Happy Bloomsday!

Bloomsday, the June 16, unofficial, worldwide holiday, celebrates one of the world’s most extraordinary books, James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” June 16, 1904, is the day the book takes place. And one of the extraordinary things about the book is that its hero, Bloom, is not extraordinary at all. “The initial and determining act of judgment in his [Joyce’s] work is the justification of the commonplace,” wrote Richard Ellmann in the introduction to his biography titled simply “James Joyce” (1959).

Joyce had and continues to have detractors. Roddy Doyle, for example, would at least like the world to know that there are other Irish writers, some brand new who also write about the common man. Noted, Roddy. But Joyce’s example provided others, including Roddy Doyle, with extraordinary opportunities in one important way, without which it might be hard to imagine works like Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, which includes “The Commitments,” “The Snapper,” and “The Van” (all hilarious).

Ellmann explains: “Joyce was the first to endow an urban man of no importance [Bloom] with heroic consequence.” In fact, some early readers, Ellmann explains, thought Joyce must have been kidding, that he “must be writing satire,” for “how else justify so passionate an interest in the lower middle class?” To his Marxist critics, Joyce commented, “I don’t know why they attack me. Nobody in any of my books is worth more than a thousand pounds.” Maybe the attack is explained because “Ulysses,” past the first three episodes, anyway, is written in such a way as to prevent access to the average, common interest reader. This is one of Roddy Doyle’s complaints.

Ellmann concludes, “Joyce’s discovery, so humanistic that he would have been embarrassed to disclose it out of context, was that the ordinary is the extraordinary.” “Dubliners,” Joyce’s book of short stories that preceded his first novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which was followed by “Ulysses,” is characterized by clear and concise writing that is accessible. And just so, Frank Delaney has devoted his Happy Bloomsday podcast, titled “Meeting Joyce,” to sharing Joyce’s “Dubliners.” It’s a great way to start reading James Joyce and to kick back and enjoy a bit of Bloomsday.

SMP: Sine Mascula Prole – Preparatory to Bloomsday

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that takes up most of the first page and begins the first sentence: “Stately, plump….” The book is divided into 18 chapters, or episodes, as Stuart Gilbert called them, though Joyce did not number or title the chapters. A new chapter is signaled with the start of a new page, its first line all caps. Each chapter is characterized by its own, unique writing style (the changing styles are obvious, and one doesn’t need an annotated work to note or enjoy the differences). The 18 chapters are divided into three parts, marked by separate pages with a large Roman numeral at the top: I, II, and III. Part I contains the first three chapters and part III the last three chapters, part II, then, the middle 12 chapters. Each part is signaled with a full page devoted to a large letter that takes up the entire page:


Why S M P? One suggestion is that the letters stand for the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Bloom (P for Bloom, for his nickname: “Poldy”). But P might also point to Penelope, for Molly’s soliloquy, the last chapter (Penelope was the wife of Ulysses). Certainly the first three chapters concern Stephen (the M sentence introduces “Mr Leopold Bloom…,” and the P sentence begins, “Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom…”). Scholarly, annotated discussions have suggested sentence, middle, predicate, Aristotle’s syllogism. Whatever.

Frank Budgen, in his book “James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses,” explains that Joyce liked the character Ulysses for his “complete, all round character.” Ulysses was a father, a son, a husband, a soldier (but, Joyce adds, speaking to Budgen: “Don’t forget that he was a war dodger who tried to evade military service by simulating madness.”). Joyce also says that Ulysses was “the first gentleman in Europe,” and “an inventor too.” Joyce says to Budgen of Ulysses, “But he is a complete man as well – a good man. At any rate, that is what I intend that he shall be.”

I remember at CSUDH working with my Joycean mentor Mike Mahon, and I had simply looked up SMP in some dictionary, and found that it was an acronym for the Latin phrase “sine mascula prole,” without male issue. While Bloom is a father, his son, Rudy, has died (Bloom also has a daughter, Milly), and there’s a suggestion that Rudy’s death is the cause for the distance created between Molly and Bloom, and thus Bloom, in addition to being a father, son, and husband, is made by Molly to be a cuckold. Thus indeed he is Joyce’s “complete man,” and “without male issue” may take on yet another connotation.

It’s unlikely Joyce had any of the following in mind with regard to SMP, but since what Joyce had in mind is often beside the point, we might also enjoy considering:

Strategic Management Plan
Sex, Money, Power
Simple Minded People
See Me Please
Smoke More Pot
Standard Maintenance Procedure
Sub Motor Pool

Related: An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that fills the whole page and ends with a small s, “yes.” The book opens, “Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” And meanwhile, four chapters in, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” It’s morning in Dublin, June 16, 1904. The entire book takes place on that day. This coming Saturday, June 16, readers worldwide will celebrate “Bloomsday,” the 108th fictional birthday of “Ulysses,” that is, of the day the story takes place. The last page of “Ulysses” says “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921,” suggesting Joyce worked on his novel for seven years. It would be December, 1933, when Judge Woolsey freed the book from censure, before US citizens would be able to access “Ulysses” unmolested by itching assessors scandalized by what they see in a looking glass. In his historic opinion, Woolsey said, “‘Ulysses is not an easy book to read or to understand. But there has been much written about it, and in order properly to approach the consideration of it it is advisable to read a number of other books which have now become its satellites. The study of ‘Ulysses’ is, therefore, a heavy task.” And readers with a purely, solely, soily, prurient interest will be sorely disappointed.

