(Originally posted to Home at EraBlog on Wed, 11 Jun 2003 03:54:21 GMT)
I have recently become involved with the upcoming local celebration of Bloomsday, on June 16th. James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place on June 16th, 1904. In Seattle and elsewhere, fans of the book re-enact portions of the book. In Dublin, Joyce has spawned a whole industry: ironic, when you consider how little recognition he received there during his lifetime. No doubt, the Joycean industry will go into overdrive next year for the centenary.
The Seattle group has been working its way through the book since 1998. This year, we are reading Chapters 8 and 9, "Lestrygonians" and "Scylla and Charybdis". I had been vaguely aware that readings were held every year, but I hadn’t been to any of them. Two weeks ago, I saw on the Seattle Irish News mailing list that more readers were needed, so I decided to apply. I am reading Dennis Breen, Dixon, the barman in Burton’s restaurant, and Tom Rochford in Chapter 8, and Mr. Best in Chapter 9. The reading will start at 8pm on June 16th, at the Brechemin Auditorium at the School of Music in the University of Washington.
Chapter 8, "Lestrygonians", describes Bloom’s peregrination through the center of Dublin. He crosses the Liffey and heads south towards the National Library. Much of the chapter is Bloom’s stream of consciousness, as he observes people and places along the way. He runs into a few acquaintances and ends up in Davy Byrne’s pub to eat lunch.
Chapter 9, "Scylla and Charybdis", takes place in the National Library. Bloom is briefly observed in the background, but doesn’t say anything. Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s young alter ego, is the subject of this chapter. He holds forth in a long discussion of Shakespeare and Hamlet. As usual, he’s witty, erudite, and not a little insecure.
As a Dubliner, you might expect that I have an affinity for the book. I first attempted to read Ulysses in 1982, the centenary of Joyce’s birth, when I was 17. I gave up after a few chapters, finding it heavy going and obscure. I’ve tried it again a few times since then, but have never got more than a couple of hundred pages in to the book.
I’m trying once again. This time it’s going better. No doubt, because I have a motivation. But also, it makes more sense to me. I’ve learned two tricks. The first is that if a section doesn’t make sense, don’t give up. Keep going. It’ll get more enjoyable. I don’t think it all makes sense to anyone on a first reading. The second is that the sounds are very important. Joyce was a poet. Subvocalize the odder bits and the music will come through.
Someone once said that Ulysses is the most difficult of the entertaining books and the most entertaining of the difficult books.
I’m looking forward to the reading.