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Event: Bloomsday, an annual celebration of James Joyce's 'Ulysses'

The annual celebration of "one of the most baffling and brilliant books ever written"

June 16 is known in literary circles as Bloomsday, the day when James Joyce fans celebrate Ulysses. In his 1922 novel, Joyce chronicles the experiences of Leopold Bloom, his philandering wife Molly, the young drifter Stephen Dedalus, and dozens of other comical, quizzical, quirky, captivating characters over the course of a single day -- June 16, 1904 -- in Joyce's Dublin.

“I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete," Joyce had written, "that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” 

102 years since its publication, Bloomsday events take place across the globe with readings, festivals, pub crawls, sightseeing tours, and dramatizations.

Here in Albany, the Irish American Heritage Museum will mark Bloomsday with an event on Monday, June 17, featuring readings of excerpts Ulysses, music, and discussions. The event is free and open to the public.

"Bloomsday" at the Irish American Heritage Museum

7 p.m. Monday, June 17

21 Quackenbush Square

Albany, NY 12207

For more information, call (518) 427-1916

Ulysses: Lovers and haters

First edition of Ulysses by James Joyce

Published in 1922, Ulysses remains one of literature's enigmatic masterpieces. While T.S. Eliot praised it as "the most important expression which the present age has found," his friend Elizabeth Woolf thought otherwise:

"An illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, & we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating," excerpted from her diary.

In an essay published in 1953, Carl Jung wrote: "What is so staggering about Ulysses is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course."

In a review published in The New York Times on May 28, 1922, Dr. Joseph Collins was firmly in the Woolf camp:

"...the average intelligent reader will glean little or nothing from it — even from careful perusal, one might properly say study, of it — save bewilderment and a sense of disgust. It should be companioned with a key and a glossary like the Berlitz books. Then the attentive and diligent reader would eventually get some comprehension of Mr. Joyce’s message...

Finally, I venture a prophecy: Not ten men or women out of a hundred can read “Ulysses” through, and of the 10 who succeed in doing so, five of them will do it as a tour de force. I am probably the only person, aside from the author, that has ever read it twice from beginning to end. I have learned more psychology and psychiatry from it than I did in 10 years at the Neurological Institute. There are other angles at which “Ulysses” can be viewed profitably, but they are not many."

Let's give the last word on Ulysses to our founder, Albany's most famous Irishman, William Kennedy. In his essay "Gifts from Joyce," published in Salmagundi in 2004, he wrote:

"The first gift James Joyce gave me arrived about forty years ago when I was ill with some now forgotten ailment and spent my three days of recovery reading Ulysses from cover to cover. The gift was twofold: it made me doubt my intelligence, and made me think English was not my native tongue. The book seemed like an artifact from an alien culture, about which I knew little; and it also seemed the product of another language, as impenetrable as a Sanskrit crossword puzzle. And yet the reading was a thrilling experience.

James Joyce by Alex Ehrenzweig, 1915
James Joyce by Alex Ehrenzweig, 1915

Of course it was ridiculous to think I had read the book in three days. I had grasped fragments, I had found that I liked Bloom and Molly enormously, thought Stephen a difficult and not- very-likable intellectual...

I never thought I ‘understood’ all of Ulysses and still don’t. But if I was overwhelmed by my early encounter, I was not daunted. I carried it with me whenever I moved anywhere, and I have the same copy still, yellowing and dogeared, the dust jacket gone, the pages marked, the text full of underlines; and while I understand it better now, it remains as strange a creation to me today as it was then.

Much of Ulysses was a mystery I felt I would never fully solve, yet I loved its wit and wordplay, and valued it for the improbable ambition it presented to the youth I was. At some point it helped inspire me to begin thinking of an impossible enterprise: the creation of a book that would leap over my own conventional ambitions, a book that would be greater than what I knew I could do."

Bonus: If you're reading this post on your phone, download the He liked thick word soup Ulysses phone app that allows you to manipulate Joyce's text with your fingertips.

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1 Comment

Quintan Barnes
Quintan Barnes
Jul 04

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