The 1,664 pages of The Concise Encyclopedia of World History, by Rodney Castleden (The Parragon Press, London, 1996), offer thousands of dates from 38,000 BC, when Homo Sapiens appeared on earth, to 1993 AD, when highly evolved descendants The latter founded the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Between these two moments in the course of History there are dates of all categories, from the historical ones, let’s say the fall of Constantinople in 1453, to the microhistorical ones, let’s say the knife blow that in Hamburg and on April 30, 1993, struck Monica Seles an fan dissatisfied by the disappointing performance of the beautiful girl in a game of tennis.
Between the dates of the little story there is everything, from the day that Louis XVI tasted Provençal tomatoes, a popular recipe brought to Paris by the same troops that, already singing “La Marseillaise”, came to overthrow him, until the day in which Marilyn Monroe posed for a color photo wearing nothing but Chanel No. 5 (although regarding the question of whether that moment is a non-historical date… let everyone judge according to their own inner biography).
Thus, for example, if we limit ourselves to the year 1904, the Castleden booklet tells us that on January 1, the Baltic, the largest passenger ship ever built, was launched; that on February 3 the future composer Luigi Dallapiccola was born in Pisino; that on February 8 Japanese naval forces defeated Russian naval forces at Port Arthur; that the first level of the tunnel under the Hudson River was completed on March 8; that on May 1st the composer Antonin Dorvjak died in Prague; that on July 28 the grim tsarist minister Vyaskeslav Piehve was assassinated in Moscow…, etc.
But if chronological encyclopedias like Castleden’s are very well fed with dates from History, Politics, Culture, etc., etc., they also have their blind spots. For example: they are missing the date of June 16, 1904 AD, the day on which the young Dubliner Stephen Dedalus (private school arts teacher and aspiring writer) crossed paths more than once along of the day with the mature Jewish-Irish Leopold Bloom, (stationery sales broker) in the tours of both through the labyrinthine street of the city of Dublin.
And such tour of Dedalus and Bloom through the city multi-inhabited by living, dead and ghosts, culminated in a brothel orgy, in a fight with drunks, in the farewell and the return of each one of them to their respective homes, and finally, but as if never ending, in the insomniac monologue of the beautiful and mature Molly, Bloom’s Irish wife, in the matrimonial and adulterous bed. That fiery verbal river, that monologue of a yearning, dreaming cunt, flows over several terminal, semicolon-less pages of a book, and in it are Dedalus and Bloom and Boylan and, of course, Molly herself, and countless Dubliners and we’d say all Dublin. With that lewd, feverish and at the same time very precise, brutal and poetic discourse, he reaches the grand finale the novel or narrative poem in prose entitled Ulises (Ulysses), imagined by a self-exiled Dubliner in Trieste and Zurich: James Joyce.
The Ulises, which James Joyce wrote from 1914 to 1921, was published in 1922 and even before it appeared in book form it was famous among European cultural elites, as writers such as the Frenchman Valéry Larbaud and the Anglo-Americans Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, who knew him by the fragments previously published in magazines or by homemade readings given by its author, they announced it as the unusual masterpiece that came to shake and revolutionize the letters of the century. (And they weren’t wrong.)
So, that June 16, 1904, is it just a fabled date, since it will only have existed in the ghostly space/time of literature?
But June 16, 1904 was the date that Joyce walked for the first time with Nora Barclay, who would be his wife and the woman of his life; and every year since June 16, 1954, in the very concrete, very real city of Dublin, very concrete and really real citizens celebrate the date when the young Stephen Dedalus and the old Leopold Bloom lived a day and a night immortal, looking for each other, finding each other, getting lost and finding each other again as in a wishful, dazed cosmogony, governed by a wise literary geometry as by a destiny and revolving around the terminal fiery bed of Mrs. Molly Bloom. And the date (which was ritually repeated last Tuesday June 6, 2009) really exists and is in the calendars of Dubliners: it is the bloomsday, Bloom’s Day, and is celebrated in the streets, in taverns, in clubs and athenaeums of the Irish city. For the Dubliners as for the Irish, for the English and, by the way, for all the readers of the Ulises of Joyce, the bloomsday it is the confirmation of the existence of that trio of characters greater than the natural, although in principle they only have verbal meat. And if the visitor to the quintessential Joycean city pricks up his ears in the late Dublin night, he may hear Molly’s triumphant erotic anthem (in prose): that flaming verbal flow that ends as if aspiring to infinity through the yes with which it began:
“… and then I asked him with my eyes to ask to ask again yes 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 breast all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
(In translation of JM Valverde: “… and then I asked him with my eyes to ask him yes again and then he asked me if I wanted to say yes my flower of the mountain and first I put my arms around him and yes and I pulled him over me so that he could feel my breasts all aroma yes and his heart was racing like crazy and yes I said I want Yes.”)
(Previously published on Daily Millennium)
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James Joyce’s Bloomsday | Free lyrics
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