It’s that time of year again. Ulysses awakens from its slumber to be read out loud by millions of people around the world. Sometimes, they even get through the entire novel.
Something by Joyce apropos of something:
Beauty, the splendour of truth, is a gracious presence when the imagination contemplates intensely the truth of its own being or the visible world, and the spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy. These are realities and these alone give and sustain life.
— James Joyce
I think of Molly saying Yes, and Nietzsche saying Yes, and know they aren’t exactly talking about the same things. Though they might be. Molly (Nora Barnacle to a degree) says Yes to Leopold Bloom (Joyce to a far lesser degree), to sex, to sex with Bloom, to sex with Joyce, to a new life with him, or a return to an old one before she “stepped out” so often. The strange dynamic with Stephen Dedalus (Also Joyce, but moreso) throwing it all into disarray, introducing generational elements, making Joyce both father and son . . .
Nietzsche, after all of his pain, the endurance of that pain, said Yes to it happening all over again, to life, even to a life of endless pain, even after arriving at the apparition of the Eternal Return, which he either believed in, or wanted to believe in, or wanted to believe he was forced to believe in.
Saying Yes to life and everything therein (of course) depends upon circumstances before we applaud it or boo it or laugh along with the idea. Is it a sacrifice to embrace? Is it a sign of courage to do so? Art tells us that our decision has little weight or nobility if we don’t take long journeys first. That may or may not be the case in “real life.” Perhaps some are hit by lightning and reach At One Ment or their epiphanies before long journeys, rendering them unnecessary. But at least in Art they are. There’s generally no need for the rest of the story if the revelation occurs before Page One.
It’s that time of the year again. Toast one or two or three for old Jimmy and Nora. Toast one or two or three for the streets of Dublin he saw with uncanny focus from Trieste. And toast one or two or three for Blind Homer, who inspired him and gave the world of fiction its great and everlasting journey.
“As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.”
— Ch. 9: Scylla and Charybdis
“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
It’s that day again. Another year, another Guinness or two or three. I wonder sometimes what old Saint Patty would make of his holiday being used for fun and frivolity, and more than a little bit of liquid spirits. Did he drink in his monastery, or out and about in his walks across Ireland? Possibly so. He may have needed more than a little help, chasing away all of those snakes and demons. And it may have helped him explain to the Irish how the concept of the Trinity was like the Irish Shamrock, as he did on occasion.
Regardless, drink a toast for me and you and all our brothers and sisters in this life, at least.
The official site of the St Patrick Festival in Dublin is here.
Another year past, and we’re here again. June 16th. Bloomsday. The day to celebrate James Joyce’s book about a day in the life in 1904 that was kinda important to him.
It points back in time to Homer, back in time to various modes of English, back in time to that day in 1904, and ahead in time for thousands of scholars who have labored to understand it and its myriad sources.
Ulysses was meant to be read aloud, so we can chew on each word. It was meant to be heard, so we can sing with each paragraph. Listen to each sentence, carefully, so we can dance inside our ears. May your celebration be cerebral, merry, filled with joy and song, and may it involve a little reading, here and there, too.
(A great site for Bloomsday activities, and Joyce in general, can be found by clicking here)
Here’s an excerpt from Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis:
URBANE, TO COMFORT THEM, THE QUAKER LIBRARIAN PURRED:
— And we have, have we not, those priceless pages of Wilhelm Meister? A great poet on a great brother poet. A hesitating soul taking arms against a sea of troubles, torn by conflicting doubts, as one sees in real life.
He came a step a sinkapace forward on neatsleather creaking and a step backward a sinkapace on the solemn floor.
A noiseless attendant, setting open the door but slightly, made him a noiseless beck.
— Directly, said he, creaking to go, albeit lingering. The beautiful ineffectual dreamer who comes to grief against hard facts. One always feels that Goethe’s judgments are so true. True in the larger analysis.
Twicreakingly analysis he corantoed off. Bald, most zealous by the door he gave his large ear all to the attendant’s words: heard them: and was gone.
— Monsieur de la Palisse, Stephen sneered, was alive fifteen minutes before his death.
— Have you found those six brave medicals, John Eglinton asked with elder’s gall, to write Paradise Lost at your dictation? The Sorrows of Satan he calls it.
Smile. Smile Cranly’s smile.
First he tickled her Then he patted her Then he passed the female catheter. For he was a medical jolly old medi.
— I feel you would need one more for Hamlet. Seven is dear to the mystic mind. The shining seven W. B. calls them.
Glittereyed, his rufous skull close to his greencapped desklamp sought the face, bearded amid darkgreener shadow, an ollav, holyeyed. He laughed low: a sizar’s laugh of Trinity: unanswered.
Orchestral Satan, weeping many a rood Tears such as angels weep. Ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta.
He holds my follies hostage.
