Tuesday is Bloomsday, celebrated all over the world, the 111th anniversary of June 16, 1904, the single day (and night) when James Joyce’s “Ulysses” takes place.
It is my favorite book -- life through the sad and knowing eyes of a wandering middle-aged Jew, Leopold Bloom, who carries a pack of troubles around Dublin. People still care; The New York Times' book review carried two thoughtful essays on "Ulysses" last Sunday.
I read the book every five years or so. Picked it up the other night and came upon a group of men arguing about “Hamlet” and whether it really matters if we know who Shakespeare was. I cannot remember ever reading it.
I learned to love this book – and “learned” is the vital word – in the spring of 1962, when I decided to take one graduate course, the novel, at Hofstra, just to keep my brain alive.
Our first child was born during that semester, and so were the Mets, but “Ulysses” is clearly the third leg of that memorable trinity of experience.
The professor, William D. Hull, spent three weeks on “Ulysses,” imitating the voices of Bloom and his wife Molly and young tormented Stephen Dedalus and all the Dubliners. To this day, I love the Irish accent whenever I hear it. I always thought Dr. Hull was Irish or English but I just looked him up – and he was born in South Carolina.
Dr. Hull escorted us to the pubs and coves and hospitals and shops of a bustling city, letting us in on the puns and archaic language – agenbite of inwit, Kentish Middle English for “backbite of remorse,” as Dr. Hull translated it. (My friend Bob Waters at Newsday claimed to have named his dog ch. Agenbite of Inwit.)
After three weeks roaming Dublin with Leopold Bloom and Dr. Hull, I had written in ink in the margins of many pages, something I have never done since. I never took another course, as a blessed family life and career took over, but those weeks with Dr. Hull have stayed with me.
I have celebrated Bloomsday only once, taking our son David to Symphony Space in 1982 to hear Colleen Dewhurst, that vital earth mother whom I once interviewed, read Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. They are celebrating it again on Tuesday, alas without Dewhurst.
When my wife and I finally got to Dublin in 1993, we wandered to some of the sites in “Ulysses” and I took out my grandmother’s birth certificate, good enough for my Irish citizenship. That seemed the least I could do, to honor Joyce and Bloom and Dr. Hull, who passed in 1984. I hope other people treasure a course the way I do this one.
Even in this techno-world, when things hop around, Bloomsday is best experienced from a book with thick bold print, including letters that would be on my family coat of arms, if I had one -- KMRIA. Happy Bloomsday.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)