Saturday, 16 June 2012

Happy Bloomsday

June 16th is Bloomsday, a worldwide celebration, by many thousands of fans, of the life and work of James Joyce, author of Ulysses, widely viewed as the greatest (certainly the most influential) novel of the twentieth century.

Ulysses was published in 1922. The events of the novel take place in a city that is (and is not) Dublin, on one day in the life of Leopold Bloom --- June 16, 1904 (hence the name and date of Bloomsday).

The opening lines of the novel may give a flavour:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
—Introibo ad altare Dei.
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:
—Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!
Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

(read more of the novel online, courtesy of Project Gutenberg).

Bloomsday is celebrated worldwide, from Dublin itself to Boston, Trieste, Prague, London and Sydney.
It takes the form of readings of the whole novel (often taking up to 36 hours), dramatic performances and pub crawls (which feature strongly in Joyce's work). In recent years, technology has encouraged ever-more innovative celebrations of Joyce's work, including an attempt, in 2011, to reimagine "the reading experience of (Ulysses), start to finish, within the confines of a a day-long series of tweets from a global volunteer army of Joyce-sodden tweeps" and this year a new app, Joyceways, launched this week, allows users to follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Today, BBC Radio Four has dedicated much of its broadcasting schedule to a dramatisation of the whole novel. 

In The Telegraph, Allen Massie argues that everyone should read a novel that many judge the greatest of the twentieth century, while, in The Guardian, writer Colm Toibin  returns to a city that has become sacred to lovers of Joyce's work.

In The New Yorker, John Donohue looks at "Bloomsday on Broadway", arguing that Joyce "pushed language in many directions, including toward the sonic . . . with series of phrases more akin to music than to prose":

Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing imperthnthn thnthnthn. Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid!
And gold flushed more.
A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue bloom is on the
Gold pinnacled hair.
A jumping rose on satiny breast of satin, rose of Castile.
Trilling, trilling: Idolores.
Peep! Who’s in the… peepofgold?
Tink cried to bronze in pity.
And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call.
Decoy. Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade. O rose!
Notes chirruping answer. Castile. The morn is breaking.
Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.
Coin rang. Clock clacked.
Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!
Jingle. Bloo."

Happy Bloomsday.

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