Skip to main content


This year’s online Bloomsday seminar via Facebook was a global conversation in the privacy of our own screens. Each of the eighteen short films, released online by Bloomsday in Melbourne at the hour set for each episode, were treated as the ‘papers’ to prompt online discussion. Episode 7 included contributions by Steve Carey, Sian Cartwright, Frances Devlin Glass, Ben Frayle, Tony Guyot, Susan Lever, Rebecca Morton, Margaret Newman, and Claire Pedersen, whose initials appear where their thoughts are represented in these analecta.

This is the first of Joyce’s workplaces, where he seems to be the only person doing any work. (FDG) We have to ask, what are the main preoccupations of the denizens of the newspaper office? They don’t seem especially hard-pressed, in fact it could be said the only thing that’s hard-pressed about those boyos is the seat of their pants.

Contributors to the newspaper are, rightly, accused of being inflated windbags, but the editors themselves can be judged in the same way. (RM) More like Mike Moore than Clark Kent. (BF) It could indeed be seen as an arrogant admonition. (MN) Shite and onions! Sounds like a fair description of newspaper. (CP) Newspaper offices are where ephemeral statements are brought down from the mountain sounding for all the world like the final authority.

Like the Martello Tower, this episode is preoccupied with one of Dublin’s favourite occupations. I mean, talking about language. This doesn’t just mean talking language, we all do that, but going over and over how what we say might, or might not, mean 2/6p. Adjourning to a watering hole is a plan that involves continuing to talk about language with the aid of the black stuff (Guinness). It is a fine line between Windbag and Cicero and very important to define, at length, at a moment’s notice. Increasingly in Ulysses, from here on in, Joyce chooses his moments to continue this great Irish practice.

The meaning is really in the conviviality and the endless wordplay of the characters. There is an element of macho competition, but it is the comedy of shifting positions that Joyce gets us to enjoy, and enjoyment is his primary motive.

They all have views and strong ones on what is impressive talk and what not in this episode. When Dedalus gets to speak, he speaks more simply even than in Dubliners his own parable. Joyce loves rings ringing the changes. (FDG)

The whole of Ulysses is one massive carillon of language. Joyce’s intuitions about which form to use with which passage are Shakespearean in their variety. Even years later we read these pages and wonder how this time it’s a Pindaric ode and OMG now he’s doing limericks.

To read Joyce’s letters while he wrote Finnegans Wake, is to see a great artist at work. All through the night he creates impossible intellectual connections just so they look like mayhem, then during the day he writes to doctors, publishers, family, friends, everyone letters that are impeccable examples of perfect English, the sort to put Oxford logicians in the shade. This is when we stop and see, this person is not some drunk, he is an artist nonpareil. He knows what he’s doing the whole time. His command of plain English, plain common sense, is clearly in evidence.

I was thinking how relevant the ‘finest display of oratory’ is to the current global crisis of refugee numbers, an outcome of blind o’er-leaping colonisations and empire building. (MN)

Shaw, at the time of publication of Ulysses, was in the process of releasing Major Barbara: words, ideas, rhetoric, BSvsBS were all in fashion. (TG) Shaw had a very different writing style and purpose. Shaw was not a fan of Joyce. (FDG) Shaw was not a huge fan of anyone who disagreed with him. (TG) Shaw wrote a very insulting letter refusing to subscribe to the first edition. Shaw had long memories in Dublin of generations of orators. Shaw had perhaps a fondness for the Edwardian orotundity. (FDG) Shaw though would have had some respect for Joyce. (TG) Shaw said something along the lines of, I remember the Dublin of those times very well and don’t care to go back there. Shaw, enough.

Let us construct a water-closet. Presented with the option of creating a temple or a water-closet, what would you choose? Your garden chooks know all about the cloacal. ‘And do ye blame ‘em? (MN) We know which Joyce chooses. (Steve) Certainly, some autocrats have it both ways and get their water-closets gold-plated. (Sian) This option is possibly an ironic use of the words at the Transfiguration, but it is pointedly a shot at the Romans.