Guessing from the number of Joyce books on my shelves one might conclude that Joyce is my favorite writer. In some ways, yes, but a general interest reader needs and wants so much, and while Joyce is a good friend, the point of a library ought to be, to quote Joyce from another of his books, “Finnegans Wake,” “Here Comes Everybody.” But yes, I love Joyce essentially.

Readers wanting to start Joyce might want to begin with his book of short stories, “Dubliners,” for it is engaging, accessible, entertaining, and a good introduction to Joyce’s characters. Joyce’s characters include everyone: “…happinest childher everwere.”

But on to Bloomsday, 2012. I received in yesterday’s electronic mail an invitation to celebrate Bloomsday with the celebrated writer, Frank Delaney. I can think of no one I’d rather spend Bloomsday with, and I’m extending the invitation below to you, too, to have some fun with Delaney and Joyce on Bloomsday. If you are new to “Ulysses,” I suggest you try some of Delaney’s podcasts, for hearing the book read, following Delaney’s clear introductions, is sometimes easier than going it alone with the text. In any case, here’s the invitation I received, quoted verbatim, with a few editorial comments and added information I’ve inserted in brackets:

Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

June 16th, 2012 marks the first Bloomsday in which James Joyce’s mighty novel Ulysses is free from copyright and from the restrictions of the famously difficult Joyce estate [see “The Injustice Collector” and “Has James Joyce Been Set Free?“]. Celebrate in a series of projects and events conducted across land and Internet by Frank Delaney:

Re:Joyce Podcast, two years old

Dip into Ulysses by reading along with Frank Delaney in his spirited weekly podcast, Re:Joyce, launched on Bloomsday 2010.

Each segment [Joyce’s “Ulysses” is famously divided into chapters or segments, though the book itself isn’t obviously marked so. The easiest chapters are the first three, but for sound and language, the chapters following are my favorites, as well as the last chapter, the so-called soliloquy of Molly Bloom] features Delaney taking a short passage from Ulysses and exploring its multitude of references with insight, eloquence, passion, vast expertise—and a good dose of fun. As of Bloomsday 2012, Delaney will be in the midst of Chapter Three, and have reached podcast episode #105. Followed by academics, library groups, Joycean societies, scholars across the world, as well as ordinary folk, Delaney’s goal in deciphering and decoding the dense and rich text of the book is to allow greater enjoyment, by far more readers, of the book he holds most dear [and there really isn’t any other book about which this much fanfare is possible, which helps explain Bloomsday]. The podcasts have been downloaded nearly 500,000 times and have been covered in The EconomistNPR, The New York Times to name but a few. They are available for download on iTunes and www.FrankDelaney.com.

Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival

Frank Delaney is speaker and Guest of Honor at the annual Bloomsday celebrations of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library, whose collection includes the papers of James Joyce, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Carroll, Marianne Moore, Maurice Sendak, Dylan Thomas and Cervantes. Event information for the Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival (one of the largest in the world) is available here. Tickets for The Rosenbacchanal are available here

“Ulysses” Live: Additional Joycean projects of Mr. Delaney’s include: 

Joyce Ways: Frank Delaney is the voice of “Joyce Ways”, an app with audio-visual guidance designed to lead and delight literary pilgrims through the streets of Dublin, on the trail and itinerary of Ulysses. “Joyce Ways” was created by the students of Boston College, under the direction of Joseph Nugent, and will launch 6.9.12. 

Occupy Ulysses: an event at Madison Park, New York, staged on the day Ulysses was released from copyright (February 2, 2012). 

The James Joyce Rap, Delaney’s witty, engaging, tongue-in-cheek portrait of the artist. As off-center and provocative as Joyce himself, this giddy homage serves up Joyce as Delaney’s hero, within a Pythonesque environment.  Funny, irreverent and surprisingly touching, we’re given more than a hint as to why Delaney has chosen Joyce as a major part of his life’s work.

How to Live Happily to 106: Happy Bloomsday, Mr. Leopold Bloom

Articles celebrating victims of extreme old age usually ask about diet, so let’s get that out of the way first:

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

The time is morning, the scene the house, the organ the kidney, the art economics, the symbol the nymph, the title Calypso, the technique mature narrative (Gilbert, 1930). The day was June 16, the year 1904, the place Dublin, the book James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Speaking of mature narrative, Jonah Lehrer, over at the Frontal Cortex, has put up a post titled “Old Writers” in which he dispels the myth that writers do their best work when very young, that older writers can’t match the quality or creativity of their younger work, as if writer’s ink were a kind of dark blue testosterone that fades and weakens in potency with age. Lehrer concludes his post with “…different circumstances call for different kinds of creativity…The most successful artists aren’t slaves to their chronological age. Instead, they succeed by speaking to the age in which they live.”

Works want readers, listeners, viewers, and they always want new readers, new listeners, new viewers, and when they don’t get them, they feel old and weak, remaindered and marked down, bagged for the garage sale: Books Penyeach.

Pomes Penyeach was first published in 1927, when James Joyce was 45 years old. Joyce’s works are remarkable for their consistent creative originality that insists on new forms to communicate the events that parallel the writer’s age and the age of the writer. And they have not weakened over time, but have grown stronger with age. Perhaps it was those nutty gizzards. Almost certainly it must have been the burgundy, as Bloom suggests (although Joyce preferred white wines). In any case, the example of Joyce’s works expresses Lehrer’s definition of the successful artist, that the work has nothing to do with the age of the artist, but everything to do with the age at which the work is experienced.