SATURDAY, JUNE 16: Get ready …
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 up 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 country and the awaking mountains.
And, there you go! Those opening lines already are saluting James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. That’s the way countless fans around the world salute James Joyce today—cracking open copies of Ulysses and reading the text aloud. The novel is set in Dublin on June 16, 1904, and was published as a complete novel 90 years ago (parts of it were serialized earlier). The tale begins on a real stone tower, where Joyce spent a very brief but tumultuous part of his life. And, once again, Joyce fans will gather at what is called James Joyce Tower to do the one thing all Joyce fans do on Bloomsday—read aloud from Ulysses.
Wikipedia’s overview of celebrations in Ireland, Hungary, Italy, Australia and the U.S. also includes this summary of the very first Bloomsday: Bloomsday (a term Joyce himself did not employ) was invented in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan—artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine—and the novelist Flann O’Brien organized what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two-horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The participants were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel around the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown. The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the weary companions succumbed to inebriation and rancor at the Bailey pub in the city center, which Ryan then owned, and at which, in 1967, he installed the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition.
BLOOMSDAY CELEBRATIONS IN 2012
Looking for an observance around your home? Check with local libraries, Irish-themed organizations and institutions. Or, start your own—it only takes a circle of friends to begin the annual practice. (Email us if you do decide to organize something, even if it is small, at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com) Events are scattered across the U.S., often in unlikely places. For the eighth straight year, the Ocean City Repertory Theater in Ocean City at the southern tip of New Jersey will present “Bloomsday,” a staged reading of Joyce. In the Cincinnati area, the Irish Heritage Center will host a Bloomsday party. In the Syracuse area, Le Moyne College is hosting Bloomsday. By far, the most impressive Bloomsday event in the U.S. is held at Symphony Space on Broadway in New York: Even the New Yorker magazine recommends this event as The Place to celebrate Bloomsday. Among the performers at this annual event will be Fionnula Flanagan (famous for many years in Ireland and best known to Americans, these days, as the mysterious matriarch in LOST), who will end the evening with a reading of Molly Bloom’s nighttime monologue.
Going for a Guinness Record: And here’s a literally “record-setting” Bloomsday-related event. The Irish Writers Centre in Dublin—home of the biggest Bloomsday bash each year—is attempting to set a new Guinness record to highlight Irish writers. The goal to break the record for Most Authors Reading Consecutively From Their Own Books over a 28-hour period from June 15-16. So, the shot at the record does not involve reading Joyce, per se. Rather, the goal is to highlight the continuing wealth of literary talent in Dublin. The current record was set at Berlin International Literature Festival and featured 75 authors. The Irish attempt at breaking the record is looking to up the ante with a confirmed 111 authors reading from their own works. Each author will read for 15 minutes from one of his or her works.
Bloomsday qualifies as a holiday in our column, but does it have religious significance?
As Joyce would have said: You be the judge! Of course, it is impossible for anyone to read much of Joyce and not find layer upon layer of specific religious reflection—as well as broadly spiritual meditations. Check out the Wikiquotes page listing passages often quoted from Ulysses. Perhaps reviewing those gems will inspire you to get a copy and read along this week!
Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.