Today, the day after my birthday, is a special celebration in Ireland; June 16th is Bloomsday, or the day when all the action in Ulysses is set, so-called after the main character Leopold Bloom. I have to fess up: I’ve never been a great fan of Joyce. Undoubted genius though he was (and I say this as one who appreciates that, not as one who’s been told it) I find the longer novels completely unreadable. I struggled through Ulysses, only because I had to, and foundered on the impenetrable rocks of Finnegan’s Wake. It’s a noble experiment to try to write a novel that stands outside time but in the end it’s unreadable. I do like the shorter works though and I especially appreciate his puns, my favourite of which is ‘funferal’, his word for a traditional wake.
But I like the fact that all Ireland celebrates Bloomsday. It’s not just some hook-up for the chattering classes but something which engages the whole community because Joyce was himself working class. More than that; there’s something in Celtic cultures which means that the arts run across classes and engage everyone, rather than being a mainly middle-class thing; I guess it’s a bit like the Rebus events in Edinburgh.
Here’s what’s on offer this year in Dublin.
Why can’t we do the same here in England? If you tell most ‘ordinary’ people about celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday they will groan; because the Shakespeare they’ve been subjected to is like this scene in Dead Poets Society. This makes me roar and gnash my teeth, because it SO doesn’t have to be like that. Shakespeare is – and always was – universal. He’s for everyone. He’s like a pantomime; he’s got the cross-dressing and the knob gags as well as the sublime love interest and the yearning; he’s got everything. And the idea that we should all dress up and pay a fortune and sit still and quiet and listen earnestly is Just Not Right. It should be more like a pantomime with shouting and wailing and ‘oh yes he is! – Oh no he isn’t’ and crying and laughing. It should be joyous. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, ‘Shakespeare taken serious by many; Shakespeare taken joyous by a few.’ The Celtic cultures do this so much better than we do because they don’t have any truck with pretension.
Ah well. I may log onto some of the Bloomsday events since they’re all online. In the meantime, I had a good birthday yesterday; no cake (I’m not a fan of cake and it would be a serious candle challenge) but some sitting in the garden, an excellent bike ride and pizza in the evening followed by strawberries and lemon sorbet. I love sorbet.
And that’s today. Happy Bloomsday. Happy Bloomsday to us, Happy Bloomsday to us, Happy Bloomsday dear Dublin…