Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pa is dead. Misery! Misery!

We often forget the main event of Bloom's day as we go through the many experiences that make up his world on June 16, 1904, his breakfast, his toilet, his errand running, his getting thrown out of a pub, his heavy lunch, his bath, his attendance at mass, his visit to the newspaper office and later to the seaside, his visit to the hospital to check on poor Mrs. Purefoy in yet another long labor, his carousing with Stephen Dedalus at the whore house, their drunken walk home, his lost key, his scrambling to get over the fence and sneak into his own house, his last act of kissing his wife goodnight on her bottom. There are also his many musings on food, life, wife, sex, her affair with Blazes Boylan, the time when he was courting Molly as a young man, his pen pal lover Martha, his own dead son, his own dead mother, his own dead father. What gets Bloom out of the house that morning, however, is the unexpected death and funeral of his friend, Patrick Dignam at 11am that morning. What keeps him from returning home, of course, is the knowledge that his wife is planning to consummate her affair with her lover.

The Calypso episode which Anne Enright and Wallace Shawn perform in its entirety begins with Molly asking about the funeral and ends with Bloom muttering aloud "Poor Dignam." He chats with his old girlfriend Josie Breen about the death explaining why he is wearing mourning clothes in Lestrygonians and we are there in the pub during the Cyclops episode when Alfie Bergan hears that his friend has died for the first time. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is Dignam's son little Patrick Aloysius doing an errand for his mother on the afternoon of the day his father is buried during The Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses. Little Patrick is relieved to escape the weeping of his mother and her friends, proud to be in special clothes and missing school for the day. His attention is drawn by a photograph in a store window advertising a boxing match. He wonders if he will be able to sneak out to see it, before he realizes the date of the match has passed. And then the brutal suddenness of his father's quick death takes hold of him. In all his innocence he says of his father, a famous alcoholic, in that segment:

"The last night pa was boosed he was standing on the landing there bawling out for his boots to go out to Tunney's for to boose more and he looked butty and short in his shirt. Never see him again. Death, that is. Pa is dead. My father is dead. He told me to be a good son to ma. I couldn't hear the other things he said but I saw his tongue and his teeth trying to say it better. Poor pa. That was Mr Dignam, my father. I hope he is in purgatory now because he went to confession to Father Conroy on Saturday night. "

The legendary radio host and writer Garrison Keillor recorded the tale of Patrick Dignam with such sad beauty and compassion for us last week. Patrick's grief reminds me of the the title character in another great Irish novel, Roddy Doyle's Booker Prize Winner Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha.
The entire Wandering Rocks episode in Ulysses is a snapshot of Dublin during that one late spring afternoon in 1904, broken down into eighteen segments each one focusing on a different character or characters in the novel. We will be featuring several segments from Wandering Rocks, Joyce's micronovel set in the middle of his macronovel. In this chapter, Bloom buys a dirty book for his wife, in an excerpt that will be read by comedian Marc Maron. Blazes Boylan flirts with a shop girl and buys Molly, whom he refers to as an invalid, a gift which will be performed by Radio Bloomsday veteran Alec Baldwin. The brilliant young novelist Nick McDonell (below) performs Stephen Dedalus browsing in a bookstore where he chances upon his young, hungry sister. She is trying to buy a french primer to better herself, despite the fact that their mother has just died, their father is an alcoholic and they never have any food in the house. Stephen wants to save her but cannot, the tremendous weight of his artistic ambition propels him forward:

"She is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite. All against us. She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death.


Agenbite of inwit. Inwit's agenbite.

Misery! Misery!"

Eighteen deeply human moments in dozens of people's lives, as moving today as they were when they were written. What we seek to highlight during our broadcast of Radio Bloomsday is the longing, the desperation, the pain, the beauty, the hope and the dreams behind the hundreds of Dubliner's who populate Joyce's mind, decades after he physically left that city forever and continued to write in Zurich, Pola and Paris. Please join us as we investigate the psyche of the human soul as seen through the mind of James Joyce on Thursday June 16, 2011 in WBAI 99.5FM in New York City, on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles and on anywhere in the world.

1 comment:

  1. 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha' was the first Irish novel I ever read, the rest is history.