The 16th June is an important day for anyone interested in modern writing. It is Bloomsday. This is the day on which all of the events of James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece Ulysses take place (it is set on Thursday 16th June 1904). It is a day stretching from sunrise, and Buck Mulligan’s 'stately' appearance on the Tower, through to Molly’s ecstatic ‘yes’, a day packed with incident, non-incident and cooked kidneys.
The celebration of this literary date has become something of an event, with people heading over to Dublin to engage in tours, eat in specific cafes and drink at specific times.
This year I’m going to celebrate Bloomsday neither by getting drunk nor by engaging in any kind of literary tourism, but simply by beginning to reread Ulysses itself. It seems as good a day to set out on this reading quest as any other. And this time I’m determined to take my time. When I read the novel before, several years ago, I had to read it quickly, at breakneck speed, running through the text with my head down, not noticing the great structures around me. This time, I’m going to wander through the work at a more leisurely pace; I’m going to meander my way through the labyrinthine passages of prose, the thrown away papers, the modalities and textual tidal currents.
I’ve been looking forward to this reading project for some time. As my own writing has become more experimental I have felt an increasing need to return to this text that still seems so resolutely modern, so ahead of us – despite already being set in the past when Joyce wrote it.
And so on Monday 16th June I will emerge from my bed, draw back the curtains and take in the view, before shaving and then heading down for breakfast, if there’s any milk, and a cup of tea. I’ll turn the first page and await Mulligan’s entrance.
© James Holden 2014