Does Joyce reduce Judaism and Greek religion to their bare essentials, Gods live on mountains? Moses received the commandments atop one, and one of the composite Gods who became Jehovah was known as the Lord of the Mountain. Mount Olympus was where the Greek Gods were to be found. (BF) I would beg to differ about ‘bare essentials’. I think that what Joyce discovered in Trieste was living Judaism, a way of life that is about the body and the fruits (and flowers) of the earth. The person we meet in Bloom embodies that way of life, as expressed through the art of Joyce.

Did Joyce have much contact with the Jewish community in Trieste? (BF) His friendship with Italo Svevo is sometimes called the model for Bloom, though it’s undoubtedly a composite, including a self-portrait of Joyce himself. It is one of the big areas of conjecture. How much did Bloom know about Judaism in Dublin? Trieste was a multicultural city with its own distinctive Jewish community. Joyce was huge admirer of Svevo’s wife Livia also. She is honoured evermore in Finnegans Wake. She was Catholic and Svevo was an atheist, whatever that means.

Joyce is not anti-religion, but we have to consider what he means by ‘non serviam’. Does ‘non serviam’ in the context mean a refusal to abide by the more fundamentalist aspects of religion in favour of a more humanist model, that we see in Bloom? (Sian) Joyce seems to be forwarding Bloom as an example of a modern person in search of meaning. He has to be himself in that process. Joyce also mocks the enterprise good-naturedly, as when Bloom has visions of the New Bloomusalem. Through the ironies we are led to appreciate that Bloom is not the Messiah. As if.

‘Serviam’ and ‘Non serviam’ have special significance within Roman Catholicism. When Dedalus in the Portrait would fly by those nets, he is making a choice not to serve. To what extent, in this painfully dualistic view of existence in the universe, Joyce is a devil or an angel will always remain an open question. Isn’t he just writing an entertainment?


Popular posts from this blog

Why did Dante write The Divine Comedy?

This is one of two short papers given by Philip Harvey at the first Spiritual Reading Group session for 2014 on Tuesday the 18 th of February in the Carmelite Library in Middle Park. He also gave a paper on that occasion, which can be found on the Library blog, entitled ‘A Rationale for Purgatory’ . Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls in one of her books how her husband, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, would say that when reading poetry we can spend a great deal of time discussing what it means, but the first and main question about a poem is not what does it mean, but why was it written. That is the place to start. Here are eleven reasons that I offer quietly to help us think about this poem: Why did Dante write The Divine Comedy? You may have other reasons and these are invited. We will spend most of our time today looking at meanings, but also at why. I wrote these out as they occurred to me, so there is no priority order. 1.      He wrote the poem because of Florence. Many o

The Walk (Seamus Heaney)

This poem was read aloud at Janet Campbell’s funeral in Hamilton in Victoria in December 2006. Janet was a great lover of poetry all her life, a great reader of poetry, and she read everything of Seamus Heaney. Indeed, when she worked in Melbourne or London bookshops Janet would grab hold of Faber pre-publication copies of Heaney if they came into the backroom, and disappear for days, copying lines onto postcards for her friends, transferring lines into her lifetime of diaries. Diaries that were also a lifeline. Janet read everything, but Heaney was one of the regulars. Seamus Heaney keeps a tight line. He is rarely though completely opaque and the way into this poem is the word ‘longshot’. We only find in the second of the two poems that we are being asked to look at two photographs. Or, at least, poems that are like photographs. Or, better still, strong memories that have taken on in the mind the nature of longshots. The two poems in one are reminders of close relationships.

The Poetry of Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams delivers the twelfth John Rylands Poetry Reading last year   This is a paper given by Philip Harvey in the Hughes Room at St Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne on Sunday the 6 th of December as one in an Advent series on religious poets. The original title of the paper was ‘The text that maps our losses and longings’. Everything Rowan Williams says and writes reveals a person with a highly developed sensitivity to language, its force, directness, instantaneousness, its subtlety, indirectness, longevity. A person though may speak three languages fluently and read at least nine languages with ease, as he does, and still not engage with language in the way we are looking at here. Because Rowan is unquestionably someone with a poetic gift. By that I don’t just mean he writes poetry, I mean he engages with the life of words, their meanings, ambiguities, colours, their playfulness, invention, sounds. We find this in those writings of his that deliberate