Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday

By Steve Evans

Today marks the 113th anniversary of Leopold Bloom's wanderings throughout Dublin. I'll make my own observance of this sacred day with a pint or three of Smithwick's later this evening. I'm talking, of course, about the greatest novel by James Joyce. Published in 1922 and set during the course of a single day, June 16, 1904, Ulysses remains a masterpiece of innovative narrative structure, deploying inner monologues and stream-of-consciousness techniques to enrich the reading experience. Leopold, his wife Molly and friend Stephen Dedalus pop off the page as fully realized living, breathing, complex characters unlike any portrayed in fiction before or since. Widely banned when it first came out, the novel was not allowed in the United States until 1934 following a famous, precedent-setting obscenity trial. Ulysses is structured in 18 episodes, roughly corresponding to Homer's Odyssey, a source of inspiration for Joyce, who transposed the epic journey to the quiet turmoil and perfectly ordinary existence of characters set in his native Ireland. Molly, for instance, is a representation of Penelope from the Odyssey, however, where Penelope is eternally faithful to the protagonist, Molly is most certainly not. This only makes her the more interesting of the two.
I love this novel so much that I measure the merit of other individuals by whether they've read it, too, and then I ask: how many times? The book overflows with so many riddles, enigmas and allusions that it affords a lifetime of fascinating study to the literary obsessive. Joyce chose June 16 for the day of his novel's events because that was the date he went on his first outing with future wife Nora Barnacle. After strolling around Dublin all day, they wound up in a southern suburb of the city known as Ringsend, where she stroked him off, no doubt creating a memorable moment fixed forever in the author's mind. The closing lines of Ulysses deliver some of the most breathtaking prose the English language has given us, equal to if not surpassing Shakespeare's powers to plumb the depths of the human condition. In terms of innovation, audacity and the author's avowed determination to present reality through the fullest blossom of his artistic ability, Ulysses must rank on the short list of superb literary achievements. Below I've embedded the loose 1967 film adaptation of Ulysses, not because it is a great picture (it isn't) but because director Joseph Strick had the chutzpah even to try filming what I still consider an unfilmable novel. Strick proves my point, though the film is not without interest. It's a curio: as much a product of the 1960s as it is of the source material written 45 years earlier. Yes, and now I'm off to read Molly's soliloquy.
Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans.

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