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June 16, 2013

June 16th, 1904.  The city of Dublin. Stephen Daedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom, along with a supporting cast of countless others (except  they have all been counted; counted, charted, and analyzed to within an inch of their fictional lives). A series of mundane, sub-mundane, and supra-mundane events, actions, encounters, statements, questions, exclamations, emotions, thoughts, memories, songs, visions — the stuff of life. A rolling streaming churning Irished English prose of constant variation, of extravagance, power, tedium, beauty, awkwardness, mockery, indulgence, precision, vulgarity, erudition, feigned stupidity, genius feigned or genuine, sly trickery, plausible passion, implausible yet persuasive omniscience, and some no-longer-shocking naughtiness.

The book is Ulysses. The author is James Joyce. The day is Bloomsday. Happy Bloomsday.

As I write this it is June 16th but arguably not yet Bloomsday. The events of Ulysses are generally said to take place between about eight in the morning to about four the next morning (I am going by memory of the secondary literature on that, and I am not sure what the exact textual support is, but it does sound about right). It is now only just three in the morning, a time that falls outside the Joycean present.

But I will be returning to this post and adding to it throughout the day. Live-blogging Bloomsday. Maybe. If I find a better way to celebrate, or am overtaken by calamity, then I suppose not.

Ways to celebrate Bloomsday: reading Ulysses, listening to Ulysses being read, tasting a copy of Ulysses with the tip of your tongue, being Irish (preferably Ireland-hating Irish), using the English language (preferably in an Irish brogue, but preferably not if you are not actually Irish), eating grilled pork kidneys for breakfast, drinking Guinness (Jameson if you want something stronger), wandering the city that is your home, wondering and wandering while gazing and pondering and remembering, running into people known and unknown throughout the day, discovering the full flower of your genius, reading some more Ulysses, talking about Ulysses, eating plums, watching girls, possibly masturbating. And of course, that thing that will be mentioned in my obituary if anyone bothers to write one (“the Johnny Appleseed of Bloomsday potatoes”) carrying a potato in your pocket just as Bloom did.

The celestial clockwork has proved reliable — too boringly predictable, you might say — once again and Bloomsday is successfully underway. It is now a little shy of one o’clock in the afternoon, still to early to be either literary or drunk — though certainly some Irishmen, tiresomely boastful of their dissipation, would take exception to that point. It is a beautiful day here in Charlottesville, as it usually is on this date. Once again we can be glad Joyce chose June and not, say, February for his novel. It is Sunday and it is Father’s Day, both regrettable attributes for a Bloomsday. I think the original day was a Tuesday, an ordinary weekday in any case, filled with the ordinary bustle and commerce of the city.

Here is a classic Ulysses quote, from Stephen in his conversational lecture about Shakespeare (which is much concerned with fatherhood). It expresses something at the heart of Bloomsday: Every life is many days, day after day.  We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves.

A little after six and I just got finished listening to a colorful character holding forth in a bookshop. Pretty Bloomian. I also handed Judy Blume a pen, which would be cooler if she spelled her name right. I did not get the chance to offer her a potato.

Drinking Guinness on my porch, listening to the penultimate Ithaca episode (I love the loopily rigorous catechism format) from the unabridged Ulysses audiobook (Norton/Riordan, very good). I should have mentioned the bookshop was Daedalus Books, named by its proprietor, Sandy, after Stephen Daedalus. He was also a founder, long ago, of the C&O restaurant, which is struggling through its first Bloomsday, in all the time I’ve been going there, without having Guinness on tap. It’s not something I miss any other day of the year, as it is, though tasty, sadly lacking in alcohol content and tends to give me a headache. But on this day it is a great shame.

Here is bit from “Ithaca”:

 What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.

Just heard the passage read, as I recall, in Slacker (which makes a Dublin out of Austin), where the cuckolded lover ritually drops his typewriter off the bridge: To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be the first, last, only and alone, whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity. Linklater would later set Before Sunrise on Bloomsday.

