MOVE OVER CHAIRMAN MAO and your little red book. Step aside Steve Jobs with all your visionary words. Here comes Leopold Bloom!
In June the collected wit, wisdom, and warmth of James Joyce’s everyman hero of Ulysses will be brought into the world for the first time. The Bloom collection is slated to arrive in time to honor that Dublin day in 1904 at the center of Ulysses, a day (16 June) known to Joyce junkies far and wide as Bloomsday.
The new project is the latest Joycean reinvention from the LiberateUlysses collaborative, which has celebrated Joyce’s masterwork in offbeat ways since 2011. The unprecedented undertaking was announced today on the eve of the anniversary of Joyce’s birth on 2 February 1882.
“One of the great pleasures of reading Ulysses is discovering Leopold Bloom’s all-encompassing take on life,” said Steve Cole, chief liberator of LiberateUlysses. “Bloom sees and muses on life’s joys and agonies and doldrums and depths – all the flotsam and fantasy of everyday experience. He also has a thing for curves, which is nice.”
According to Cole the project was inspired by no less an authority on Leopold Bloom than his erotic and unfaithful wife, Molly.
In the final chapter of Ulysses, Mrs. Bloom fondly recalls (along with a great many other things) her husband’s quirky quips: “Well he’s beyond everything. I declare somebody ought to put him in the budget. If I could only remember the one half of the things he says and write a book out of it: the works of Master Poldy, yes.”
Joyce scholar Sam Slote of Trinity College Dublin shares Molly’s appreciation. “Bloom’s curiosity, empathy, and his fumbling combine to create some truly wonderful observational vignettes,” said Slote, whose annotated Ulysses was published last year by Alma Classics. “He is an everyman because of, not in spite of, his many idiosyncrasies and his idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.”
Some Dubliners, however, found Bloom’s conversational torrent more infuriating than inspiring. One denizen of Ulysses, who declined to give his name on account of being shit-faced in Bernard Kiernan’s pub, fumed: “If you took up a straw from the bloody floor and you said to Bloom, ‘Look at, Bloom. Do you see that straw? That’s a straw.’ Declare to my aunt he’d talk about it for an hour so he would and talk steady.”
Oddly missing from today’s announcement of the Bloom compendium was any mention of the physical form the project will take.
Will it perhaps materialize as a fleeting cascade of tweets, reminiscent of the Bloomsday-long Twitter rendition of Ulysses that Cole and his collaborators composed in 2011?
Maybe Bloom’s bon mots will find themselves hand-printed on letterpress broadsides of the type Cole developed with Dublin designers Bloomsday for 2012.
“With so many forms of media at our fingertips these days, how can you settle on one?” the indecisive instigator lamented in an e-mail.
But the challenge of finding a format for the collected Bloomisms may pale in comparison to what could await Cole in the murky waters of copyright law.
The Estate of James Joyce, the much-feared guardian of Joyce’s literary legacy, has for years stymied the free use of Joyce’s writings by scholars as well as artists eager to adapt his works. Those restrictions eased considerably in January 2012 – and there was much rejoycing in some parts of the world – when copyright protection of Joyce’s published works expired in Europe.
But as an American, Cole lives in a legal twilight zone when it comes to dabbling with Ulysses.
According to the International James Joyce Foundation, Joyce’s copyrighted works published outside the United States before 1923 are in the public domain, which would include the first edition of Ulysses published in Paris in 1922. But an American edition was not printed until 1934 when U.S. courts decided the novel was not pornography and was safe for domestic consumption. That and later revisions are now the most common editions of Joyce’s classic.
The foundation’s website states: “the 1922 Paris first edition of Ulysses is arguably in the public domain in the U.S.”
“’Arguably’? Now there’s a dangerously gray word,” Cole commented. “Well, if the Joyce Estate sniffs something foul with this project, I’m sure I’ll hear from them in the next hour or two.”
H. L. Mencken
Cole, 58, who lives in Baltimore, is the latest in a storied string of Joyce advocates to hail from that American port city. In 1915, newspaperman and iconoclast H. L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore,” brought the first stories from Joyce’s Dubliners to American readers in the magazine Smart Set. In 1922, Baltimore-born Sylvia Beech published the first edition of Ulysses in book form.
“Dublin and Baltimore are clearly kindred cities, but when it comes to supporting James Joyce, the name Steve Cole does not deserve to share the same sentence with Mencken and Beech,” Cole commented.
“I just want to create a new way for the wide world to enjoy Bloom’s lifeview and appreciate the wonderfilled way he walked through his,” Cole concluded. “We could all do worse than to follow his lemon-scented example.”
– S. Cole, LiberateUlysses News, @LiberateUlysses on Twitter & Facebook, firstname.lastname@example.org