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Posts Tagged ‘Bloomsday’

Café Entertainment

June 16, 2014 | by

Ferenczy,_Károly_-_Fiatal_lány_a_babával

Károly Ferenczy, Fiatal lány a babával

In honor of James Joyce, I’ve spent Bloomsday carrying around a pair of doll’s underpants. I encourage all Joyce enthusiasts to do the same.

Doll underpants figure in Ulysses as a signifier in Leopold and Molly’s courtship—they’re what the critic David Cotter terms “a fetish charged with a tension between extremes.” As Molly Bloom recollects, she gave Leopold just such a talisman after one of their first dates:

so now there you are like it or lump it he thinks nothing can happen without him knowing he hadnt an idea about my mother till we were engaged otherwise hed never have got me so cheap as he did he was lo times worse himself anyhow begging me to give him a tiny bit cut off my drawers that was the evening coming along Kenilworth square he kissed me in the eye of my glove and I had to take it off asking me questions is it permitted to enquire the shape of my bedroom so I let him keep it as if I forgot it to think of me when I saw him slip it into his pocket of course hes mad on the subject of drawers thats plain to be seen always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels even when Milly and I were out with him at the open air fete that one in the cream muslin standing right against the sun so he could see every atom she had on when he saw me from behind following in the rain I saw him before he saw me however standing at the corner of the Harolds cross road with a new raincoat on him with the muffler in the Zingari colours to show off his complexion and the brown hat looking slyboots as usual what was he doing there where hed no business they can go and get whatever they like from anything at all with a skirt on it and were not to ask any questions but they want to know where were you where are you going I could feel him coming along skulking after me his eyes on my neck he had been keeping away from the house he felt it was getting too warm for him so I halfturned and stopped then he pestered me to say yes till I took off my glove slowly watching him he said my openwork sleeves were too cold for the rain anything for an excuse to put his hand anear me drawers drawers the whole blessed time till I promised to give him the pair off my doll to carry about in his waistcoat pocket

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Odysseus in the Yard

June 16, 2014 | by

Celebrating Bloomsday in prison.

Poldy

An illustration of Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s notes, ca. 1941.

The man I affectionately termed Odysseus, though never to his face, was sixty-five and ailing. He was Philip Rubinitz, a onetime actor who had served about twenty years by then for the crime of stabbing his best friend through the heart with an antique SS dagger. Nevertheless, he was the facility rabbi’s clerk. His liver was failing and his back hurt, but he took laps with me around the yard of Green Haven Correctional Facility, observing our simulated Dublin through cataracts in his eyes. It must have been hard for him to keep up with my much younger legs, but he tottered around our Nightown seeking out a way home to his long-lost wife with the same fervor that Leopold Bloom had. His parole date was still five years away. I followed around full of the overconfidence and energy of youth and insecurity, much like Stephen Dedalus. It was June 16, several years ago now, and little did Rubinitz know that he was helping me celebrate Bloomsday in the yard.

After I’d been convicted, my father had said, “Good. You’ll finally read Joyce.” But it took a few years inside to finally come to it. Having initially avoided Ulysses, my mind was blown when I finally gathered the fortitude to read it—the scales fell from my eyes, and from then on I decided I had to celebrate Bloomsday with the rest of the converts.

None of whom, it seemed, were anywhere near me. Working as a prison librarian, I had seen a few men attempt A Portrait of the Artist, but our edition of Ulysses always stood on the shelf gathering dust. Grim, thick, and foreboding, it was too imposing in reputation for even the most ambitious of convicts. Finnegans Wake wasn’t available at all. The civilian librarians knew better. Read More »

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Bloomsday Explained

June 13, 2014 | by

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Djuna Barnes, Joyce, 1922.

“Bloomsday,” the James Joyce scholar Robert Nicholson once quipped, “has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.” The celebrations of Ulysses every June 16—the date on which the novel is set—attract extreme ends of the spectrum of literary enthusiasm. Academics and professionals mingle with obsessives and cranks, plus those simply along for the ride. The event can be stately and meticulous or raucous and chaotic—or, somehow, all of the above.

