Sunday, June 08, 2008

Boozing for Joyce

A couple of weeks ago I posted about James Joyce and his infuriatingly brilliant novel Ulysses. Joyce's magnum opus runs to something like seven hundred pages (Richard Taylor or some similarly scurrillous Joycean pinched my copy a long time ago, so I can't give you a precise number), but the story it tells covers a single day - June 16th, 1904. Joyce, who was very keen on numbers and anniversaries, wanted to honour the date of his first romantic outing with Nora Barnacle, the young Dublin chambermaid who became his wife and muse.

Joyce has become so influential, and so intertwined with those boozily sentimental celebrations of nationalism at which the Irish diaspora excels, that June the 16th has become known as 'Bloomsday', after one of the key characters in Ulysses, and is commonly marked by readings from the novel, most of which seem to take place in pubs. Arihi has let us know about a shindig in Auckland:

Nga mihi nunui ki a Maps koutou ko Richard maa. He reka eenei koorero!

Celebrate Joyce for all the reasons that Maps, Richard et anon. have submitted here, and for your own myriad reasons:

Bloomsday at the Dog's Bollix:
Monday June 16, 8pm
Linn Lorkin and the Jews Bros;
Molly, Leopold, Blazes, The Citizen, Bella Cohen... and more..

There will be a cover charge but I don't yet know how much.



I have heard one or two very solemn literary types objecting to Bloomsday, on the grounds that it 'trivialises' Ulysses. These chaps point out that Ulysses is so long that only very small parts of the novel can ever be read aloud on Bloomsday; they also suggest that booze and literature do not always mix well. I disagree with both arguments.

Ulysses is such an intimidatingly large book that many people refuse ever to begin reading it, on the grounds that they cannot imagine ever finishing. The book's status as a consecrated 'classic' only makes matters worse: many would-be readers must feel that if they do not grasp all the intricacies of the book's themes or symbolism or relation to Irish nationalism then they will have failed some sort of test set by literary canon-builders. Opening the book at random and reading a page or two for sheer enjoyment can be very liberating, and is probably truer to the exuberant spirit of Joyce's prose than all the skeleton keys and collections of critical essays churned out by the academy (Richard Taylor will want to hit me by now).

The argument against reading Ulysses in a pub seems rather threadbare, as well. Wasn't Joyce a notorious boozer? Didn't the frail, short-sighted Irishman once have to be picked up by his mate Ernest Hemingway and carried away from a stoush he'd started in a seedy Paris tavern after a few too many?
And didn't Joyce's cries of 'can you see them Hemingway? Well get them! Get them, my good man!' give way to 'Let's find another tavern!' as soon as the pair were back in the street? That's the legend, anyway...

All in all, I think that Bloomsday is a worthy way of remembering Joyce.


Blogger Richard said...

No Maps I love Joce -dip into him - whatever! But read him! - Joyce is - as you say really actually very "accessible" -despite or because of his erudition -reading pages randomly is almost what I do - I am worse I start a book that leads me to another and that to another and so on - in fact I got to reading Ulysses (again) by a strange route -I had read it but I wanted to re-read it - it is marvelous - the reason was I felt I needed actually to read Finnegan's Wake - another marvelous book - as I was intending a deep or considerable study of Alan Brunton (NZ writer) and felt I needed to know more of FW - in the meantime - starting in on Ulysses (to lead onto FW) I read almost every play by Ibsen (I also even read Goldsmith as Joyce quotes him, I also read Hamlet and Julius Caesar again) - they (Ibsen's and Shakespaers) are great plays or poems ..e.g Brandt, and We the Dead Awaken, The Master Builder, Hedda Gabler were works Joyce used (he promoted them - he advocated them when Ibsen was under attack) -in fact he learnt Norwegian to read some of the plays...but more than that [it isn't necessary to read these things but it is interesting] Ulysses is so powerfully into an intensity of language that it is intensely alive - reading the first few chapters I felt as if I was IN the novel with Bloom - in fact at one stage I felt I WAS Bloom - I was only disputing the idea that Joyce was a Marxist - he paid lisp service to this - he was more - what? - a Humanist or humanist - very human very down to earth and very very liberating (his writing is at a times almost super realist) - possibly the greatest writer who ever lived. Cross out the possibly - he was. NO argument

And I am not Irish - my parents are or were English.

Bloom's Day here is great idea - EXCEPT - unlike Joyce - I now don't drink - Joyce drank and was witty and sometimes cantakerous and fearful (of dogs and thunder) [not sure of his attitude towards rats except they feature in the chapter where Paddy Dignam is buried!!] - and good on him - but he died of a duodenal ulcer..he was in great agony BTW..but that aside Joyce is and has immense value (more than any philosopher or even religious person or politician) - he totally revolutionised writing (B S Johnson acknowledges his debt to him - Woolf did (her debt to him) also BTW)

Joyce changed the world more than Marx or Christ or whoever you want.

Ted Jenner agrees.

Also I was diverted to reading Flaubert - Madame Bovary and The Temptation of St Anthony have these and ideas that are re-used in Ulyysses etc by Joyce - but he also satiries or parodies or uses the styles of many many writers - Dickens, "penny dreadfuls", Victoriana etc, Rabelais, Swift the Bible - each chapter is in a different style - as Ted Jenner pointed out - the Circe chapter where characters are in a kind of phantasmgor of constant change (they are drunk mostly) ... is much like (or echoes) Flaubert's Temptation of St Anthony (another great work BTW) - something that Guy Davenport pointed out...well he pointed to the many temptations Bloom faces - but Ulysses has sex, death, science, love, music humour (it is - on one level - immensely comical - as well as being a "social" and psycholgical novel if you like ) everything ...

