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Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

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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Cursive Matters, and Other News

June 4, 2014 | by

Cursive

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • A new history argues that Joyce suffered from syphilis.
  • And a new study suggests unique cognitive benefits to learning to write in cursive: “In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa—suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources … cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia.”
  • In an ancient Chinese tomb, archaeologists have found three-thousand-year-old pants. “These pants, which were recovered from a tomb in China, are about four hundred years older than the previous record holder for ‘oldest pants.’”
  • At the Tate, “Crowds gather at the heart of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, drawn to an artless home movie showing the master at work. He looks, and was, extremely unwell … Art for him is the moment at which, to quote a remark he made about Snail, one becomes ‘aware of an unfolding’. ‘At this time of year,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘I always see the dried leaves on your table, catching fire as they pass under your fingers from death to life.’”
  • “Books do indeed furnish a room—but tobacco smoke gives it volume, substance and an aroma.”
  • In the forties, the U.S. Public Health Service gave this pamphlet to anyone whose home had been sprayed with DDT; it includes a poem of sorts. “Stay indoors at night / That is when malaria skeeters bite / But DDT upon your wall / will kill them if they call.”

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What We’re Loving: Dallas, Dubai, Dublin

May 30, 2014 | by

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Three nights ago, the eminent record collector Chris King came by The Paris Review loft to launch his new LP, Alexis Zoumbas: A Lament for Epirus 1926–1928. King arrived with several armfuls of 78s, including Greco-Albanian dirges, a Ukrainian wedding dance, and rare sides by Richard “Rabbit” Brown, Elvie Thomas, Amédée Ardoin, and others who have achieved a measure of posthumous renown on King’s label, Angry Mom Records. As a house present, King gave the Review eighteen test pressings of the Carter Family (“from their most depressing period”), but the song I can’t get out of my head—thanks to our associate editor, Stephen Hiltner, who whistled the first few bars this morning—is “Chasin’ Rainbows,” by the Dallas String Band. Listen at your peril. —Lorin Stein

At a conference on Web design earlier this month, Maciej Ceglowski gave a talk called “The Internet with a Human Face,” a cogent look at the bizarre double lives the Internet forces us to live, the havoc it’s wrought on our concepts of privacy and identity. “A lot of what’s wrong with the Internet has to do with memory,” he says. “The Internet somehow contrives to remember too much and too little at the same time, and it maps poorly on our concepts of how memory should work.” Ceglowski runs pinboard.in, a bookmarking site. Unlike too many in the Silicon Valley set, he’s entirely free of techno-utopianism, but he’s not an alarmist or a fatalist, either. Rather, he’s refreshingly clear-eyed about the state of technology and how we can improve it. “I’m tired of being scared of what the Web is going to look like tomorrow,” he says. “I realized how long it had been since I looked at a new technology with wonder, instead of an automatic feeling of dread.” —Dan Piepenbring

Dubliners turns a hundred in June. “The Dead” is a masterpiece, of course, but I think the best of the stories is “Araby,” whose child protagonist experiences a kind of antirevelation—one of the moments of adolescent wretchedness we all pass through to get to adulthood. The whole experience is conveyed in the twenty-four perfect words of the final sentence: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” —Anna Heyward

When I think of the United Arab Emirates, I think of excess: artificial land shaped like a palm tree in Dubai, a certain Greenwich Village university cloned in downtown Abu Dhabi, and billion-dollar hotels. Reviewing Rowan Moore’s Why We Build in the New York Review of Books, Martin Filler writes, “In Dubai, the much-ballyhooed botanical symbol of a sheltering oasis gives way to a more mundane reality.” Filler describes his working relationship with the commanding architect Zaha Hadid, who has recently come under scrutiny for her lack of concern for the working conditions of the stadium she designed for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Are such conditions an architect’s responsibility? More important, have we allowed architecture to reach a point where it’s beyond moral consequence? —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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Hey, Babe, and Other News

May 27, 2014 | by

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Frédéric Soulacroix, The Cavalier's Kiss

  • Julian Gough’s celebration of Joyce wins the award for Title of the Year: “James Joyce: You can’t ignore the bastard.” “Joyce entered your life very differently in rural Ireland in the early 1980s. Back then, he still existed outside the official system. Too difficult, too scandalous for school. It was still possible for teenagers to read Joyce as an act of rebellion against teachers, government, church. You read Joyce the way you listened to late punk, or early rap.”
  • What’s the point of infantilizing pet names? “In the mid-twentieth century, Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that babies’ cuteness is an evolutionarily advantageous adaptation without which they wouldn’t survive; adults need some sort of incentive to provide them with constant care, and Lorenz thought that motive was admiring their cuteness. He believed men carry this preference into adulthood by looking for women who retain elements of babyish ‘cuteness.’”
  • The story of an art historian’s shrewd detective work: “A supposedly minor work from the Qing dynasty turned out to be a masterpiece nearly 700 years old.”
  • In 2012, before Kara Walker’s exhibition arrived there, David Allee photographed Brooklyn’s dilapidated Domino Sugar Factory. “While his pictures could not convey the smell of the factory—‘crème brûlée mixed with mold and rot’—he hoped to communicate something about its complicated history … Inside the prison-like spaces, there was also ‘a visceral sense that the work that took place here was torturous.’ At the same time, he said, ‘everything is literally sugar coated.’”
  • In the sixties, TV and film writers dreamed up a bunch of supercomputers with one thing in common: they were hell-bent on annihilating humanity.

 

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I Did Not Approve This Message

May 1, 2014 | by

David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and the trouble with public image.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel filming The End of the Tour, a movie about David Foster Wallace not authorized by his literary trust. Photo: loveleeliz, via Instagram

In 2010, just under two years after David Foster Wallace’s death, the journalist David Lipsky published Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir of transcripts from an interview he’d conducted with Wallace in 1996 for Rolling Stone. The book was well reviewed—it made the Times best-seller list—and late last year it was announced that it would become a film starring Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. The End of the Tour is already in postproduction and slated for release in late 2014, but last week, the Wallace Literary Trust issued a public statement making it “clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support” the film: “There is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”

I was struck by similarities between this situation and the case of James Joyce and Samuel Roth, which began in 1926. In his recent book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, the scholar Robert Spoo devotes two chapters to Joyce’s desperate attempts to defend his intellectual property against Roth, an infamous American “booklegger” who reprinted the entire text of Ulysses, as well as large portions of Finnegans Wake, without permission. Roth’s actions, like those of the filmmakers of The End of the Tour, were not illegal: Joyce didn’t possess the U.S. copyright on his works, which were originally published in Europe and—after a brief window during which he could have established copyright by securing American publication—fell immediately into the U.S. public domain. Read More »

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Cat Fancier

March 17, 2014 | by

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From The Cat and the Devil.

“I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency,” begins James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil, first published in 1965. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on this book as a child, you know that the illustrations, by Richard Erdoes, haunt your nightmares for years, and that it’s quite impossible ever to think of James Joyce without visualizing the Mephistophilean entity pictured therein. 

The story is based on an old French folktale: the desperate mayor of Beaugency makes a deal with the devil in order to get a bridge across the Loire. In exchange for the supernatural structure, the devil may claim the soul of whoever crosses it first. In the event, the townspeople foil the plot by sending over a hapless cat instead, and in the grand tradition of diabolical law, the devil is forced to abide by their reading of the contract. Read More »