Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Endless Conversation


As Joyce moves through the history of English language literature in Ulysses while at the same time pushing it forward in his tale of a day in Dublin in 1904, he engages and comments upon the writers who went before him and lodges himself firmly in the (sub)consciousness of the writers who came after him. As we put together the seven hour radio show, thematically weaving together Joyce and Yeats and Milton and Callaghan, what emerges is an extension of Joyce's literary conversation with no end in site. Joyce himself correctly stated that his novel "was sure to keep scholars busy for centuries." And in fact, the business of Joyce scholarship is a cottage industry with thousands of books written on his works as well as a Joyce expert in the majority of universities worldwide.

Rehearsing and recording various excerpts from Ulysses, pairing scripts with fearless actors who love to bite down on a difficult, elusive or challenging text, is a thrilling experience. On Friday at KCRW in Santa Monica, we recorded two extraordinary international actors, Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan both of whom were born in Ireland. John has recorded for us many times and the sexual energy he brings to the character of Bloom is both titillating and thrilling. The beautiful Roma Downey recorded for us for the first time this year and she was was hilarious and moving portraying three characters - the narrator of Lotus Eaters, Bloom's penpal lover Martha and a dirty slut from the lane. The chemistry between these two deeply Irish performers brought out the pulsating humanity of the text, nevermind its sexiness, and will be yet another highlight of our broadcast this year.

Every year, I emerge out of Radio Bloomsday with a deeper understanding of the text, as more layers are revealed and the puzzle pieces in the more difficult passages start clicking together. Joyce is continually referencing himself, beginning conversations at 10am and continuing them in Molly's monologue after midnight. Not finishing them of course, Joyce never finishes a conversation. I love Bloom's endless flights of fancy as he imagines other lands and cities and women. In Calypso, read by Wallace Shawn and Anne Enright, he conjures up the "Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa." In the Lotus Eaters excerpt read by Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan, he continues a fantasy of the Middle East: "The far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente, not doing a hand's turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes. Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air. Walk on roseleaves. Imagine trying to eat tripe and cowheel. Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah yes, in the dead sea floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open. Couldn't sink if you tried: so thick with salt."

Meanwhile, its hot as Hades in New York City, by 9am I am already shvitzing like a ferd (sweating like horse in Yiddish) as Bloom might have said but never did. After our late May monsoons, there is no more Irish rain here to set the scene and like Bloom I find myself lusting after the weather I cannot have. I am reminded of the beautiful Joyce poem "She weeps over Rahoon" which reminds me of sitting in my Granny's living room looking at the rainfall outside her window on Rahoon Road in Galway, the birthplace of Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife and inspiration for Molly.

Rain on Rahoon falls softly,
softly falling where my dark lover lies
Sad is his voice that calls me
sadly calling at grey moonrise.

The wonderful musician Marie-Louise Bowe from Laois will be reading that poem and others on Thursday, June 16th. Join us on Radio Bloomsday from 7pm to 2am on WBAI in NYC and KPFK in Los Angeles and on wbai.org from anywhere in the world.

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