By Ben Sicker, June 16, 2023
Independent of any scholarly interpretations of the quote above from the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses, it remains clear each June 16th that the world loves James Joyce. Bloomsday is here again, and with the full onset of summer finally in sight, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most fiercely intelligent, perpetually frustrating, and, in his own time, exceedingly controversial authors.
While many famous figures are celebrated on their birthday, Joyce’s celebration bucks this trend and, instead, falls on the day featured in the plot of Ulysses. Tributes to Joyce and readings from Ulysses as well as Dubliners, Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man, and the ever-impenetrable Finnegans Wake emanate from Dublin and spread around the world. Irish pubs are visited by Joyce lookalikes, sporting the author’s most famous accessories such as small round spectacles and, later in his life, an eye patch.
Such a pub scene is reminiscent of one of Joyce’s stranger recurring actions, picking bar fights in Paris in the company of dear drinking buddy Ernest Hemingway. As Joyce did not conform to the traditional body type of a fighting man, however, he’d often find himself in a bit of trouble and have to hide behind the larger Hemingway when things got out of hand. Seeing as Hemingway described Joyce as “a thin, wispy and unmuscled man with defective eyesight” in his New York Times obituary, it seems clear that he understood the need for this symbiotic drinking relationship.
Beyond the pub-time provocations of its author, Ulysses also faced a great deal of scrutiny upon publication. In the early 1920s, published chapters of the book were banned in the U.S. and the United Kingdom under obscenity laws, and editors from the Little Review, the first place a chapter appeared in print, were taken to court. Though Sylvia Beach in Paris eventually published the full text, the ban was not lifted in the U.S. until 1934, and physical copies were confiscated and destroyed by the U.S. postal service.
Fordham Press is pleased to honor the turbulent life and immortal work of James Joyce on this Bloomsday. Joyce Studies Annual, a journal dedicated to Joycean scholarship and edited by members of the Fordham English Department, has been published here since 2007. A new volume of the journal will be available this summer. In the meantime, feel free to browse our collection of books that celebrate, study, critique, and dissect the work of a man who once said of himself:
“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.”
Ben Sicker is the Business and Marketing Assistant at Fordham University Press.