Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Blooms: A Family of Artists

The more I peck through the layers of Ulysses, the more I see it as a meditation on the artistic process. Unlike other writers, Joyce continually hurls his reader out of the flow of his narrative by endlessly switching styles from stream of consciousness to Elizabethan prose from play form to Catholic Catechism forcing the reader to re-examine his technique and re-enter his prose again and again. Each of his three main characters - Leopold, Stephen and Molly is an artist contemplating the artistic process. Stephen, a new teacher and recent college graduate, composes poetry on the beach, frustrated that the world has yet to recognize his genius. Molly, the sometime singer, performs occasionally, as little as once a year, preparing and yearning and dreaming in bed about her next moment onstage. Bloom continually switches his day job, dreams of writing sketches, short stories, and operas for Molly. Bloom's daughter Milly, a photographer's assistant, is a young artist starting out on her career.

On Tuesday, the legendary actor Jerry Stiller recorded the thoughts of Leopold Bloom from the Calypso episode of Ulysses. In this segment which takes place in the morning, Bloom reads a letter from his daughter Milly, eats his breakfast, and goes to the outhouse where he contemplates his chances of making money off of his writing. People often forget Bloom's artistic yearnings and see him as an everyman but Bloom is as unique a character as ever appeared in print, as eccentric perhaps as Joyce, himself. Jerry's decades of experience creating an artistic life brought a knowing poignancy to Bloom's hopes and the session flew by as he inhabited the mind of Bloom.

Jerry's daughter Amy Stiller, an actress I have loved since I saw her perform Off Broadway in Anne Meara's excellent play Down the Garden Paths read Milly's letter to her father. Last year, Amy read the words of Virginia Woolf criticizing Ulysses. Amy's mother, Anne Meara did a recording for Radio Bloomsday a few years ago when she read the words of Gertie, the woman Bloom fantasizes about on the beach. Anne is one of the few actresses who has performed the complete Molly Bloom. She also appeared as one of the prostitutes in that famous Zero Mostel production of Ulysses in Nighttown in 1958.

Like the Blooms, the Stiller's are an extraordinary artistic family. Jerry and Amy laid down a beautiful recording that you will really enjoy when you listen to it around 8pm on Bloomsday, Wednesday, June 16, 2010. Artists interpret Ulysses, a book about the artistic process in an attempt to uncover the truth about what it means to live an artistic life, to create art that influences generations.

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