Yes Joyce was erudite but he was from a very poor family and knew what it was like to struggle financially but mostly maintained his humour and humanity - he was egotistical as we all are (he was working class - effectively except his father was more or less a petty bourgeois) - but he was great - perhaps greater than Shakespeare...easily Shakespeare's equal in my view.

Another way into Joyce is via recordings - available at the Auckland Public library...of readers and Joyce himself reading - his poems are also very beautiful. More so than Shakespeare's sonnets which I find a bit rigid and often predictable, mannered even - but Joyce - nothing by him is so... he is (one feels he is still alive so powerful is his work) an immense writer.

Bloomsday is a great idea...I would love to go to Ireland and do it. The Dog's Bolix is great - to be quite honest I am not a great fan of Irish or Scottish music etc but I love Joyce the writer.

11:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Top 15 alcoholic writers:

12:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did try to read Ulysses some years back... but, alas, like so many before me... I surrended sooner rather than quicker and put the book down...

I will take your advice and read a couple of pages at random to see if that approach works...

I enjoyed your blog - keep up the good work!

6:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

andy - read the very last chapter (Molly Bloom's monologue) aloud and the second or third chapters - or anywhere else - just note the phrases and so on... the words in fact...don't wrestle with it...

7:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've yet to pluck up the courage to have a go at Ulysses. I read Portrait of an Artist a few years ago and found it hard to get into, but then I hadn't really cultivated a literary sensibility to speak of. I guess I'll come to it in my own good time. Anyone tried Finnegan's Wake?

11:15 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It is best again to listen to recordings of readers reading Finnegans's Wake - treat it as a gigantic poem was Joyce's advice..don't wrestle with it it is beautiful and fascinating (I don't think anyone knows what it "means" - at least one Physicist loved it as that is where the word "quark" comes from)) when read - I haven't read it all - it is circular and huge and complex but also funny and sad and it is a dream and it's a wake of someone not awake and its all the rivers and lives of Ireland and the world and its doubling as its also Dublin and dubloon and its rearriving to fight an (eternal?) "penisolate war from Amorica" and so on... and it is based on the Irish Alphabet (or the chapters of Ulysses are) and it connects to everything almost in the Universe) so on - an incomparable an unconquerable work.

Burgess who wrote "A Clockwork Orange" [and many novels and a few musical symphonies BTW!] also wrote a book about Joyce called "Joysprick" that I found very useful when getting into Joyce...again I haven't read all of Finnegan's Wake (it cycles back upon itself by the way) - there is a recording of Joyce himself reading a major section of it...he read it all from memory as he is sight was poor. Because of his poor sight - his fascination for the sounds of words and the many meanings often in one word.

You can get a sense of his deep feeling for words and their sounds and often many resonating meanings or echoing connotations via his beautiful poems in Chamber Music etc Also his "Epiphanies" which he refers to in Ulysses (as Stephen Dedalus) are miraculous...extraordinary.

Portrait is important (or good at least) to read before Ulysses but perhaps not necessary.

Also if you can get hold of the film "The Dead" - that is the last story in The Dubliners...and it was made into a film by John Huston.

There again we see development and the growing awareness of language - religion and politics are there also - but there is much else - Portait is a great book also.

The acaedmia have kind of claimed Joyce but (I dont work at University altho I did get a BA in 1994) it is not necessary to have any special knowledge - any extra such just may enhance - read his works firstly without being concerned with meaning as such -
and then go back to the "meaning" and the subtleties afterwards... a lot is comic and much is tragic but Bloom is a positive figure in literature. His name choice was deliberate..

11:04 pm  
Blogger Poldy said...

:And lo there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot, clothed in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him! And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: Elijah! Elijah! And he answered with a main cry: Abba! Adonai! And it was Him, Mr Leopold Bloom, of 7 Eccles St, Dublin, right by the Mater Hospital and just off Lower Dorset Street down by the wharves, and he was descending in his raiment and glory to a South Pacific public house called the Dogs Bollix which sat snugly next to the one street that defies the city council's attempts to turn Auckland into a world-class city - Karangahape Road!"

Bloomsday, Monday June 16, Dogs Bollix, Newton gully, just off K Rd, $15/$10, the only
Hiberno-yiddisher Bloomsday in the known world. Kicks-off at 8pm.

8:33 am  
Blogger Poldy said...

Meant to say, in response to Richard Taylor's being "not a great fan of Irish music", the music at the Bloomsday Dogs Bollix show is Jewish -- klezmer music, performed by the Jews Brothers Band in honour and illustration of Bloom. Hence the show rightly and gloriously puffs itself up as "the only Hiberno-yiddisher Bloomsday in the known world".

10:00 am  
Blogger Harvey Molloy said...

Wowsers, Maps, are not to be trusted. In fact, Wowsers are a history from which I'm trying to escape.

12:55 pm  
Blogger Poldy said...

BLOOMSDAY JOKE. Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are standing outside a chemist shop. Taped on the window of the shop is a notice: "Free season ticket inside to the Warriors." Bloom nudges Dedalus, "Go on." Dedalus enters the shop. Lovely girl appears behind the counter: "Yes?" Dedalus turns bright red. "Packet of condoms, please."

8:55 am  

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