I’ve been so busy writing for Enter Stage Right and The Washington Times that I’d forgotten the onset of the increasingly sacred “Bloomsday” of James Joyce’s metaphysically liberating novel Ulysses! The Bloomsday that I consider the Joycean equivalent of all Christian Epiphanies!
That Epiphany being the most well-known, well-read day in the life of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom!
Thursday, June 16th, 1904!
So busy have I been with the political nightmare exploding down onto America and the by-now overloaded American consciousness, I overlooked this literary Epiphany, worshipped by not only Ireland but all the most literary, English and French-speaking capitals of the world, from Dublin to London to New York to Paris?!
In short, I am profoundly ashamed to admit: Bloomsday, this year, had escaped my attention. A dear and long-time Canadian friend at Ottawa Life Magazine reminded me of my almost sacred duty as a Moriarty to pay tribute to the man I consider Ireland’s only claim to a Shakespearean-sized greatness: James Joyce.
With that confession laid contritely before you, I will do my best to convey the increasingly historic and spiritual importance of a day which could, during this coming millennium, very well become a worldwide, symbolically national holiday for the entire literati of the world.
Though my hyperbole might sound mildly contemptuous, I not only have no cynicism to share with you about James Joyce, I find James Joyce virtually worthy of Catholic sainthood.
It may take another thousand years for the Vatican to wake up but, oh well, I’m not the Pope nor a writer as great as James Joyce. Posterity will most certainly separate the chaff from the bran and the hypocrites from the likes of James Joyce.
A trip through a day in the life of Leopold Bloom on June 16, 1904, compliments of James Joyce’s considerable genius, will prove to be a virtual life-changer for those unacquainted with Joyce’s vision of life.
Neither marriage, nor friendship, nor fathers and sons, nor sexual infidelity, nor the human sexual imagination, nor the conventional prejudices of Catholics and Jews, nor the viciously enduring spite within anti-Semitism, none of those facts of life will be experienced by you in quite the same way after you do yourself the priceless favor of reading James Joyce’s classically constructed, lyrically conceived and eternally resonant creation, Ulysses!
Is there a particularly contemporary relevance contained in Ulysses?
The villain in Ulysses, despite what some might think, is not really Molly Bloom’s lover “Blazes” Boylan.
It is human hypocrisy.
The work is so revolutionary that it still challenges most new readers, no matter how “liberated” they may think of themselves as being.
Ulysses demands that its readers find some place for themselves within the cast of characters which enliven a very Dublin Thursday on the 16th of June in the year 1904.
The safest place to read this, for myself at least, is out of the heart and soul of James Joyce himself and that would be the character of Stephen Dedalus.
Why Joyce’s allusion to a mythic legend, Daedalus,
is fairly clear if you realize how much literary “craft” and “artisanship” have gone into the making of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Including the Roman Empire’s version of the, even by then, classic tale about the Fall of Troy, Virgil’s Aeneid. Joyce entitles his masterpiece Ulysses!
While writing this, I had the strange premonition that Joyce and his most well-known disciple, Samuel Beckett, might be laughing in enjoyment over an Irish-American actor who should experience Bloomsday as a literary obligation.
However, knowing that I’m actually more Norwegian than Irish because of my paternal grandmother, Ada Stone, and my mother, Eleanor Paul or, as it was originally spelled, Paulson, I’m immediately reminded of the fact that James Joyce
adored the great Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen.
All Irish literary greats from Jonathan Swift to W. B. Yeats held what most of Ireland considered to be an obligatory pride in their Irish heritage. Joyce, on the other hand and while still an unrecognized young poet, found W. B. Yeats’ pride in his nation and his Irish heritage literally intolerable.
A young and utterly unknown writer, James Joyce, walks up to W. B. Yeats and requests Yeats’ opinion of his poems.
Yeats, by then a giant of not just Irish but all of English letters, invites Joyce to join him at a local pub. After reading Joyce’s poems and complimenting him on them, here is how Yeats himself describes Joyce’s side of the ensuing conversation: “Joyce…
‘…began to explain all his objections to everything I had ever done. Why had I concerned myself with politics, with folklore, with the historical setting of events, and so on? Above all why had I written about ideas, why had I condescended to make generalizations? These things were all the sign of the cooling of the iron, of the fading out of inspiration… his own little book owed nothing to anything but his own mind which was much nearer to God than folklore…”
Hmmm… “nearer to God than folklore.”
Ah, the prophetic self-estimations of genius!
Could Yeats possibly know at that moment how important a writer Joyce would eventually become?
Please read Yeats’ further explanation of where and how the writer is obliged to find his lifeline and to support a lifetime of creative inspiration. In light of Joyce’s contempt, it is really quite moving, this 37-year-old literary giant’s patience with the “upstart crowishness” of his inquisitor, James Joyce.
Yeats writes of this human crash and clash of genius:
“I felt exasperated and puzzled and walked up and down explaining the dependence of all good art on popular tradition. I said, ‘The artist, when he has lived a long time in his own mind with the example of other artists as deliberate as himself, gets into a world of ideas pure and simple. He becomes very highly individualized and at last by sheer pursuit of perfection becomes sterile. Folk imagination on the other hand creates endless images of which there are no ideas. Its stories ignore the moral law and every other law, they are successions of pictures like those seen by children in the fire. You find a type of these two kinds of invention, the invention of artists and the invention of the folk, in the civilization that comes from the town and in the forms of life that one finds in the country. In the towns, especially in big towns like London, you don’t find what old writers used to call the people; you find instead a few highly cultivated, highly perfected individual lives, and great multitudes who imitate and cheapen them. You find, too, great capacity for doing all kinds of things, but an impulse towards creation which grows gradually weaker and weaker. In the country, on the other hand, I mean in Ireland and in places where the towns have not been able to call the tune, you find people who are hardly individualized to any great extent. They live through the same round of duty and they think about life and death as their fathers have told them, but in speech, in the telling of tales, in all that has to do with the play of imagery, they have an endless abundance… The whole ugliness of the modern world has come from the towns and their way of thought, and to bring back beauty we must marry the spirit and nature again. When the idea which comes from individual life marries the image that is born from the people, one gets great art, the art of Homer, and of Shakespeare, and of Chartres Cathedral.’”
Joyce would have none of it.
I looked at my young man. I thought, “I have conquered him now,” but I was quite wrong. He merely said, “Generalizations aren’t made by poets; they are made by men of letters. They are no use.”
Presently he got up to go and, as he was going out, he said, “I am twenty. How old are you?” I told him, but I am afraid I said I was a year younger than I am. He said with a sigh, “I thought as much. I have met you too late. You are too old.”
The volcanic certainties of genius locked in a 20-year-old soul of a James Joyce destined for exile.
As a 72-year-old exile from America, I can sympathize with Joyce’s final judgment of Yeats.
Patriotism has always, eventually, left its owner blind in at least one if not both eyes of the human soul.
Though Yeats’ Second Coming is utterly and divinely prophetic about the entire world’s situation in the Middle East:
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
In the end, nothing in world literature is or can be as redemptive and healing as the shamelessly naked but endlessly infinite honesty contained within James Joyce’s Ulysses.
As I suggested before, the Catholic Church, certainly by the end of this millennium, will have canonized James Joyce.
He will have redefined the entire meaning of Catholic priesthood.
Either that or the Catholic Church herself will not exist anymore.