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Happy Bloomsday!

June 16, 2014

Nabokov’s map of Ulysses

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
— James Joyce, Ulysses

Last year I live-blogged Bloomsday, but this year I already have some posts up for it, so I will not be doing that again. Writing is an appropriate way to spend Bloomsday, arguably the best, but other, lazier celebrations beckon.

Every year the question we ask is, what is The True Meaning of Bloomsday? And following on that, how shall we celebrate it, beyond honoring the example of Leopold Bloom and putting potatoes in our pockets? One thing is for sure: this not merely a “fan” holiday, anymore than Christmas is about being a fan of Jesus. (“Bloomsday has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus” — Robert Nicholson.) Like Christmas, you don’t have to have read the book to celebrate it, or even have much interest in what is between the covers. That said, as Linus van Pelt demonstrated with Christmas, a return to the text can be inspiring. (With Charles Schultz gone I don’t know if a Peanuts Bloomsday Special would be anything but ersatz, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing it attempted.) We must not be Ulysses literalists, yet at the same time faithfully carry on its spirit. This is the challenge of any devotion. Our success in this is always uncertain, but we will know we are on the right track when we feel the spirit overtake us. I have felt the spirit of Bloomsday. I can testify. It is as real as the potato in my pocket.

I once thought it would great to be in Dublin on Bloomsday, but now I realize that is just a tourist thing. The spirit of Bloomsday is right here. Charlottesville is my Dublin. I  have spent every Bloomsday here since the first I one I celebrated, in the summer between my third and fourth years in college, when I simply opened the book and started to read, beginning with the full-page “S”. It is the place I know, as Joyce knew Dublin. The place where I see familiar faces on the street; it favors the kind of chance meetings that the characters in Ulysses are always having. Bloomsday can be celebrated anywhere, but intimate-urban is the environment most suited to it. To wander the streets, popping in and out of various places, that is a good way to celebrate. To be passerby, that is what Joyce suggests, as did Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Walking the streets with a mind running free and a potato in your pocket. A pedestrian holiday, in the first sense but also the second, if we allow that to be redeemed by imagination, the quotidian exalted.

Yet also a bookish holiday, to be spent reading or writing, a wordy holiday to be spent in conversation. A porch is an excellent place to bring it all together. I sit on my porch as I write this, and have already given out two potatoes since I started. The Ulysses audiobook is playing, Stephen and company discuss Shakespeare in the library. I have not yet cracked the Guinness.

A celebration of the ordinary. A celebration of the imagination. A celebration of the glorious and endless play of language. A celebration of human consciousness itself, as it dances its way through through space and time, tracing the threads that weave the world. That is the spirit of Bloomsday. A frank and generous spirit, as thoughtful and humane as Bloom himself. A universal spirit; a universal holiday. Celebrate as you will, there is no wrong way. But a potato in your pocket and a pint of Guinness in your hand, that is a good way to start.

From → Bloomsday

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