Bloomsday Centenary


This year is the centenary of Bloomsday, which is undoubtedly the most important day in the literary history of Dublin. On 16th of June in 1904, a day later than was originally intended as she stood him up on the prearranged date of the day before, James Joyce had his first date with his future wife Nora Barnacle. This first date was of such significance to the young writer that he later marked it by basing his monumental masterpiece Ulysses on that auspicious date and immortalising it forever in fiction.

Ulysses is the great “unread” work of world literature and a huge percentage of the Irish population has probably not even glanced at the first sentence in the book. It has an unfair reputation of being unreadable and it is this preconception that is the greatest deterrent to potential readers.

There is no doubt that reading Joyce’s Ulysses is one of the ultimate challenges in fiction and it has taken me the better part of seven months to plough through it. It is undoubtedly the great experimental work of modern language and Joyce set out to challenge the reader in every way he could by varying the style and filling the book with many confusing literary and historical allusions. In some passages the reader can feel like they are struggling through deep sludgy mud. In others, they are propelled through the text rapidly even though they may not fully comprehend what they are reading.

The basic story of Ulysses is a day in the life of the main character Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew, and it is written in parallel to Odysseus journey in Homer’s Odyssey. Bloom’s journey is both physical in that which he does during the day and spiritual in his ultimate encounter with the second main character of the book Stephen Dedalus. Stephen acts as the spirit of the son that Bloom never had and the quest of his spiritual journey through the day.

Joyce had a photographic memory and was pedantic to the point of extremism.

He was fastidious that every word in the book had to be correct in meaning and accuracy. Even though he wrote Ulysses when he was living abroad he aimed to create a novel that would contain all of Dublin. A famous quote is that you could reconstruct Dublin just from Ulysses if the city was ever destroyed. He would badger people who lived in the city to check every single detail before he committed pen to paper for even the most simple of phrases. Every tiny punctuation mark was painstakingly researched to ensure it was correct by the author, just as scholars scrutinize the text today to try and elucidate its intended meaning.

It was Joyce’s fortieth birthday when he received the first edition of his book after much struggling to get it published. It was banned in many places and considered obscene. His book was vilified before it even saw a printing press, especially in his native city. Dublin has a history of denigrating its literary talent.

It was last March when I myself reached that great same age that I decided that I really needed to try again to read the greatest literary work about my home city. When I was much younger I had failed in an attempt before I even started. Within a chapter, I was captivated.

I was immediately struck by the strength of the imagery in the book and I knew that I was going to have to do something visually with this inspiration. This project was too big for one photographer and the work too complex. One of the themes of the book is the inadequacy of a single viewpoint or single interpretation, so this had to be a group project. So I started asking some photographer friends if they wanted to be involved and the momentum built.

Through his book, Joyce wanted to present Dubliners with “one good look through a nicely polished looking glass.” As looking in a mirror distorts the image that others see of you, the photographic lens is the ideal medium to provide a contemporary look at Dublin in similar way to what Joyce achieved.

The imminent centenary celebrations seemed the ideal opportunity to celebrate Joyce in a way that was different to everything else that will be going on for the centenary. The ideal time to take a contemporary snapshot of Dublin, while also using Ulysses as an inspiration for the work.

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