Bloomsweek 1982

by C. George SANDULESCU, Monaco.

(This compte-rendu was published in Etudes Irlandaises, No 7 , Nouvelle Série, December 1982, pp.330 to 333.)

Epigraph:

                Men of all Countries, Unite to give praise to Ulysses !

                                                                                    Homer & Ezra Pound.

            Until this year we only had room in our vocabulary for Bloomsday, which had been synonymous with Joyceday for quite some time, perhaps ever since the setting up of the James Ulysses Joyce Foundation at Tulsa, Oklahoma, some time in the mid 1960's. But the Dublin Government of 1982 have successfully managed to expand our language to include Bloomsweek as well. For it has been a week of bloom !  Not just one single day, as Joyce had initially envisioned it in the bright light of the Three Classical Unities of Time, Place & Action. It has been a full week devoted entirely to blooming Joyce !

            It is fairly easy to summarize the Week -- from Sunday 13th to Saturday 19th June 1982 (with Bloomsday right in the centre of it) -- as it has been the week when James Joyce, for the very first time in European history, really came into his own in his own Ireland -- a land he was "remotely" familiar with.  Remotely in the sense of 'from afar', you know . . .   The supreme proof that he really came into his own was that the President of the Republic himself put up several public appearances -- at least five, to my knowledge -- in order to honour Novelist Joyce during that particular week.

            But to begin at the beginning, here is a commented chronology of major events. A chronology for those who were not there, accompanied by certain value judgments for the benefit of those who were. (Certain events & guests fell under the responsibility of the Irish authorities, whereas others were exclusively sponsored by the James Joyce Foundation.)

Sunday 13th.        The Italians avail themselves of the lucky number and manage to achieve a very early kick-off by giving a most warm and "picture"-esque reception at Dun Laoghaire Town Hall in honour of the Triestine of Dublin. (Even chronic absentee Roland McHugh does attend !) Italian Institute & Italian Embassy & Italian Academics are omnipresent; so is my good friend Luigi Schenoni, looming larger than life with his "own Italian" Finnegans Wake (published by Mondadori in record time to meet the Bloomsweek deadline) either under his arm or in his hand, but never parting with it  . . .  even after several pints of Guinness, mixed with Jameson !

Monday 14th.        David Norris, Head of the JJ Centenary Committee, conducts, allegro vivace, the formal opening of the Symposium in The Round Room of The Mansion House, introducing the President of the Republic: Dr Hillery wel-Comes Everybody to  these nation-wide Joyce celebrations.  But then,  just before Dick Ellmann of Oxford is to speak in his suave and entertaining manner about the Protean Peripatetic's various birthdays, a message is read out from grandson Stephen Joyce: most politely, he says he declines the presidential invitation to attend  . . .     Perhaps in  order  to  better  keep  up  his  "Cat & Devil"-cum-"Exiles"  image.     The silence-exile-and-cunning slogan is still going strong, has never been buried  . . . The hatchet runs in the family.   (The Irish Times publishes on 17th June an extensive interview with Stephen J., who deplores the commercialisation of his grandfather.)

Tuesday 15th.        Workshops and paper sessions -- the appanage & artillery of the Tulsa Foundation -- open continuous fire at 9.00 a.m. in five different rooms simultaneously and keep it up for five hours a day Every day of the Blooming Week ! Not even ubiquitous Joyce himself could have managed the Napoleonic feat of knowing exactly how the offensive was going on on all five fronts  . . .   The outcome of it all is that, either gradually or suddenly, the combatants "fall" into three categories: (a) those who are sticking to old and trusted Atlantic allies; (b) those who have the wings left to indulge in bland and peaceful politicising, seeing in Joyce a staunch revolutionary of the word and a benjamin of one theorist or another; and finally, (c) those who stubbornly prefer to nurture the illusion that there is nothing new  on  the  western  front,   and  desert  the  Trinity  in quest of yet  unexplored Guinness-cum-Jameson territories  . . .   or television studios. (There are then, of course, as a separate category, the free-lancers combating away with loner weapons, just like Joyce himself was wont to do once upon a time.) In order not to hurt any other feelings, I will merely say that Anthony Burgess seemed to be the ideologist of the "third" column.

Tuesday 15th again.        Sir William Empson (himself !) speaks inaudibly at Mansion House about  "The Story of Ulysses": the only thing I understand -- or rather hear -- is "This is the Story of  . . .   ", after which the speaker struts out of the Hall through the side aisle in a most dignified manner only to return a few minutes later through the main gangway to say "That was the Story of  . . .   " ! How reminiscent this is of the seven types of ambiguity in Browning's Sordello  . . .  The audience is magically charmed and gives him a standing ovation.

            Tuesday is also Bloomsday Eve. Some Joyceans, Carla Marengo for instance (newly elected on the Foundation Board), also celebrate their own birthdays  . . . 

Wednesday is Bloomsday.        (1)  Marjorie Fitzgibbon's bronze of Joyce is formally unveiled in St Stephen's Green by President Hillery of the Republic of  Ireland. Next to me in the crowd, Concordance expert Clive Hart most earnestly impersonates Father Conmee, S.J., nervously fingering his Prayer Book, all ready for the early afternoon O Rocks Parade throughout the streets of Dublin, but even so quite ready to administer the supreme unction to anybody who might shout in church.

