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Bloomsday Novels 2010 (Spanish): ‘Dublinesque’, by Enrique Vila-Matas

 One of the novels written about by Philip Harvey for his paper (‘A Hundred Bloomsdays Flower : How Writers Have Remade Joyce’s Feast Day’) on Bloomsday in Melbourne, 16th of June 2023 and read at the annual seminar upstairs at the Imperial Hotel, corner Bourke and Spring Streets in Melbourne, on Sunday the 18th of June.


Like Martin Johnston, the Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas is concerned as much with the Bloomsday going on in his main character’s head, as in any objective account of the day’s actual activities. We reach page 214 of ‘Dublinesque’ before finding a description of a public reading of Ulysses happening in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, Dublin. The novel is being read in sequence by a succession of politicians, celebrities, authors, academics, punters, and chancers, in much the same fashion as readings were made at Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne, going back at least to the 1980s. The main character, Samuel Riba, is a jaded publisher of experimental fiction and at present he writes into his commonplace book a list of attendees in the enthusiastic crowd: “A man dressed as the ‘inner landscape of a skull’. A wonderful fat girl who thinks she’s Molly Bloom … A Portuguese man dressed up as David Hockney! ‘Full devotion to funerals!’ Nietzky says. He’s probably been drinking again … A man in a raincoat bearing a quite astonishing resemblance to Beckett as a young man.” (Vila-Matas 216) And so on for some time, in Joycean mode.   

Meanwhile, up on the stage, the reading of Joyce’s novel continues. Simon Dedalus, Martin Cunningham and John Power are already sitting in the hearse and chapter six is trotting along at the same pace as the horses towards Prospect Cemetery. …

‘It’s really a requiem for my profession and above all for me, as I’m all washed up,’ Riba says to Javier as he glances anxiously at Bev, as if wanting to point out to his friend that he’s saying all of this because she reminds him that he’s old now and mortal and after all he’s nearly sixty and seducing her will not be the easy task it might once have been for him.’ (Vila-Matas 218)

 Javier is one of Riba’s stable of authors, who replies to Riba’s morbid introspection about writing and publishing thus:

 ‘You don’t have to convince me of anything any more ... And even less when we’re on the sixth chapter already and I’m feeling imbued with your idea for the requiem. I’ve even thought about writing a story about someone who holds funerals all over the world, funerals in the form of works of art. What do you think? It’s someone trying to learn to say goodbye to everything .,. Saying goodbye to Joyce and the age of print is not enough for him and he starts to turn into a collector of funerals.’ (Vila-Matas 218)

 Riba has asked his published friends to Dublin on Bloomsday for this very purpose, to play out a requiem for the print book. They have flown in from different parts of the world, clearly prepared to humour the indulgent melancholy of their publisher and provider. It is the noughties, when myths developed about digital replacing print sometime very soon, with literature under threat from all sorts of technological breakthroughs. A requiem for the age of print seems appropriate to them, now the internet and all its works have taken over.

 However, not everything is Hispanic doom and gloom on Bloomsday. Meeting at Sandycove Martello Tower at quarter to 4 in the afternoon, Riba’s literary coterie agree to become the first members of the Order of the Knights of Finnegan, a madcap idea of Nietzky’s and possibly a way out of their fixation on funerals, or as Joyce once called them, funferalls.

 They’re alone on the gunrest, but Riba has the feeling that the wind is carrying broken words and that, what’s more, there’s a ghost hidden on the spiral staircase. Javier, who hates Ulysses, is pretending he’s Buck Mulligan and shaving his chin. Nietzky reads the rules he drew up yesterday: ‘The Order of Finnegans has as its sole purpose the veneration of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The members of this society are obliged to honour the work and to attend Bloomsday every year and, when possible, go to the Martello tower in Sandycove and to feel there that they are part of a now ancient race that began like the sea, without name or horizon, and which today is in danger of dying out …’

In quite a hurry and after the symbolic inauguration of the knights, it’s decided that every year one new member can be admitted, ‘only if and when three-quarters of the Knights of the Order agree to it.’ (Vila-Matas 225)

 Another stipulation is that each year they will then retire by foot to Finnegans in Dalkey for celebrations, though on this the very first occasion they skip this rule and catch the Dart back to Dublin. This curious male-oriented secret society harks back to the inward-looking Bloomsday at Gotham Book Mart in the mid-sixties, only now it’s an invitation-only club of male authors, huddling together (to read the story) against a world that does not understand them.

 Curiously, stray reports of the Order of Finnegans drift in on that nemesis of good writing, the internet, which is why we know that it limps along, outside the novel that announced its origins, though whether in fact Hispanic writers and publishers join at a rate of one per year, or that they all gather as directed each 16 June in Dublin, or even who has joined lately, is plainly their business and no one else’s. A consequent interview with Pedro Domene in Literal Magazine goes thus:

 PMD: Another of Dublinesca’s interesting elements, if you’ll allow the reference, is the metaphor of the voyage, and above all, the visit of the Knights of the Order of Finnegans. What must one do to join this Order?

EVM: It is a republican order; at the moment it has yet to admit women (we are unjustly labeled as sexist). There are six knights, and on each Bloomsday we name one more, admitted so long as he is accepted by a minimum of five of the six members. The candidate is nominated by someone within the Order, by email. We study the proposal and accept or disapprove the nomination. It is an indispensable requirement that the candidate adore Joyce. It is our intent to be the successors of the Order of Toledo, founded by Buñuel and Pepín Bello. The gentlemen of the order are almost all writers: they are Eduardo Lago, José Antonio Garriga Vela, Antonio Soler, and Jordi Soler. There is also a publisher, Malcom Otero Barral. This year, Andreu Jaume will be joining us. He is a publisher with Lumen, and he’s pro-British. Because the rest of us feel ourselves to be quite Irish, I imagine we’ll have a somewhat difficult time with this new Knight, but we’ll try to make an Irishman out of him. (Domene)



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