Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday!

Happy Bloomsday, everyone! Bloomsday is June 16th, the day upon which James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses is set. It's also, not coincidentally, the date of Joyce's first date with Nora Barnacle, who went on to become his wife. Yes, Barnacle was her real last name. Anyway, here are some ideas for celebrating the holiday. Me, I plan to have a pint of Guinness at some point. Possibly at lunch.

And now, because it's traditional, I quote some Ulysses. This is the opening passage:

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 out 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 land and the
awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent
towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat
and shaking his head.


In case you're wondering WTF that was, you should maybe know that Ulysses is a sort of version of Homer's Odyssey and that Joyce's opening salvo mimics and mocks that of Homer:

Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning. Of these things, goddess, daughter of Zeus, beginning where thou wilt, tell thou even unto us.

Homer uses a typical Ancient Greek invocation and Joyce, via Buck Mulligan (medical student) uses a parody of a Roman Catholic invocation. And the book goes on like that for 650-odd fabulous pages. Haven't read it? Why the heck not?

Have a swell day, folks! Don't forget the pints!


  1. That's so funny because my uncle on my dad's side was named Barnacle. The family jokes that if my mom had noticed him first, instead of my dad, who was only home the day my mother stopped by to sell her wares because his bike tire was flat, my brother and I would be named Keng and Domey Barnacle.

    None of that's true.

    So, why is it called Bloomsday?

  2. I have ULYSSES on my Kindle, but haven't read it yet.Your insight today will be useful when I do crack into it, though, so thanks!

  3. Dr Barnacle: When I first heard of Bloomsday, back when I was 19 or so, I thought it was some cheesy Hallmark (tm) holiday having to do with buying flowers for people. I am pleased that I was wrong.

    Leopold Bloom is the protagonist of Ulysses, and the book follows him on his odyssey (get it?) through Dublin on June 16th, 1920whatever. I forget in which year specifically it's set. So the book is the story of Bloom's day. Hence Bloomsday. A good day to drink whiskey from a cannibal mug.

  4. Rick: Forget anything you may have read about needing some sort of guidebook to the novel. It's a book. It tells a story. Just read it and try to enjoy it as much as you can. I believe with all my heart that Joyce wanted to entertain and bedazzle more than he wanted to impress with his erudition. Ignore anything Virginia Woolf said about Joyce, too. She was a classist Englishwoman and she stole Joyce's technique later on anyway. And C.S. Lewis didn't get the book either, but he was an old fuddy-duddy.

  5. I avoided reading this book until I absolutely HAD to for an MSc course on modernist and post-modernist fiction. Sigh.
    I read it, read a ton ABOUT it, sat through several discussion on it, and listened to lectures about it, and I still think the best-ever commentary on this book comes from Ian Rankin. While he was working on his PhD on Muriel Spark, he was teaching a class on Joyce. He said that one day, he and his undergrad students went to the Pear Tree (a popular pub just across the way from the David Hume Tower where the English lit classes are commonly held) and they all got really drunk discussing Ullysses. He said the book suddenly made so much sense!! And he had such great ideas! He said he dragged himself home and fully intended to write down all his inspirations so he could write up an article on the book, but he was too drunk, and he fell asleep. When he awoke, he came to the conclusion that the book makes a heck of a lot more sense when you're drunk. And he never wrote that article.
    I've never been drunk, so I've never understood Ullysses. However, I'm quite sure that your suggestion of having a pint (or several) would help a great deal on this day for those who hope to understand the behemoth.

  6. Sigh. Typo: "discussions." It's plural. Sorry.

  7. English Teacher: It's impossible to really understand any Irish literature if you've never been drunk. Swift, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, O'Riordain, Beckett(!), Heaney and Behan especially all go down more easily with a pint under your belt and a Pogues record playing in the background. Studies prove this. Georgie B. Shaw, of course, requires whiskey and lots of it.

  8. Those types of studies are so important to humankind.

  9. I'm pleased to be part of a few such longitudinal literature/liquor studies. I think of it as donating my body to science.

  10. I can never read a page of Ulysses without thinking, "Hypergraphia."

    A fun game to play with the book (especially if you're already drunk anyway and the company is not such that you want to suggest strip poker) is to take a random paragraph and then start a new story from it.

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  11. Tara Maya: I recall you mentioning hypergraphia in re Joyce before. Maybe that was on your own blog? I wonder how true that could be. His short stories are pretty spare and Portrait of the Artist is also not a cup running over. I think he just had an idea for this (and for Finnegans Wake) that was so immense that it took a lot of words to give it shape.

    I like the drinking game, though!

  12. Yeah, I'll give you Beckett on being drunk -- but he wrote in French!
    Nyah, Wilde and Stoker one can understand sober. And let's not forget Sidney Owenson and Maria Edgeworth as easy-to-understand Irish writers.
    And Heaney's Beowulf isn't too bad.
    Yeats, well, sailing to Byzantium drunk might just be the key there.
    I haven't read Rihan, so you've got me on that one.
    But I'm sure that you and Rankin are quite right on Joyce. Enjoy your pints today in celebration.

  13. Scott, my theory (which I may have mentioned on my blog) is that there is a Hypergrapic Spectrum Disorder and most authors fall somewhere on it.


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