By Paul M. Lewis
“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei.
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful Jesuit!”
These are the famous opening lines of James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the great seminal works of the literature of the 20th century. Begun in 1918 and completed in 1920, it was first published by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. All of the events of the seven hundred plus pages of the novel take place on a single day—June 16, 1904. This day is, therefore, the day that lovers of literature have long celebrated the great work, starting in Dublin in 1954 with the 50th anniversary of the events taking place in the novel. It’s reported that this small, initial celebration, wherein several individuals played a few of the main characters of the book (Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, Simon Dedalus—Stephen’s father—and Martin Cunningham), ended early in a drunken brawl in a pub. Subsequent celebrations of Bloomsday in many cities of the world have been longer, and have had happier, if not necessarily less drunken, endings.
The book was not officially printed in the United States until more than ten years after its initial publication in Paris, due to an obscenity trial during which the presiding judge famously referred to it as “the work of a disordered mind.” If that were so, then the world ought to have rejoiced at such astoundingly original, fecund and inventive disorder, and do all in its power to eschew and lament the tedious boredom and dreary ennui of the more orderly mind.
Let us lift a glass (alcoholic or not, as you choose) to James Joyce and to the astounding breakthrough in both form and subject matter that Ulysses represents. Long may this great novel be read, and long may it continue to wildly instill its elemental creative disorder in our otherwise overly ordered, humdrum and sometimes all-too-prosaic days!