Why Ulysses?

Shillito Park, Lexington, Kentucky – May 14, 2019

Isn’t reading and studying James Joyce’s Ulysses, a strange choice for a spiritual sabbatical? I have faced this question a few times over when explaining my project for the next couple of months. Usually the inquirer is sincere and speaks from an above-average familiarity with this acclaimed and monumental work of dense fiction.

Isn’t the book full of atheists, agnostics and skeptics? Doesn’t it dispute the benefits and values of a faithful religious endeavor? Wouldn’t you agree that it makes a mockery of theology and ridicules any affection toward a life of prayer and reverence?

And how will you handle the vulgarity and quite literally, seedy and sordid observations and conduct of its main champions? Hasn’t it influenced and perhaps furthered the excesses of masculine bantering and bullying found in the 20th Century and still persisting throughout our own day!?

Why Ulysses, indeed? It wasn’t sitting on my shelf, half-started and never finished. I had not studied it in college or in other academic settings.

It might be helpful to recount how my decision was first made according to a particular place and time, rather than to a specific framework for study. I knew I wanted to travel abroad, but not too far. I am not extraordinarily gifted in other languages, restricting my search to English-speaking cultures. I had already been to England and Scotland (a long time ago in 1987), making Ireland a logical and suitable option.

The next decision revolved around my schedule and the month of June. I took my search to Mr. Google, Master of the Info-Verse, asking, “What of any significance is happening in Ireland during the month of June?” The answer? “Bloomsday!” On and surrounding, June 16, the day set in 1904 when all the action within Ulysses takes place and is commemorated each year by many special events in Dublin.

The grand peak of Ulysses appeared, patiently waiting out there upon the distant horizon, now just 3 years away from the 100th Anniversary of its first printing in 1922. I knew I would not be disappointed by the wealth of information that has been collected, assembled, processed, debated, written, cut, sliced, spliced and split into a million pieces over the course of the nearly past 100 years.

Additionally, there is the bonanza of the whole of Western civilization seen, heard, remembered and retold by Joyce’s amazing, prolific and comprehensive accounting and imagination. He famously said of his magnum opus, seven intensively managed years in the making, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality” (Gifford, 1988).

The difficulty ahead would not be trying to find enough information, but narrowing and focusing my study for the path ahead while attempting to make some meaningful contribution to it worthy of this sabbatical.

Come along. And join me as I explore an answer that is like all great adventures, opening up moments of clarity and insight and, also creating new mysteries and questions that may keep us busy over the next 100 years too.

A Bibliography and Video Bonus

The Journey Begins Within

The journey of this Sabbatical officially begins. “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” offers the wisdom of Lao Tzu. Yet, before the outward adventure starts, there is still time for preparation. Before embracing the earth’s invitation to travel upon newly discovered pathways and welcoming the sights, smells, and sounds waiting upon the open road and beyond the ocean’s vast horizon, I wait with a purpose.

“Prepare the way of the LORD”, declares the Forerunner, offering baptisms and new life. He echoes the longings for all pilgrims, waiting in the mystery of the unknown for the yet-to-be experiences above the surface of what is to come. Like the nervous anticipation of a five-year-old on the first bus ride to school, there is hope, and joy, and fear. Will new friends or unforeseen challenges be ahead? Will freshly encountered spaces provide laughter or danger? What if the desired engagement with the deeper self involves too many insurmountable frustrations demanding a measure of faith not in abundant supply?

So, we pack, and assemble and make lists, and check schedules, and secure funds and make ready. There is also much reading, the basic building block to all readiness. I’m offering some of these resources, already begun in exploration and waiting further discovery. I’ll be checking back, and if you are interested you’ll find the roots to my resourcing here.

But if you have ten minutes, scroll to the end and explore with me 1904 Dublin, Ireland and the world where James Joyce crafted his genius. I know the city waiting before me will be vastly different. Yet, perhaps, so too, will I.

The Bibliography

Alighieri, Dante. (1986). The Divine Comedy [Translated by Allen Mandelbaum]. Knopf: New York.

Barry, John M. (2012). Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soil. Viking: New York.

Berry, Wendell. (1973). The Country of Marriage. HBJ: San Diego.

Blamires, Harry. (1996). The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses. [3rd Edition]. Routledge: New York.

Bunyan, John, (2016). The Pilgrim’s Progress: Parts One and Two [Adapted by James Baldwin] Jawbone Digital.

Ellmann, Richard. (1959). James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University.

Davis, Kenneth W. (2014).  How to Read (and Love) James Joyce’s Ulysses: The Least You Need to Know . Komei Books. Kindle Edition.

Frazier, Adrian. “The Making of Meaning: Yeats and ‘The Countess Cathleen,'” The Sewanee Review, Vol. 95, No. 3 (Summer, 1987), pp. 451-469.

Gifford, Don and Seidman, Robert J., (1988). Ulysses Annotated. University of California Press: Berkley.

Gilbert, Stuart. (1955). James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study. Vintage: New York.

Henke, Suzette, A. (1980, June). “Feminist Perspectives on James Joyce,” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. Vol. 6, No. 1, Literature, Language and Politics in Ireland. pp. 14-22.

Henke, Suzette and Elaine Unkeless, ed. (1982). Women in Joyce. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Henry, Douglas V, “Reading ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ as a Great Book: A Response to ‘The Promise and Tempation of Allegory’ by Jordan Rowan Fannin,” American Baptist Historical Society, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Fall – Winter, 2014), pp. 290-297.

Homer. (2009). The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer [Halcyon Classics] Halcyon Press Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

Joyce, James. (2009). Ulysses  [Complete Text with Integrated Study Guide from Shmoop]. Shmoop University, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Joyce, James. (2004). Ulysses [with Biographical Introduction]. Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

Joyce, James, (1992). Ulysses [Modern Library Edition]. Random House: New York.

Joyce, James, (1986). Ulysses [The Gabler Edition]. Vintage: New York.

LaPlante, Eve. (2015). American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans. HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

McCarthy Jack with Rose, Danis. (1992). Joyce’s Dublin: A Walking Guide to Ulysses. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

McCourt, Malachy, (2004). History of Ireland. Running Press: London.

Milton, John, (2017). Paradise Lost. Sirius: London.

Mullin, Katherine. (2003). James Joyce, Sexuality, and Social Purity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Nicholson, Robert. (2015). The Ulysses Guide: Tours Through Joyce’s Dublin. New Island Books: Dublin.

Ryan, Scott C., “Journeying in Hope: Paul’s Letter to Romans and John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘The Holy War’ in Conversation,” American Baptist Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Fall -Winter, 2014), pp. 298-318.

Somerville, Christopher. (2015). Traveler Ireland. National Geographic: Washington, D.C.

Ure, Peter, “The Evolution of Yeats’s ‘The Countess Cathleen,'” The Modern Language Review, Vol. 57, No. 1 (January, 1962), pp. 12-24.

James Joyce’s Dublin, 1904 with photographs from the William Lawrence Collection. IFI Film.