A little later: He kissed the plump mellow yellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melon-smellonous osculation. Is the first use of “mellow yellow” in literature?

Guinness does have enough of a punch to it that two pints on an empty stomach make the writing wooze a bit, the transcription slow. Now into Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. Molly, inspired by Joyce’s wife Nora. Their first date was on June 16, 1904, and, some surmise, ended with far more excitement than Joyce expected. They exchanged famously dirty letters, which scholars now pour over. One of my favorite passages by Joyce is from one of those letters (August 21, 1909), though a clean romantic bit:

Do you know what a pearl is and what an opal is? My soul when you came sauntering to me first through those sweet summer evenings was beautiful but with the pale passionless beauty of a pearl. Your love has passed through me and now I feel my mind something like an opal, that is, full of strange uncertain hues and colours, of warm lights and quick shadows and of broken music.

To be able to write that, to the woman you love, the love of your life — maybe that justifies a literary vocation, whatever else. And her not a literary person at all, not a college woman, the daughter of an illiterate, not to be impressed by fanciness, but the one he loved, and he offered what he had, his gift.

At the wedding I bloggingly toasted a few posts ago, when the bride and groom exchanged vows, she chose to quote Joyce. From where I sat she was mostly inaudible, too overcome to project, and I only heard that it was from Joyce, but later I was told it was in fact the end of Ulysses. I don’t know the exact cut, but those last words, yes I said yes I will Yes, do the job. (Wait a minute — on the audiobook I just heard Molly say “like an opal, a pearl” — he included it, glancingly.) I was pleased with this. He has been a stalwart in Bloomsday celebrating. After I had been talking about eating grilled kidneys on Bloomsday for years without actually doing it, he showed up with a tub of kidneys — calf not pork like they should be but those do not seem widely available — and we cooked them on the Foreman grill. Pretty good. All Bloomsdays blend into one another now, as do the years, but I know this was three years ago, because I still have the text on my phone from the colorful character explaining the preparation of kidneys: “Cut out the white core of the kidney, remove all membrane, wash in water with a drop of vinegar, dry, season, and cook. Enjoy in good health.” It must have been the next year that she too stopped by, to celebrate on this very porch. Now they are married, by the words of Ulysses. (I won’t go into the two mock same-sex nuptials, one aborted due to fear of heights, that I officiated over so many years ago with my copy of Ulysses, the one beside me now, in place of a Bible — this is was out at the quarry near Zion Crossroads, which has since become inaccessible).

Bloomsdays are shining links in the chain, they mark our years in memory. Which I write while listening to Molly tripping through her own memories, going from moment to moment, then passing back into the present.

To apply the full powers of the imagination to life as it is, as we meet it every day, the endless richness of the ordinary — this is what Bloomsday asks us to do. And to carry potatoes in our pockets.

I excite myself sometimes — Molly Bloom

I have often said that if it were not for Bloomsday I would not be that into Ulysses. My enthusiasm for the book comes from the fact that it has a holiday attached, and I like holidays. Without Bloomsday  I would never have read the whole book. I think I can take at least take partial credit for the fact that a number of people, after taking pocket potatoes from me, and taken drinks with me in honor of Bloomsday, have at least attempted to read Ulysses. But I never really recommended it to anyone. As it is a pain in the ass to read. But because of Bloomsday, and because I have returned to this novel every June for so many years, I have come to realize it is one of the greatest works of literature ever written. To realize this, not just to have heard it. And I would like to tell you why if I could. I had a grasp of it a short time ago. But then there was more Jameson. And it became extremely, but happily, difficult to write this paragraph. And maybe, if I don’t forget, tomorrow will be the day to lay it all out. Poldy and Molly and even poor antipathetic Stephen — their story and tragedy and triumph. June the seventeenth, the day of reckoning. The heaventree of stars hung with humid night-blue fruit.

From → Bloomsday

  1. james permalink

    I always thought Sandy named Daedalus after the designer of the Labyrinth.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. MishPocha BloomsDay | michelledevilliersartandstories
  2. Happy Bloomsday! | Subverbo

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