A real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot’s poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. No literature has ever been so shockingly personal as that of our time — it asks every question that is forbidden by polite society.

Lionel Trilling
On the Modern Element in Modern Literature
Partisan Review January/February 1961

An Ancient Gesture

February 3, 2018

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where,
for years,

Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture – a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

28th June

Only a slight hangover this morning. Celebration of Jimmy Joyce’s 1924 letter to Miss Weaver regarding Bloomsday went well yesterday.

Talk of the great book’s opening with its mockery of the mass – which in turn reflects the Last Supper and Christ’s words: ‘Do this in memory of me’; so that the mass is an act in which the mystery of Christ is not just commemorated, but made present, living over again. All in that Martello Tower. Daedalus, Mulligan, and the Englishman Haines – a pun on the French la haine, ‘hate’ as the man is anti-Semitic and English – perched in the omphalos over breakfast –

Conversation touched on many subjects, including Flann O’Brien. Then, out of the blue, mention was made of Finnegans Wake.

How many people had read that book? God alone knows how many copies sold, but how many read? Published 4th May 1939, the ‘Wake’ has puzzled multitudes. Joyce, as we all know, spent a third of his life on this one book –

Read at age fifteen. Peedeel must confess that he approached this book, this incredible allegory of the fall and resurrection of humankind, with trepidation. He decided to read a small part each morning – while sitting on the lavatory, in actual fact – and consider its enigmas throughout the course of the day. Like Ulysses the main action occurs in Dublin and its environs (where the product of Guinness’s Brewery is the magic elixir of life, thus the immortal drink of heroes and gods) –

The book’s impact was (is) profound. We come to recognise the story as our own. Just as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where we follow the journey of a soul through the dreamlike landscape to the Throne of the Lord of the Dead, so here the voyager is not specifically this man or that, but Man, that is to say ourselves –

And this morning, clear away the empties: bottle of brandy, two bottles of wine, a torn cardboard outer of beer and eight pizza boxes. Oh what piggies we were, we were!

Scene from a life

June 27, 2017

27th June

Mid your step in here, boys and girls. You’ll need a guide within my phantasmagorical world if you are not to become lost in the labyrinth.

You have been warned.

Bloomsday. The first mention of its celebration was in a letter from James Joyce to Miss Weaver of 27 June 1924: “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

It is of course the day on which Ulysses opens, and one I have celebrated since my sixteenth birthday in Paris. It is an excuse to get shit-faced in a delightfully old-fashioned kind of way. Did you know that Ted Hughes married Sylvia Plath on 16th June 1956 in honour of Bloomsday? The day was named for Leopold Bloom, a dapper character from the book. Robert Nicholson once said, ‘Bloomsday has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.’ And its celebration, in my book, is a chaotic and raucous affair –

This year me and mine celebrated the day with Irish whiskey and pints of Guinness, while reciting odd passages from Ulysses. Because of Joyce’s letter of 27th June acknowledging Bloomsday, we’ve decided to have a second celebration to commemorate that great event today.


thing hanging down…

May 21, 2016


So beautiful of course compared with what a man looks like with his two bags full and his other thing hanging down out of him or sticking up at you like a hatrack no wonder they hide it with a cabbageleaf

James Joyce

Andy Warhol - Querelle

Diary 25th April

Last night talk about beginnings. The opening passages of novels. Mention of Joyce’s “Ulysses”.

‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei

Joyce’s mockery of the Roman Catholic mass: the bowl a stand-in for the chalice of wine which, in the mass, becomes the blood of Christ; the stairhead becomes the alter steps. Buck, of course, serves as priest…According to Joyce the novel opens on Thursday, 16th June 1904 at 8.30 AM. The 16th of June is the feast day of St. John Francis Regis, a saint much venerated in southern France. Since it’s a feast day for a confessor the appropriate vestments for the mass are white and gold. However Joyce mentions a yellow gown, and priestly vestment would be cloth of gold, not dull yellow. In the middle ages heretics were made to wear yellow.

Mention of the razor – sign of the slaughterer, the priest as butcher. While ungirdled suggests violation of the priestly vow of chastity. “Introibo ad altare Dei” – from psalm 43:4 – ‘I will go up to God’s alter’ used as the opening prayer of the mass…This mocking invocation of God is a reminder of the opening of Homer’s “Odyssey” with its invocation of the muse…


From Joyce to Nabokov. ‘Lolita, light of my life…’

‘Lo-lee-ta’ the middle syllable alludes to the poem ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe the lover of young girls, a tragic, frustrated figure. Annabel Lee is variously invoked over the course of the novel; both she and Lolita die, the later figuratively as well as literally with regard to her fading nymphic qualities…Ah, those childbrides can never survive.

Lola, a diminutive of Dolores, is also the name of the young cabaret entertainer who enchants a middle-aged professor in the German film ‘The blue angel’…Dolores derived from the Latin, “dolor”: sorrow, pain, traditionally an allusion to the Virgin Mary, our mother of sorrows, and hence an invocation of the less than spiritual poem of Algernon Swinburne, “Dolores”.

And so it goes on, allusion and invocation, layer upon layer. The seemingly simple made complex…just like life.


I’ve said things to upset a lot of people over time. I’m okay with that. I used to worry about how I was perceived by others, but then one day I decided I didn’t really care that much. So now I just say things I feel like saying and to hell with the rest of the crap.

If nothing else it’s more honest.


My sense of wonder at the hyperreality of love is echoed by day-to-day commonplaces, the banal backdrop to our lives…We are like characters from Pushkin or Boris Pasternak. Yes, yes, I see you as my Lara. Obsessed, as I am, with images of you in your bath…

We are as alike as two drops of water.

Your nakedness echoing Eve’s innocence in Paradise Lost, when she recounts first catching sight of her own reflection in water:

Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought . . .
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the watery gleam appeared
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleased I soon returned.


And our deranged minds become “bien ranges” once more…


ah yes I know them well who was the first person in the universe before there was anybody that made it all who ah that they dont know neither do I so there you are they might as well try to stop the sun from rising tomorrow the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

James Joyce

Thought for the day

February 25, 2009

We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce, ULYSSES