Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Blooming marvellous

At last, after all the right-wing wailing and the snivelling tributes to the late and not-quite-as-cuddly-as-he's-been-made-out-to-be Mr Reagan, comes something worth commemorating: the centenary of Bloomsday.

I've read 'Ulysses', only last year, and although it's a very demanding novel in terms of patience and perseverance, and I wouldn't pretend to understand it all - the continual references to Irish politics and history are even more bewildering than all the allusions to Greek mythology, which you can easily miss - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Brilliantly written, cleverly parodic, provocative, playful, encyclopoedic in scope, a romp (or an odyssey) through the history of discourse (both literary and non-literary). But, whereas many people fear it as some kind of unapproachably dense and impenetrably difficult cornerstone of the Western canon, few seem to realise that it's actually very funny - hilarious at points, even. Undergraduates I taught last year looked shellshocked when I raised the possibility that certain incidents wouldn't be out of place in a Farrelly brothers film, but it's true.

What I'm not so sure about is the nature of the commemoration. Far better to read the book for yourself, for instance, than to lap up the BBC website's sarcastic summary or to enjoy a special commemorative breakfast in Dublin featuring "food in keeping with Bloom's love of 'the inner organs of beasts and fowls' as described at the start of the book" - that's like the literary equivalent of the re-enactment of a historical battle. It's unfortunate but entirely inevitable that Joyce, like many other literary heavyweights granted saintly status after their deaths, has become a brand name that can be used to make a fat wad of cash.

It looks like it's going to be the same for dear old Ronnie, too. Earlier I noticed in the box at the top of my blog advertisements for Reagan "commemorative silver and gold medallions" (presumably designed so that Peter Stringfellow and Mr T can pay their respects) and "limited edition postal envelopes" (no, me neither). Nice to know that the advocate of a ruthlessly exploitative economic ethos is ripe for exploitation as soon as he's in the ground. Ronnie might be gone, but at least capitalism's in rude good health, eh?

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