Cranly’s eleven true Wicklowmen to free their sireland. Gaptoothed Kathleen, her four beautiful green fields, the stranger in her house. And one more to hail him: ave, rabbi. The Tinahely twelve. In the shadow of the glen he cooees for them. My soul’s youth I gave him, night by night. Godspeed. Good hunting.
Mulligan has my telegram.
— Our young Irish bards, John Eglinton censured, have yet to create a figure which the world will set beside Saxon Shakespeare’s Hamlet though I admire him, as old Ben did, on this side idolatry.
— All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracled out of his shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex. Clergymen’s discussions of the historicity of Jesus. Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our mind into contact with the eternal wisdom, Plato’s world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys.
A. E. has been telling some yankee interviewer. Wall, tarnation strike me!
— The schoolmen were schoolboys first, Stephen said superpolitely. Aristotle was once Plato’s schoolboy.
— And has remained so, one should hope, John Eglinton sedately said. One can see him, a model schoolboy with his diploma under his arm.
He laughed again at the now smiling bearded face.
Formless spiritual. Father, Word and Holy Breath. Allfather, the heavenly man. Hiesos Kristos, magician of the beautiful, the Logos who suffers in us at every moment. This verily is that. I am the fire upon the altar. I am the sacrificial butter.
One of my favorite novels of all time or any time is The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy. It’s the story of Sebastian Dangerfield and his wild days and ways in Dublin, taking classes at Trinity, whoring and drinking and pawning everything in sight to afford the drink and the whoring, avoiding his tenacious landlord and the authorities in general, in general putting the g in rogue and fighting all that is holy and stiflingly good. It’s easily one of the most unforgettable novels in the English language, with Dangerfield being one of its most memorable characters. The protagonist was based in part on a good friend of Donleavy’s, Gainor Stephen Crist, though it’s tempting to read into that character a bit of the author and his own biography as well.
The prose is magnificent. Almost immediately the reader senses he or she is in the presence of greatness. It is quite near the level of James Joyce, as far as the pure beauty and quality of the writing, and it’s more fun to read than Ulysses. Less work. More accessible. It was Donleavy’s first novel and he was able to finally publish it in 1955, after being turned down as often as Joyce was. The Ginger Man, like Ulysses, immediately ran afoul of the authorities and was thought of as pornography and published as such, much to the chagrin of its author. When I first read this masterpiece in the 1980s, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. Pornography? They have got to be kidding. Have read it three more times since then and still can’t believe it. As the young kids used to say, “Get a life!” That’s what those authorities back then needed to do.
Now, while we have grown up quite a bit since then when it comes to our handling of sex, “blasphemy” and “heretical” views in literature, we have lost our patience for other aspects of the past. Often rightfully so. Dangerfield will come across as a bit of a beast toward women, and that can’t be excused, but it should also be put into context. It’s a story, a fiction, and no endorsement by the author of Dangerfield’s boorish behavior. Donleavy presents a vivid tableau and allows the reader to be critical of the behavior — as they should — or ignore it. The world of the book is presented with high contrast, and that allows joy, pain, sorry, empathy and scorn to emerge. But it begins and ends with Dangerfield, with his larger than life presence, his legendary exploits, his Wildean wit. We can forgive much when we see the world through the eyes of the characters involved. The joy of reading the book is to take that wild ride with them.
It’s June 16th, 1904. James Joyce walks with Nora Barnacle, his future wife, out on their first date. They walk together in Dublin, Ireland. More specifically, to Ringsend. He would later immortalize this day in the book, Ulysses, perhaps the greatest novel in the English language. As he celebrated his first date by writing that book, we celebrate him every year on June 16th.
In the novel, Molly Bloom is married to Leopold Bloom, the everyman of Ulysses. The Odysseus of the book. Molly was based on Nora. And Penelope. Leopold was also based on Italo Svevo, the author of The Confessions of Zeno. At least to a degree. Joyce, of course, is in all of his characters. Inside and outside. Joyce is also Stephen Dedalus, the Telamachus of the novel. All of this might be a bit confusing, if not for the fact that there are literally thousands of books about the book. And, perhaps, thousands about those books about the book.
I’ve been to Dublin, but went in September of 2003. It’s a grand wish of mine to be there on some June 16th of the future. To walk where they walked, to hear similar sounds and see similar sights. There are many guides that map the route of that walk. I’ll go with me own Molly, to be sure.
(Will post more about Bloomsday later this evening . . . )
Some new works to peruse: Rick Diguette’s amusing display of evolutionary erudition, plus new Poetry from Tony Jones and Alessio Zanelli.
Will be gearing up shortly for Bloom’s Day on the 16th, taking our readers as close as we can to Dublin, Ireland, without actually blogging from Dublin. James Joyce being one of the patron saints of this journal, whether he knows that or not . . . .
As always, please feel free to comment on any or all of the postings on tap.