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Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses’

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

Djuna_Barnes_-_Joyce

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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Recapping Dante: Canto 27, or Let’s Make a Deal with the Pope

April 28, 2014 | by

Inferno canto XXVI, I consiglieri fraudolenti

Amos Nattini, I Consiglieri Fraudolenti, date unknown.

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: the price of wheeling and dealing with the Pope.

In Canto 27, just as Ulysses’s incandescent spirit departs, another burning sinner approaches Dante. This time, because the spirit is Italian, Dante speaks with him, instead of allowing Virgil to interpret; and though the sinner is never identified by name, the biographical information he offers suggests that he is Guido da Montefeltro, a well-known Ghibelline captain who fought a good many battles.

Much like Vanni Fucci, Guido is not eager to speak with Dante. He decides to speak only because he believes that Dante is one of the damned, and will never again be among the living—he feels secure that his story will never be heard again. Oops.

Guido says that Pope Boniface VIII solicited him for guidance on conquering Palestrina, a Ghibelline fortress. Guido demurred, but the Pope assured him his soul would be saved in exchange for his help—and that convinced Guido to help out, even if he had his doubts about the pope. Upon Guido’s death, St. Francis came to escort him to heaven, as promised, but a demon intervened on the grounds that no man can be pre-absolved for a sin he hasn’t yet committed. The Pope’s promise was thus null, and Guido was led instead to Minos, who deemed him guilty of fraudulent counsel. Read More »

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Recapping Dante: Canto 26, or You Can’t Go Home Again

April 21, 2014 | by

Alessandro_Allori_-_Odysseus_questions_the_seer_Tiresias

Alessandro Allori, Odysseus Questions the Seer Tiresias, 1580

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: tales of brave Ulysses.

Wrapped in a shroud of fire, sputtering words from the tip of the flickering flame—this is how Ulysses appears to us in canto 26. As Dante approaches the eighth pouch of the eighth circle of hell, he sees sinners in flames; he knows he’ll find Ulysses among these “fireflies that glimmer in the valley.” The man is tied up in a flame with Diomed, both of them being punished for their ruse at Troy. Dante begs Virgil to let Ulysses speak.

When we finally put down the Inferno, Ulysses is one of the sinners we remember best. Not because he’s well known or the architect of one of the greatest schemes in history, but because, like Pier or Francesca, there’s charm, tenderness, and beauty in the way he speaks. On this point, I disagree with Robert Hollander, whose annotations explain that these aforementioned sinners are not meant to be entirely sympathetic—they’re actually self-righteous, Hollander writes, and they’re unable to see the gravity of their sins. By allowing them to speak in a manner that almost absolves them, Dante is even poking fun at them. Read More »

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Troy to Ithaca

December 10, 2013 | by

odyssey

We highly recommend you spend some time with this nifty interactive map, which plots Ulysses’s epic ten-year voyage of the Odyssey on a real-life globe, placing the sirens, the cyclops, and the lotus eaters in a recognizable geographical context.

 

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Nabokov on Joyce

August 23, 2013 | by

Of teaching Ulysses, Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” Below is his.

UllysesMaplarge

 

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