Celebrating James Joyce’s brilliant masterpiece—Ulysses

Maryam Tabibzadeh

For James Joyce enthusiasts around the world, June16th of each year marks a day filled with extraordinary celebration. Known only as "Bloomsday" to those in the literary world, June 16th has become a scholarly holiday of sorts where Joyce diehards and curious visitors can congregate to rejoice James Joyce’s brilliant masterpiece—Ulysses. June 16th of 2004 gave cause for even more momentous celebration as it marked the one-hundredth anniversary of life as we know it in the pages of Ulysses. A century ago, on the fictional morning of June 16th, 1904, Mr. Leopold Bloom embarked from home on Eccles Street and began his journey on a very ordinary day in Dublin. The title "Ulysses" fittingly appertains to Homer’s The Odyssey, but instead of the Mediterranean, the setting is turn of the century Dublin, Ireland. The painstakingly voluminous text describes a magnificent literary epic journey taken by the characters Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom through the streets of Dublin, and its result—the world's most highly acclaimed modern tour de force in existence.
Since the book was published, dozens of cities around the globe now hold their own Bloomsday celebrations. it is fкted in roughly sixty countries around the world, and most inventively in Dublin, Ireland itself. In commemoration of the centennial anniversary 2004, Ireland is holding a stupendous festival lasting April 1st to August 31st. Thousands of people from dilettantes of the academic world to the most accomplished Joyce scholars are expected to flood Dublin during the five month long extravaganza. While Bloomsday celebrations feature public readings, Joyce look-alike contests, and a fantastic excuse for clinking pints of Guinness, the most remarkable part of the annual festivities is the replication of Bloom’s route through Dublin—as participants bring to life pages upon pages of Joyce’s complicated text. Imagine tracing the steps of Homer across the Mediterranean—much less intricate, but you get the drift. The most run of the mill carousings, praised by Joyce’s words, are now brought to life and the city of Dublin becomes stage. The annual breakfast reviving Bloom's morning is generally the most popular Bloomsday happening and its hallmark event. Some other typical traditions include wining and dining at Davy Byrne's Pub on Duke Street at lunchtime, or an afternoon pint at the Ormond Hotel. Other celebrations include public readings, recreating spectacular scenes lifted from the text, street improvisations, singing Irish music hall melodies, and plodding all day pub-crawls.

The gist of what Joyce saw in June 16, 1904 was this: a very customary day in Dublin, Ireland where the two central characters, Dedalus and Bloom, go about their respective, ordinary affairs meeting up with a cast of unforgettable local Dubliners. Joyce describes them doing mundane things such as eating, drinking, fighting, and also the not so mundane—namely, the vulgar masturbating bits by Mr. Bloom himself. What is completely remarkable, however, is how we, as readers, are able to permeate each of the memories, thoughts, and emotions of the entire Ulysses cast by way of Joyce’s ingenious stream-of-consciousness writing. This is what has branded Ulysses into such a classic. Joyce presents almost the entire range of the human experience to us in one single day, making it the genuine realist masterpiece. The difficult text is also packed with so many literary allusions and word play that annual college courses exist solely for the purpose of understanding and unearthing its intricacies. Reading Ulysses can be a life-altering occurrence for many readers, and with all its word blends, genre parodies, Irish chronicles, Celtic lyricism, and countless narrators, Ulysses can truly form the cornerstone of the English major’s agony and ecstasy.

Equally fascinating is how many Joyce disciples exist even beyond the academic world. The James Joyce Quarterly was created in 1963 as a collective discussion of the work and life of Joyce. Each issue presents various types of essays on Joyce and his work, and all kinds of submissions are highly encouraged by the periodical. In fact, in its next issue the journal will even be publishing an article by a high school student. Subscriptions come from all over the globe (numbering about 1,500 readers), and prominent fans have included Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, John Lennon, Mel Brooks (who incidentally named the hero of his Broadway hit The Producers "Leo Bloom"), and Woody Allen, to name just a few. Thousands upon thousands of websites exist in honor of Joyce and in veneration of his work. Although Joyce is rightly heralded as the Modernist virtuoso, he probably would have never dreamt that his book and its tale would result into a universal literary holiday for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Indeed, what is most striking about Bloomsday is that cuts through class and educational barriers and draws people from practically every walk of life. Most of the attendees of Bloomsday have never made their way through Ulysses, they just want to be a part of the jubilation.

The champion of the literary world known as James Augustine Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in a wealthy suburb of Dublin called Rathgar. Joyce was born into a very religious Irish Catholic family tracing roots back to Irish nobility and it seemed certain that Joyce was to enter the priesthood as a young adult, a decision that would have undoubtedly pleased his devout parents. After making contacts with various Irish Literary Renaissance members, however, his interest in the church dwindled and his desire to write emerged. Indeed, Joyce became quite critical of Ireland and its conservative elements, particularly the Catholic Church, and this showed in his writings for the rest of his life. It took Joyce close to 7 years to write Ulysses. After many failed attempts on Joyce’s part, the gallant publisher, Sylvia Beach, finally published Ulysses in Paris in 1922. While Ulysses was acclaimed by some, the novel was totally banned from both the UK as well as the US on obscenity charges for about a decade. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an "emetic" book. Virginia Woolf also allegedly disparaged James Joyce's "cloacal obsession" and regarding Ulysses, she remarked: "Never did any book so bore me." It was not until 1934, that Random House finally won a court battle that granted permission to print and distribute Joyce’s Ulysses in the United States, and only two years later was the novel legalized in Britain. James Joyce died at the age of 58 of a stomach ulcer on January 13, 1941 in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1988, a distinguished board of writers at Random House selected Ulysses as "the best novel of the century."

Alas, it is both extraordinary and ironic to note that Ulysses is not only set in Dublin, but it will also never let us forget it. James Joyce wrote Ulysses while he was in self-imposed exile in Paris, Trieste, Rome and Zurich. How extraordinary is it that the expatriate Mr. Joyce describes Dublin and all of its diversions for his readers with such accuracy and geographical detail? Although he shunned the Irish literacy revival with his exodus, the estranged Joyce certainly acknowledges his Irishness for us through his work. The 732-paged novel forever immortalizes the city of Dublin for generation upon generation of readers and scholars. And for those who will positively never surrender to the torture of reading Ulysses’ impenetrable prose, there always exists the xciting alternative: trekking to enchanted Dublin for yourself to rejoice in Bloosmday festivities. You decide: