May 7, 2011


When the first earthquake hit Japan this year, I realized that it was surprisingly difficult to get up-to-date news. The New York Times was still making tsunami predictions for times that had already passed and I felt like I was missing out on a ton of information. So I reluctantly joined and it. was. great. Ever since, I've been boring my partner to death with long rambles about how Twitter gets you participating in a larger conversation, whereas Facebook asks you to shape your message to your specific imagined audience. And then Jack Layton said "hashtag fail" in the Canadian Leaders Debate, and I was done for. I love twitter AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHY:


This Bloomsday (July 16, 2011), the twitterverse - okay, a very small portion of it - will work in tandem to tweet Ulysses. 96 Brave Cast members are needed in order to tweet the 96 sections of the book. Each tweeter will work for 15 minutes, tweeting the entire assigned section in this time, then the next person will continue, thus completing the entire book in 24 hours.

For a book that is mostly known for its length, verbosity and difficulty, attempts to condense the text down to 140 character snippets is genius and I can't wait to see how it will turn out. My guess is that each Brave Cast member will have slightly different interpretations of the text and ways of conveying the message and plot. The whole thing will be expertly orchestrated and definitely worth following closely, or at least tuning in to.

I would obviously love to sign up for this, but I'll be in Dublin on Bloomsday and will be not only limited to my iPhone but perhaps out of wireless/3G range...and I think iPhone/Twitter Ulysses would cross over into the TOO abstract.

If you are interested in giving up 15 minutes to what is in my opinion the coolest technology-meets-lit project ever, sign up here before May 28th!

April 5, 2011

Recent Rumblings from the Joyce Estate

As you may remember from my blog post on Hugh Kenner, the Joyce estate has a history of getting its knickers in a knot over pretty much anything that brings up Joyce especially publications, public use of his works, and anything that might reveal new (or already known) information about his life. Kind of puts a damper on everything exciting about Joyce, but of course, their protests are often pretty interesting themselves.

Making news this week is another estate protest, this time of the use of a Joycean quotation ("To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life") in the production of a synthetic genome, which I blogged about a few months ago. Unfortunately, a lot of the articles out there on this story make the main scientist Craig Venter seem a bit witless. This one, Craig Venter's Genetic Typo, with the title as a bit of a slam already, has him feebly stating "We thought it fell under fair use". If only Carol Schloss would speak up now! Luckily, once you breed life, I think it's pretty much a done deal, and as I said before, his words are probably already decayed and mangled through genetic mutation.

However, in shocking news, Kate Bush has the green light from the estate itself to use Molly's soliloquy in her music! She had originally intended to use Molly's words in "The Sensual World" but unsurprisingly wasn't granted permission. Apparently, unlike Craig Venter and Alicia Jo Rabins (who also uses Molly's text in song), she actually asked. I guess it paid off though, because over 20 years later, she's remaking the song the way she intended and "Flower of the Mountain" will be featured in her new album Director's Cut. Stay tuned!

March 23, 2011

A Joycean "I Do"

As James Joyce would say, "spring has sprung in spickness" (Finnegans Wake) here in Vancouver and I am already dreaming of lounging on the beach reading books, despite the fact that's it's (unsurprisingly) going to start raining again tomorrow. Yet while I might be prepping for sangria on patios, the blog/fashion/magazine world is starting in on wedding season. 

This wedding-mania is fairly awkward for me on a number of levels, including the pervasiveness of heterosexual stereotypes, abundant consumerism, holding on to tradition to the point of incredible boredom from guests... And I'm not the only one who worries about the warm weather setting off an onslaught of wedding articles in my Google Reader feed: "Wait till spring has sprung in spickness and prigs beg in to pry they'll be plentyprime of housepets to pimp and pamper my. Impending marriage."

What was that, Joyce? Did you say "Impending marriage" or "Impending doom"? 

Of course, the secret is that I'm totally stoked about actual weddings. My oldest friend is getting married this summer and I can't wait. I think it's the best that when you have a wedding you can add all kinds of great personal touches on what results in a fantastic party with everyone and everything you like best! If Joyce was alive today, even he could marry Nora Barnacle at a wedding infused with his absolute favourite thing in the whole world - his own works of literature. The Los Angeles Wedding Officiant provides a fairly expansive list of readings to choose from and nestled in there right in between "Love is courteous/Love is kind" and Barrett Browning's "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" is a Ulysses reading! I have to say, I was pretty nervous that it was going to be Molly's soliloquy ("yes I said yes") or the Gerty McDowell and Bloom fireworks encounter ("and everyone cried O! O! in raptures") and I'm not sure if I'm relieved to say that the reading is actually from "Cyclops":
Love loves to love love.  Nurse loves the new chemist.  Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly.  Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle.  M.B. loves a fair gentleman.  Li Chi Han loves up kissy Cha Pu Chow.  Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant.  Old Mr. Verschoyle with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs. Verschoyle with the turnedin eye.  The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead.  His Majesty the King Loves Her Majesty the Queen.  Mrs. Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor.  You love a certain person.  And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody.
I mean, I guess. But I think there's some subtext in "Love loves to love love" that's being overlooked here and "The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead" doesn't exactly invite enthusiasm for tying the knot. I actually find myself wishing for a little "flower of the mountain" here! 

What do you guys think? Is there a hidden 'sexy Joyce' that isn't laced with religious cynicism, general romantic malaise, or fart jokes?

March 7, 2011

Don't Read Ulysses?

One of my good friends has started Ulysses four times and has always stopped at page 30, meaning to go on, but realizing a year or two down the road that she never quite got back to it. She told me just this weekend, that for her, reaching "Usurper." at the end of Episode 1 is such a satisfying experience that she feels like her reading experience is complete and she doesn't have to go on. Though she says she enjoys the first episode, I can't help but wonder if there's some voice inside of her whispering "Don't read Ulysses! One chapter is really enough."

The Hullabaloo has put this feeling into words for us, giving four reasons we shouldn't read this book:

  1. “Ulysses” is really, really long. The audiobook lasts 32 hours. The text clocks in at an absurd 260,000 words. Think of how many things you could say in 260,000 words and carefully consider whether you want to invest that much time into reading Joyce.
  2. Joyce made this book as complicated as possible, on purpose. He once said that he “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant” in order to make the novel “immortal.”  The stream-of-consciousness narrative is full of auditory puns, onomatopoeia and alliteration. The book begins in modern English (from 1914, when Joyce wrote it) and slowly degrades to Middle and Old English as the book progresses. Joyce wrote Episode 15 as a script interrupted with the main characters’ hallucinations. It ends with a 24,000-word stream-of-consciousness soliloquy featuring only eight sentences.
  3. After slogging through this difficult and long-winded prose, one would think the story would reward you with an interesting and clever insight into human experience with some climactic tale of love, death, and adventure. Nope! The story follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he wakes up, eats breakfast, walks to the butcher’s, talks to his friends, reads the mail, goes to church and buys soap. The most exciting thing Leopold Bloom does is attend a funeral. Later, he adventurously consumes a gorgonzola cheese sandwich.
  4. There is no definitive edition of this work. Some people think William Shakespeare, with his folio and quarto versions, presents a peculiar problem in discerning what is actually the text. There are 18 different editions of “Ulysses.” The first revision, published in Joyce’s lifetime, should be the most accurate, but it still has more than 2,000 significant errors — if you can find them in the sea of confusing prose. Even trying to pick out which version to read leads to mountains of scholarly articles about the editing process, differences between French and Anglo-American scholarly editing and whether some sections even belong to Joyce at all. Do yourself a favor, and don’t bother.

First of all, point two isn't true at all. The book doesn't begin in modern English then 'degrade' as the book continues. Episode 17 is full of Bloom's current scientific inquiry into the cosmos, Episode 18 is slangy and modern in its discussion of female sexuality, and throughout, we meet a cast of characters from Mulligan to the barmaids in "Sirens" who certainly wouldn't be considered antiquated. Perhaps this author is referencing Episode 14: contrary to the devolution suggested here, "Oxen of the Sun" gives us the birth and development of language, tracing its history from Old English through Middle English to almost undecipherable modern slang.

Aside from that, points 2-4 are exactly why I love Ulysses! Though it really is long, and as much as I want to congratulate my friend for making it through Episode 1, I know that sadly, she's barely made a dent.

January 7, 2011

Portrait Tattoo

It seems I'm sinking into a slough of post-holiday relatively meaningless posts about celebrities. Many apologies to those who enjoy lofty lit crit. But look - Johnny Depp has a Joycean tattoo!

This references A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when Stephen states in Chapter 5:

"Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me to do what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile, and cunning."

I have to say, I'm not actually a huge fan of this tattoo itself - especially the font, which is a bit too Pirates of the Carribbean-y for me (by the way, can you believe they're making another movie?!). However, Johnny Depp has said about his many tattoos, "It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself". This, and the "3" you can see on his hand in the second photo make me feel like there's something actually pretty authentic about this. It reminds me of the tattooed sailor from Ulysses, with an anchor, the profile of a man (Antonio), and the number 16 on his chest - each serving as a mark of his journeys.

January 6, 2011

Robert Pattinson...the Next Leopold Bloom?

A little too dashing for Mr. Bloom, I think, but he may indeed be our next! 

Movie adaptations of Ulysses are (thankfully) relatively rare. There's of course the original, 1967 Ulysses, which was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The 2008 film, The Brothers Bloom, is seemingly based on the novel, with characters named Stephen, Bloom and Penelope, but in reading the plot it becomes clear that that's about as far as it goes. Nora (2000) is about the lives of the Joyces (Stanislaus included!) but despite starring Ewan MacGregor, it's pretty dull.

But not to worry - another film loosely based on Ulysses is coming! Cronenberg is adopting the Don DeLillo novel Cosmopolis, which so far sounds promising enough. Basically, a young rich assets manager makes a Joycean odyssey across Manhattan and encounters some serious obstacles and distractions along the way. 

I think this could be an interesting film, except that it stars Robert Pattinson who I'm still not entirely sure can pull of a convincing adult role...and his journey is to get a haircut. 

I hope to god he makes it. 

November 18, 2010

Lunch with Joyce

And with that, readers of Ulysses back away, horrified. Food bloggers and eager diners rarely take up James Joyce in their writing, for abundantly obvious reasons:
Perched on high stools by the bar, hats shoved back, at the tables calling for more bread no charge, swilling, wolfing gobfuls of sloppy food, their eyes bulging, wiping wetted moustaches...A man with an infant's saucestained napkin tucked round him shovelled gurgling soup down his gullet. A man spitting back on his plate: halfmasticated gristle: gums: no teeth to chewchewchew it...Couldn't eat a morsel here. (Ulysses, )
And of course the famous 'all food is dead' section:
An obese grey rat toddled along the side of the crypt, moving the pebbles...One of those chaps would make short work of a fellow. Pick the bones clean no matter who it was. Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what's cheese? Corpse of milk...Saltwhite crumbling mush of corpse: smell, taste like raw white turnips. (Ulysses, )
Interestingly, he continues on to make a case against vegetarianism ("only weggebobbles and fruit") but I'm going to spare you the full, visceral details of his argument.

Yet post-Ulysses, some brave souls have sought to reclaim Joycean-inspired food and drink. Of course, it helps that Joyce said a few oft-quoted things about alcohol, making drinks easy to Joycify:
"What is better than to sit at the table at the end of the day and drink wine with friends, or substitutes for friends?"
"Ireland sober is Ireland stiff."
In Ulysses, he also used a modified version of Oliver Gogarty's 1904 poem, "The Song of the Cheerful (but Slightly Sarcastic) Jesus" (retitled "The Ballad of Joking Jesus"), which features some excellent wine jokes:
If anyone thinks that I amn't divine
He'll get no free drinks when I'm making the wine
But have to drink water and wish it were plain
That I make when the wine becomes water again
Many pubs have boldly named themselves after him, no doubt more in reference to his Irishness and famousness than the content of his food-related work:


james joyce pub.jpg


In this same vein, I recently came across a delicious looking James Joyce Cocktail with Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, cointreau and lime. Wonderful!

James Joyce Cocktail

Also, one can always just pick up a Guinness and claim I have done by baking this fabulous Chocolate Stout Cake, from Cooking With Sin. Notice how it looks like a dark stout and its head?

Yet overall, Joycean food has arguably fared less well. Notably, the closest relation of Joyce to food I have encountered is: in honour of the 'Bloom's cheese sandwich' section of Ulysses, a fellow student once threatened to gift my professor with casu marzu cheese (Sardinian sheep's cheese, infested with and processed through maggots). Between this and Ulysses itself, 'lunch with Joyce' still sounds like a horror. Yet while Joyce didn't always appear favourable to the whole process of eating, I really wouldn't say no to Bloom's eventual lunch, a gorgonzola sandwich, "good glass of burgundy" and a "nice salad, cool as a cucumber".

November 10, 2010

"accidental music providentially arranged" (Wake 222)

Adapting Joyce's work to music is hardly a stretch. As running theme throughout "The Dead", the musical style of the "Sirens" in Ulysses (which begins with a kind of overture, a sampling of the words from the rest of the episode), and of course, the very titles of Chamber Music (collected poems), "Araby" and Finnegans Wake, Joyce's books are already musical in themselves. Finnegans Wake goes further, with musical scores written into its text:

Ballad of Persse O'Reilly

Los Doggies envisions Finnegans Wake as a Rock Opera. Mátyás Seiber, Hungarian composer, wrote two (sadly, unrecorded) pieces taking Joyce as inspiration: "Ulysses" (based on the "Ithaca" episode) and "Three Fragments from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". The American premiere performance of Ulysses took place at Carnegie Hall this year, in October. Mason Jennings sings about Ulysses: "I went into twelve bookstores looking for Ulysses..." (Is he Hugh Kenner? I must say, I have never found obtaining a copy this difficult! Anyway, he continues, "Now I have it here sitting on the table." Phew!) It's actually a nice song and can be heard here. Basically, music is so often based on Joyce's works that websites devote themselves to the subject.

But there are two musical Joyce projects going on right now that show how his works are still being used as artistic inspiration:

The James Joyce Quarterly blog (yes it's true! don't you wish all the academic journals you ever poured over had started writing awesome blogs?) recently wrote about the band Minus 3, who just recorded an album based on Ulysses. The album is titled North Strand, referencing Stephen's walk on the strand in the "Proteus" episode, and includes a track titled "Adiaphane" (opaque), referencing one of Stephen's topics of musing on this walk: "Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see."

Another track, titled "Yes", is a more common Joyce reference - the first and last word of Molly's monologue (and therefore the last word of the novel):
"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes  my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." 
Throughout the song you can faintly hear a woman's singsong voice, but if you listen carefully, she the words are actually from "Finnegan's Wake".

Another Joyce music project is the band Boston Spaceships' latest album Our Cubehouse Still Rocks. Their title a line taken from Finnegans Wake:
What then agentlike brought about that tragoady thundersday this municipal sin business? Our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder of his arafatas but we hear also through successive ages that shebby choruysh of unkalified muzzlenimiissilehims that would blackguardise the whitestone ever hurtleturtled out of heaven. (p. 5)
Boston Spaceships is composed of two musicians from Guided by Voices and John Moen from The Decemberists (known for using awesome words in their songs), so I'm not surprised to see this group interacting with Joyce in this way.

"Freedom Rings", a track from their new album:

I'm happy to hear sung recordings of Chamber Music (that's a lie - I'm often bored and/or horrified), but what I most appreciate is when musicians take Joyce as an inspiration, find a small part of him or his works that speaks to what they are trying to do in their own art, and then give him back to us as something new. And it's groups like Minus 3 and Boston Spaceships that really get this. For my profound closing line, I'm actually going to quote a YouTube comment: "James Joyce would be wicked pumped". I have to agree, skogmonkey.

October 17, 2010

Joycean Illustrations Abound

Shockingly, Ulysses has been in the news quite a bit lately, and not even just the Nerd News that I've been following to bring you these posts! The very cool and much read Apple news (which as I recently learned is completely dominating all tech news) has recently been featuring a story about Ulysses Seen, an online graphic novel version of Ulysses, drawn by Robert Berry. iPad was in the process of developing a Ulysses Seen app, but this picture:

was deemed inappropriate and Apple attempted to censor Berry's graphic novel - an outrageous throwback to when Ulysses was first taken to court for obscenity almost a century ago. Luckily, Berry and Ulysses Seen prevailed, and the image remains in the app. All this caused quite a fuss, though I will admit, much more in the iPad than the Joycean community!

The less-known but equally exciting Joyce imaging being produced right now is Stephen Crowe's illustration of Finnegans Wake at Wake in Progress. He is putting together some amazing work, choosing to highlight certain passages of the book in a true Joycean manner, utilizing different styles for each image. The opening line of the book evokes medieval manuscripts:

This is actually a very interesting choice, illuminating the "r" of "riverrun" - especially choosing to use the capital letter. If you only know one thing about Finnegans Wake (okay, two things, since everyone knows it's long and nearly incomprehensible!) it's that the book begins mid-sentence with a lowercase letter and ends mid-sentence with no punctuation, serving as an invitation to begin the story again, and reinforcing the idea of the textual rivverrun - the flow of words in a continually moving stream despite the book's being set in print. In recreating the medieval illuminated manuscript, Crowe is directly stepping away from this feature of the text, but is interestingly evoking the "Oxen of the Sun" episode of Ulysses, where the history of the English language is recreated through the twinning of text and time: as the text flows from page to page, the language subtly shifts from the Old English ("deshil holles eamus") that begins the chapter, to Middle English ("rising with swire ywimpled"), through to modern slang ("who the sooty hell's the johnny in the black duds?"). Crowe then moves on to much more modern, industrial images, following the "Oxen of the Sun" language shift:

In another image, Crowe focuses on creative inking to intertwine text and image, as the words of Finnegans Wake morph into both poem and and visual art: the movement of text as seen in the English words, and the use of the non-Latin based characters to create the ground, smokestack and tree:

His blog has many more wonderful images, both for readers of the Wake and for any art enthusiast! A lot of these would look wonderful on a wall, I think, though he unfortunately doesn't have a store (yet). Not to worry - Postertext, which makes posters using the text of famous books (Pride and Prejudice, Metamorphosis, Peter Pan...) and featuring a silhouetted image, has just released a Ulysses poster:

Thanks, world, for making all of this wonderful art! But maybe put the brakes on a bit until I move into a house with more wall space. 

October 4, 2010

Hugh Kenner

Hugh Kenner, along with Carol Schloss, is arguably one of the most famous Joyce critics of the 20th century. Now Carol Schloss' story is unbelievably exciting. Throughout the writing process and publication of her book on Joyce's daughter (Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake), she was constantly intimidated and threatened by Stephen Joyce, James Joyce's grandson. This is not at all unusual - my professor once told me that you couldn't consider yourself a Joyce scholar without having faced the wrath of this man. He himself had received an angry fax, which we all tried to encourage him to frame and put up in his office. But when Stephen Joyce insisted that Carol Schloss delete significant material from her book (pretty much anything that James or Lucia had written to each other), she fought back, took him to court, and won. To me, this is tops in Joycean thrills.

In comparison, I always found Hugh Kenner useful and interesting in his criticism (he alone could have gotten me through every single modernism class with his work on Joyce, Eliot, Pound, and so many more) but I always imagined a disappointingly boring professor who with his middle-class privilege and tenure, was able to churn out these books and be instantly well-received. Some parts of my image are depressingly true - he is a strong social conservative, against abortion, gay rights and feminism. Shockingly, I discovered today that not only does he look like this:

...but he has a pretty good story under his belt! As it turns out, even in the 40's, Kenner had to go to great lengths to even get a copy of the book he became so famous for writing on. Jeet Heer, in an article written just after Kenner's death, writes:
More contemporary books were not only disdained, they were often forbidden by the government...One modern masterpiece that Kenner did have access to was Joyce's Finnegans Wake, tolerated because it was deemed incomprehensible. 
Excited by Wake, Kenner discovered that Joyce's Ulysses, otherwise verboten in Canada, could be found in the restricted access section of the University of Toronto library. However, in order to take a look at the illicit text, Kenner needed to secure two letters of reference: one from a religious authority and one from a medical doctor. Kenner knew a priest who could vouch for his morals, but, unfortunately, was not able to find an MD who could attest that reading Joyce would not corrupt him. Ultimately, Kenner had a family friend, a Jesuit priest, smuggle into Canada a copy of the greatest novel of the 20th century. 

Looking at my bookshelf, with numerous copies of Ulysses and other Joyce materials (see the banner at the top of the page!), it's shocking to think that I probably couldn't have read this book had I been studying 50 years earlier (I would be done for when it came to the priest's recommendation). Every once in a while, banned books cases crop up in Canada, but those where a book is banned from a library branch, a private school, or a certain store. I can barely imagine what it would be like to so badly want to read a book and truly not be able to get a copy.

So good for you, Kenner. Not only did you have to read Finnegans Wake FIRST, but you cared enough about Joyce to really put in the effort. And you have awesome hair.