Monday 16 June 2014. 08:00 to the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Start at Sandycove, Co. Dublin, or 7 Eccles St. Dublin 7 … or wherever you fancy in between.
Bloomsday the annual celebration of Thursday 16 June 1904 as it’s depicted in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is named after Leopold Bloom its central character. Ulysses follows Bloom and Stephen Dedalus as they journey around the city and suburbs of Dublin from 8am on Thursday through to the early hours of the next morning.
The Bloomsday tradition was initiated in 1954 by the writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien, who in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that famous day visited some of the of the many landmarks mentioned in the book; the Martello Tower in Sandycove, Sweny’s Pharmacy in Lincoln Place, Davy Byrne’s pub in Duke Street and 7 Eccles Street, to mention a few.
Their journey was punctuated with readings from Ulysses and of course, frequent interruptions for liquid refreshment. This celebration continues today in Dublin when Joycean enthusiasts, often dressed as Edwardians gather at many of the locations where episodes of Ulysses take place to read and re-enact events from the novel.
At this point you’re probably asking, what’s the connection between Bloomsday and psychoanalysis? You may already be familiar with the explanation that Joyce’s ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style is closely connected with Sigmund Freud’s theory of how the unconscious is revealed during the process of ‘free association’. So far, so good, but you might also say, so what?
What’s most remarkable about Bloomsday is that it’s a celebration. A celebrations allow us to experience something at an emotional level through a process of re-construction or re-enactment. And what about that description of Ulysses as ‘the greatest book you’ve never read’? Many readers don’t make it past the first few pages. Too much hard work…doesn’t make sense…what’s it all about anyway?
Joyce is referred to as a modernist, someone who challenges existing conventions by calling our attention to them. Ulysses throws out all of the conventions of realism that were firmly established in the nineteenth century novel. For example, when we read a book (or watch a movie) we expect to encounter a clearly defined narrator; a series of events conforming to a familiar plot; and sequential or chronological organisation, with a recognisable beginning, middle and end. We don’t register that these are techniques of literature which we take for granted and no longer question.
Perhaps most of all we expect to encounter ‘proper’ grammar and syntax, recognisable language and complete sentences. Reading Ulysses is an immersive experience, often unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable. It confounds and infuriates us, as much as it delights and intrigues.
Like Ulysses, psychoanalysis allows us to experience something new or unfamiliar about ourselves. It’s an opportunity to challenge the tired, worn out narrative of our life, the ‘same old story’, the place where we’re stuck. Psychoanalysis can also be hard work, sometimes infuriating, always rewarding, and like Ulysses it demands perseverance.
And… we also know that Joyce denied that his writing style had anything to do with Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious. But in much the same way as Freud himself claimed that he was incapable of appreciating music (which was clearly untrue), we know that a vigorous denial is often closer to the truth of what we really believe and feel – Something that we somehow cannot allow ourselves to express.