(2)    Irish Radio sets a clear world record, well worth their Guinness Book, by broadcasting a round-the-clock full-length recording (unexpurgated !) of the century's by far most influential novel. Quoting from the press, "in a unique centenary tribute to James Joyce, Radio Telefis Eireann producer MicheŠl O hAodha prepared for broadcasting, from 6.30 a.m., on the morning of June 16th, a complete unedited and uninterrupted reading of Ulysses. It lasts just about twenty-four hours, following Leopold Bloom around the streets of Dublin on modern fiction's most memorable day, when the modern Ulysses sets forth in search of Telemachus". (Copies available on tape -- expensive, but quite worth the expense.)  

Thursday 17th.        The really outstanding events of the day take place in the Burke Theatre of Trinity in the early afternoon: as part of the highly successful panel "The Limits of Language", featuring Seamus Deane among others, Denis Donoghue manages with but little opposition to put across the point quite forcibly that Finnegans Wake might be an expression of what the American Burke had called "the  cult of the intrinsic". This irreversibly leads to the issue of consubstantiality (occurring already in Ulysses) in that, in Finnegans Wake, the signifiers are substantive rather than instrumental: it thus becomes "an event to be witnessed" rather than just another "book".  It is a pity, however, that the panel opposed Donoghue on the wrong grounds, instead of first accepting his working premise, and then perhaps defeating his hypothesis by merely inquiring "If so, how do we proceed from there ?"

        The other major event of the day is Hugh Kenner, who in his lecture "Signs on a White Field" handles Finnegans Wake for the first time in earnest and at considerable length, emphasizing the need to correlate theory and practice in a coherent way. (Joyceans would, I am sure, warmly welcome the opportunity of a closer study of the actual text of this important contribution.)

        In other words,the post-Bloomsday day seems to have launched itself quite spontaneously as Finnegansday ! Indeed, if Bloom has had  his day, why not institutionalize Finnegan's too ? And, as a foretaste of a hangover, why not have it the morning after ? For one cannot possible "discuss" dreams during the night itself . . .

        Joyce is an absolutely unique case in world literature: no genuinely influential writer in the history of letters ever had his confessedly major achievement so very little understood: no two scholars can minimally agree as to what Finnegans Wake is really about;  they can only and merely agree that it is. Hence, the validity, at least partial, of the Donoghue point.

Tuesday vs. Friday: Burgess & Borges. Anthony B and Jorge Luis B, the two Nobel Prize candidates present at the festivities, pay their respective tributes on these respective days in their respective manners to "il piccolo borghese" who gave the charming burgh of Dublin worldwide celebrity. Though AB's talk entitled "To Say Nothing of Another Membrane" will mainly be remembered for a clever comparison of Joyce with Glasnevin-buried Gerard Manley Hopkins, which cuts across the poetry vs. prose distinction.

        There are then the receptions and parties of course, falling under this comprehensive heading too: first and foremost, the sumptuous State Reception in Dublin Castle -- hundreds of guests and literally thousands of bottles --  Irish whiskey flows freely and most generously. Then, there is the elegant cocktail-party at the National Gallery where wit & beauty seem to be prevailing characteristics. And I must not forget the traditional Bloomsday Banquet, taking place this year at the Burlington Hotel;  everything is in its proper place, though I feel in the air a longing to be back in the dining hall of Trinity for another B Banquet to match or surpass the one in 1977...

        Lastly, a word about how things were run: Chairman Norris, of the JJ Centenary Committee, and Patrick J. Long, Director of the Joyce Symposium, have been excellent and omnipresent organizers.  To them and all their assistants -- all our thanks. Had it not been for excessive overlapping in the Programme of Events (countered by quasi-dead spells on Monday and Saturday), everything would have been absolutely  PERFECT

Saturday 19th.        There are but few Joyceans left in Dublin on this day, I decide to devote to documentary films on Joyce: some enthusiasts have gone on a trip to Galway, others are still saying their prayers in the Martello Tower at breakfast time, while still others are on their way to Cork, or perhaps inspecting St Kevin's Kitchen's appliances in Glendalough.

        We, the few left, sit and watch Irish Television's major international documentary "Is There One Who Understands Me ?", produced by SeŠn O Mordha; the film has won wide critical acclaim and is expected to remain the definitive coverage of Joyce's life and work for some time to come. As we watch it, we realize that it includes much hitherto unknown material, and the personal recollections of several of Joyce's friends and acquaintances from the 1920s and 1930s. There, all of a sudden, we see for instance Monsieur Beaugrand, now head porter at Le Fouquet's in Paris: as a bell boy in the 1920s at the same restaurant, he remembers Joyce quite well, with his ashplant and thick glasses; bell-boy Beaugrand reminisces freely in front of us about the solitary silhouette strolling elegantly down the Champs …lysťes  . . . (We are sure to see him again on the occasion of the celebrations at Le Fouquet's, which are now in preparation under the care of Pierre Joannon.)

        Then the Big Parade is over, and we all return home with Jimmy Joyce a wee bit closer to our hearts: paraphrasing Joyce's father's remark about the Brancusi Portrait when he saw it for the first time, we all tend to think -- "Jimmy has not changed a bit, it is perhaps Ireland which over the past fifty years has changed a lot !".

        At least enough to make the Triestineparisianzurichois her brightest star. Shining even on her latest postage stamp & gold coin, both dated Bloomsday.

Monaco, 11 September 1982.