A telling instance came a few years ago, when the Irish Arts Center arranged a Bloomsday picnic in New York’s Bryant Park, under the rueful shadow of the Gertrude Stein statue. (Stein disliked Joyce.) Aspiring Broadway types were enlisted to circulate in period costume before bursting into popular songs from 1900-era Ireland. I spoke to one of the performers, a young Irish actor who had recently moved to New York. Had she read Ulysses? “I plan to,” she said, and in my memory, she adds, “I’m told it’s a grand book by them that knows.” The kicker was when the Irish finance minister, in town for summit meetings, got up to say that his government would take as inspiration the balanced daily budget that appears in Ulysses. The problem? Leopold Bloom’s spreadsheet in Ulysses works out only because he omits the money he’s paid to Bella Cohen’s brothel. No one pointed out the irony.

The admixture of expertise and fanboyism that marks Bloomsday, perhaps unique among literary gatherings, is remarkable—but no more so than Bloomsday’s emergence as a cultural event, one that attracts mainstream attention and participants from well outside the readership of Ulysses, by which I mean to include all those who profess to have read it. A novel written in 1922 and legally unavailable in the U.S. until 1934, a novel hailed to this day as the pinnacle of modernist obscurity and density, one that, as novelist Jacob M. Appel recently put it, “isn’t exactly hopping off the shelves in airports,” has earned an international holiday. Of all the literary celebrations that might blow up, why Joyce, why Ulysses, and why Bloomsday? Read More »

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Where’s Leo?

June 17, 2013 | by

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Two years ago yesterday I followed a man dressed in black into a small pharmacy in Dublin. Bars of yellow soap covered the shop’s dark wooden shelves and countertops. I watched from across the shop as the man conversed loudly with the pharmacist, gesticulating as he spoke. He ordered a specific type of lotion. He then grabbed a bar of soap, indicating that he’d return later to pay for the soap and lotion. I lifted a bar to my nose and sniffed: lemon. The man waved goodbye to the pharmacist and left. I put down the soap and followed him out.

While I don’t usually stalk errand-running strangers in foreign cities, this was an exception: I was participating in Bloomsday, the annual reenactment of James Joyce’s Ulysses, on the anniversary of day the novel takes place, June 16, 1904. The man clad in black was an actor portraying protagonist Leopold Bloom as he moves through his day in real time, in the actual spots around Dublin where Joyce set his narrative. I was part of a spectator’s group of about thirty people—some dressed in period garb, including an unwitting infant in a lace collar and antique stroller—that trailed Bloom through the streets of Dublin throughout the day. We visited a home on Eccles Street that could have been Bloom’s. The pharmacy was Sweny’s, a Dublin establishment still selling the same lemon-scented soap that Joyce first made famous in 1922. Read More »

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Undiscovered Joyce Title? And Other News

June 17, 2013 | by

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  • An Irish press is publishing a collection of ten short pieces by James Joyce, calling it “almost certainly the last undiscovered title” by the author. But did Joyce want them published at all? Scholars choose sides.
  • Speaking of cashing in, “for a day celebrating a book many admit to never having read, Bloomsday is a brilliant piece of marketing.”
  • Harvard’s Graduate School of Design has started something nifty called the Library Test Kitchen, dedicated to preserving libraries with new design concepts. Student designs are displayed in—wait for it—a “Labrary.”
  • After bedbugs were detected in the environs of the Chappaqua Library, a bedbug-sniffing dog was provided to case books from a recent library sale. “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere,” declared one mom (whose new set of Harry Potter was cleared by the beagle).
  • Without further ado: the trailer for Salinger.
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    What We’re Loving: Gardens, Riches, and Kidneys

    June 15, 2012 | by

    The classical novel exists, in large part, to teach us how to imagine money—the more than we’ll ever have, the more than we’ll ever lose. Nobody today writes more convincingly about lucre than Jonathan Dee. You glance up from The Privileges thinking, Sure, I can imagine how it would feel to be that level of mega-filthy, godalmighty rich—it’s like grasping some exotic theorem—then you dive back in to watch the Moreys make even more. (For a round-up of moneycentric novels, check out Christian Lorentzen in the new Bookforum.) —Lorin Stein

    I’m not a gardener—I can hardly tell tulips from forget-me-nots—but I have many friends who are, and I’ve just come across the perfect book for them. James Fenton’s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed is short, witty, and useful. If you were starting a flower garden from scratch, Fenton asks, what flowers would you choose to grow in it? The names themselves are a pleasure to read: the Shoo-Fly Plant (also known as the Apple of Peru), the Pheasant’s Eye, the Iceland Poppy, the Blue Pygmy. Fenton also gives sound advice: “When handling seedlings, always hold them by the leaves, not by the stem”; and, “Forcefully remind your cat about the difference between seed trays and litter boxes.” —Robyn Creswell

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