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Dublin (AFP) – A hundred years ago, a wandering Irish writer emerged from the ashes of World War I with a reworking of Greek myth that still retains the power to shock, confuse and intrigue.
James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ was first published in February 1922 in Paris after British printers refused to treat the novel as ‘obscene’.
It remained banned there and in the United States for years.
The anniversary four months ago was duly observed by Joycians around the world.
But this week, fans will don period attire to celebrate their annual commemoration of the novel with more enthusiasm than usual.
“Ulysses” is set entirely in one day – June 16, 1904 – and follows the emphatically non-heroic Leopold Bloom around British-ruled Dublin, obliquely following the adventures of Homer’s protagonist Ulysses on his epic return from the Trojan War. .
For “Bloomsday” this Thursday, performers in early 20th-century costumes – straw boater hats and bonnets – will re-enact scenes from the book across the Irish capital.
The Sweny Pharmacy, where Bloom buys lemon soap for his wife Molly, will become a stage for re-enactments of the book’s ‘Lotus Eaters’ scene, while a funeral procession for another character, Paddy Dignam, will take place at the cemetery City Glasnevin.
“A bit of madness”
Centenary events took place across Dublin City this week.
On Tuesday, an audience crammed into the first-floor hall of a Napoleonic-era fort in Sandycove, where Joyce stayed, to watch a performance of an imaginary second encounter between the Irish author and his contemporary Frenchman Marcel Proust.
Now a museum and shrine for ‘Ulysses’ enthusiasts as the setting for the novel’s opening scene, the two titans of 20th-century literature debate Joyce’s legacy and sip wine – juice apple for the matinee performance – in the living quarters of the tower.
“It was just fantastic to come here and immerse yourself in the craic (fun) a bit,” Tom Fitzgerald, a museum volunteer who played Joyce in the show, told AFP.
“Some people take that very seriously. I always say that at Sandycove we do the eat, drink and sing part of Ulysses and if Joyce was there, he would be there. He wouldn’t be at a symposium.”
Irish embassies around the world will mark the day with events including a Zulu performance of Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy in Johannesburg and a Vietnamese rendition of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ short story collection in Hanoi.
Elsewhere, popular fan-run festivals in locations from Toronto to Melbourne and Shanghai also take place.
– Incisive questions –
A totemic work of modernist literature from the early 20th century, “Ulysses” is densely allusive and difficult to categorize.
It dismantles gender as Joyce responds in revolutionary style to Irish nationalism, religious dogma and sexual politics, among a host of other themes.
Bloom himself is Jewish, a foreigner to Catholic Ireland. The novel is sometimes crude, sometimes scatological, sometimes impossible to decipher.
But it’s often comically biting, and never less than thought-provoking, as Joyce responds to Homer with his own modernist take on the myth.
For Darina Gallagher, director of the James Joyce Center in Dublin, ‘Ulysses’, published the very year the Irish state was formed, raises questions that Ireland still faces.
“We haven’t really been able to talk about gender and politics and identity and nationalism. And we’re still only growing as a society to deal with the issues of the Catholic Church that we can’t believe Joyce writing,” she said. said.
“Ulysses” was written in self-imposed exile far from Dublin as Joyce spent World War I on his own odyssey through Europe, from Trieste to Zurich and Paris.
The Bloomsday tributes carry a certain irony: Ireland, then plagued by Catholic orthodoxy, refused to repatriate Joyce’s body when he died in 1941, aged just 58. He was buried in Zurich.
British playwright Tom Stoppard in his 1974 play “Travesties” imagines Joyce meeting Lenin and Dada founder Tristan Tzara in Zurich in 1917.
“What did you do in the Great War, Mr. Joyce?” a character asks the writer.
Joyce responds, “I wrote ‘Ulysses’. What did you do?”
© 2022 AFP