Bloomsday goes global with a round the world reading
‘Ulysses’ will for the first time be read around the world this Sunday
Bob Joyce, a grand-nephew of James Joyce, (left, with David Norris) has written a foreword to a new edition of Ulysses that uses the text of the first general Dublin edition of the work. Photograph: Frank Miller
One of the books on Leopold Bloom’s shelves, in Ulysses, is called In the Track of the Sun. Early on in Ulysses, Bloom reflects on what it would be like to accompany the sun in its progress through the day: “Somewhere in the east: early morning: set off at dawn. Travel round in front of the sun, steal a day’s march on him. Keep it up for ever never grow a day older technically.”
Given that Ulysses famously celebrates a single day, there is a special appropriateness in the fact that the book will – for the first time – be read in its entirety around the world in one day this Bloomsday (Sunday, June 16th). And while those taking part do indeed expect to grow a day older in the process (in some cases, such as the organisers, considerably more) this will not detract from the fun and the celebration that the event will engender.
The reading is vivid testimony to the book’s now almost global appeal: the Dublin James Joyce Centre, where the idea originated, had no difficulty in finding reading groups around the world who were eager to take part. The event is part of the Gathering festival and its formal title is the Global Bloomsday Gathering. Hearing Ulysses read in all these multiple voices and multiple accents, living exemplars of the book’s own multiple voices and styles, its huge variety and range of linguistic expression, should be an inspiring experience.
Some 15 countries and 26 cities will be involved, starting, “in the track of the sun”, in Auckland, New Zealand and extending geographically to San Francisco at the most westerly point.
The event will start at 9pm Irish time on Saturday, June 15th, which will be 8am on June 16th in Auckland (the time the book begins). It is expected to end about 3.30am Irish time on Monday, June 17th.
While the time taken to read will of course exceed the length of a single day in any one place it will still all be happening on Bloomsday in the different cities where the book is to be read.
The participating cities are Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Moscow, Pula (Croatia), Zurich, Trieste, Bangor (Wales), Dublin, Paris, Derry, Cork, London, New York, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, Sao Paulo and Santa Maria (Brazil).
The Dublin reading will come from the James Joyce Centre and the National Library where readers will include writers Joe O’Connor, John Boyne and Declan Hughes, Impac award-winner Kevin Barry, actor Frank Kelly and musician John Sheahan. Novelist Colum McCann will be involved in the New York event.
The day of readings, which is necessarily ephemeral, will be to some extent memorialised in a series of videos filmed by Brian Herron, which will be permanently available both on the James Joyce Centre website and the Global Bloomsday Gathering website.
This is not the first time that a global reading of Ulysses has been undertaken: the last occasion was in 1998, also organised from the Dublin James Joyce Centre, on whose board I sit. In 1998, however, only excerpts from the book were read and there were also difficulties caused by copyright issues. Happily, these are no longer an obstacle and thus for the first time the entire book will be read across the globe.
There is scarcely any need to argue the case for Dublin as the epicentre of this event: the very fact that the book is set there is more than enough justification. But there is a further Dublin connection on this occasion and a very special one: the text of Ulysses to be used in all the readings is that of the first general Dublin edition of the work, published by the O’Brien Press with a foreword by Joyce’s Dublin-based grandnephew Bob Joyce.
There is a particular appropriateness in the fact that the foreword to the book is written by Bob Joyce. His grandfather, Charles Joyce, was centrally involved in the efforts to have his brother James Joyce’s first major work, Dubliners, published in Dublin in 1912.
There was even a desperate effort to publish the book from a newly established publishing company controlled by James and Charles. (This story, which has never been fully told, is contained in letters from Charles now in Cornell University, New York State.)
In Ulysses, unsurprisingly, the sun itself (himself?) makes a speaking appearance. In a poetic moment, the sun, which is also a cake of soap, declares: “We’re a capital couple are Bloom and I./ He brightens the earth, I polish the sky.”
It is to be hoped that the global reading will do at least something to “brighten the earth” (much needed) this coming Bloomsday.
The global reading will be streamed live on globalbloomsday.com starting at 9pm on Saturday, June 15th. See also