I went to Dublin yesterday. It was a choice between Friday and Saturday……and I chose Friday because I wanted to avoid “Bloomsday”…….June 16th when Dublin City is taken over by Joyce scholars, some in Edwardian costume who re-create the walk of Mr Leopold Bloom, in Ulysses.
The Ulysses Trail is marked out on Dublin pavements (the one in the photograph is outside a McDonalds in O’Connell Street). James Joyce detested the narrowness of Ireland….he chose to live in Europe and is buried in Switzerland. Yet he is the patron saint of an alternative Ireland….a non-Catholic Ireland, bohemian Ireland, artistic Ireland, a secular Ireland……an intellectual (or is it elitist?) Ireland. And certainly there is an element of pretentiousness about it all.
Ulysses is of course a dirty book. And not that many Irish people have read it. It was after all banned for years. But reading it……or merely buying the book is a totemic gesture for many Irish people. Owning a copy suggests a “liberalism” and you dont even have to open the book to have any credibility. Just leave it in your bookcase or better still…..leave it on your coffee table ….it will impress your friends.
So many more people have actually bought the book than read it. I myself HAVE read it. I thought it was a necessary step to prove myself to be the intellectual which I obviously am. The book……is in fact a book which can be read in a sectional way……well thats what I did anyway. Chapters are in isolation from what has gone before and after. It is after all a walk thru Dublin.
It is a dirty book. But what matters is not what Joyce said. Or the way he said it. Merely that he said it.
He is the Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the Irish Enlightenment but essentially Bloomsday..the recreated walk…is an event started in the mid-1950s….by poets, writers and academics which was arguably the high point of the old “official” Ireland ….austerity,artistic repression, greyness…and aswe know now …..hypocrisy.
Now that Ireland lets it all hang out as easily as California…..and the twin pillars of “official” Ireland (state and Catholic Church) are discredited……James Joyce seems less important.
Bloomsday is increasingly not just a re-enactment of Edwardian Dublin….it is a re-enactment of 1950s Dublin.
A two hour documentary/explanation on RTE earlier this week probably captured the mood with contributions from the likes of Edna O’Brien, eseentially a literary figure who also rebelled against that 1950s greyness.
But perhaps one comment from the documenatry summed it all up.
“An Irish Catholic does not have to read the Bible as they already know what its about. And Irish people dont have to read Ulysses as they already know whats in it”.