People looked appreciative of him. Other good readers included some of the leading men of this group, two actresses, one guy who runs Scena, a local theater group.  

ABloomsdayWalk
In some cities people go for a walk together -- all in costume

I had not realize how much Jim liked the book - nor how masculinist it is -- of course the center is this man whose male ego is just torn to bits by his wife's unfaithfulness and he is just her slavey. He is also made to feel bad about his Jewishness. I know Jim would not read Austen and doesn't read the kind of novels I do and when we got to the Nausicaa section, he said let's go home. I was tired of it by that time -- as I say a number of people spoke too soft (or it was too loud in the next area until around 4). But I admit I liked that section better than some of the others. It made sense. It was coherent. He called it a mock on romance. It did have useless phrases like "needless to say." And it did not soar.

300px-James_Joyce_Tower_and_Museum2_
People reading to one another in a park in yet another city

I recognized listening to much of it how Ulysses soars. Well, just now I'm reading on and off late at night Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.  With this fat book sometimes I want to put it down. I know the story, all the characters; it seems to me an outgrowth of Bolt's A Man for all Seasons. Mantel hates More(and continually is rewriting Bolt) and has made Thomas Cromwell a decent man when he was a brutal thug. She must to write her romance: at its center is this sensitive spirit (but then so is Leopold Bloom) -- and how slow it goes. Wolf Hall reminds me of Clarissa: we hardly move at all in time, but rehearse and rehearse the same events with new memories from the past coming in from somehow different standpoints. What keeps me at it are the soaring moments. A passage will soar with intense life. A man suddenly is kissing a woman's breasts and they are intensely affectionate, all tenderness and love and intense congeniality. A picture quickly sketched and we move off. It jumps out of the narrative and then back we move again. I just want to live that moment out myself, use it to apply to other book and think such moment are meant to occur there but not quite hit. I have to and now can supply them with this utterance.  So I go on for another.  Cromwell is haunted by these intense memories of the people he loved who died. The book is redolent of death and violence just at the edges (like her great memoir, Beyond Black i.e., beyond despair). Well Joyce leaves out the narrative stuff and just gives us the soaring utterances. We move from utterance to utterance.

Ulysses is therefore hard to follow -- and if you are not interested in what makes Joyce soar you are sunk. At 19 when it was assigned I knew nothing of newspaper offices. I would not have gotten those jokes. Nothing of Irish life. Now think I did not read as much of it when it was assigned in school as I thought I had since I didn't recognize many of the passages. It's also self-indulgent. I know I never read any of the question-and-answer section (catechism).

I did have a free not Scotch and soda but Irish and soda. The Irish whiskey was on the house and I had ginger ale with it. The people around us were pleasant.  I should mention they included some of the small numinous in Washington: some TV people from PBS (Robert Aubry Davis who has a sonorous voice), a couple of known writers (Michael Dirda), a man who runs a theater company, Scena (McNamara his last name). The admiral told me later it was run by the Harvard club, and he had been told about it as a Columbia alumni (we have re-joined the Columbia and they all have these reciprocal arrangements among the clubs) and he was given a chance if he wanted to volunteer to read. So that meant a number of the people running it were Harvard alumni or belonged to another of these Ivy league clubs. It's salutary to be aware of how such events come about, who does them, who shows up, who runs them successfully.

DublinAlamyblog
In Dublin today (from the Guardian)

The weather has been glorious, for DC cool so we had a good walk in DC to and from the place too. Caroline (bless her heart) went on a picnic with her partner, Rob (sans pussycats).  We had Chinese food with Yvette when we got home. She had gone to the Bellows exhibit and she is hoping to go again with Thao (our friend in Canada) and her boyfriend, Jeff when they come in June. I'll have brunch with Thao on another day.

The admiral has now bought tickets for 3 weeks of plays and events for the Fringe festival in July. He says for 3 weeks we'll have something almost every day (or evening). Yvette can go to four of them: 3 on weekends and one late at night. With our 4 day holiday in NYC in July and our week in Vermont at the Landmark house, it''ll be quite a summer. No wonder I won't get far in my Austen calendaring ... but I do read Graham at every chance. I've begun Black Swan and am up to Season 2 of the Poldark films.

the_deadblog
Joyce never wrote so greatly as in The Dubliners and the greatest of them all is "The Dead:" the movie is truly magnificent, Joyce through film at its best: Angelica Huston and Donal McCann in the lead roles

Joyce soaring -- imagine McCann saying this aloud looking out a window at the snow - after his wife has wept for a young dead lover and not wanted him in bed at all (that motif again):

"It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Sylvia

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