Yes! Oh Yes!
In 1933, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that James Joyce’s Ulysses wasn’t obscene. He actually read it and didn’t “detect anywhere the leer of the sensualist.” Woolsey wrote, “I hold, therefore, that it is not pornographic.”
Here’s what’s really obscene: Ulysses was assigned to English majors everywhere. Regardless of Joyce’s artistic use of language (all 783 pages’ worth), the story of Leopold Bloom’s day in Dublin is hell to navigate. This reporter made it only to page 75.
That’s why Bloomsday is so redemptive. Every June, Bloomsday Books owner Tom Shawver and his customers partake in the worldwide ritual of celebrating Joyce’s book, taking 30-minute turns reading for 24 hours until the thing’s finished. Stout and whiskey flow.
And there’s great reward at the end. “The book celebrates the heroism found in the everyday life, exemplified by all the different types of people Bloom sees in that day,” Shawver explains. On the last page, he says, there is “a great affirmation of life when Molly Bloom is in her bed ruminating — she ruminates for about 85 pages — but it all comes back to ‘Yes I said yes I will Yes,'” he says. “The line relates to orgasm, but in another sense [conveys] that she’s an earth mother, the mother of us all, nature. Most of all it’s an affirmation that she really loves Bloom, this dumpy guy who has at last come home again, like Ulysses.”
This year is the store’s tenth annual celebration, and it’s the 100th anniversary of the novel’s setting, so Shawver is moving the party out into a tent on the Brookside Trolley Trail. Among other entertaining bits, he’s lined up folkie Eddie Delahunt (1 p.m.), Irish rockers the Kelihans (4 p.m.) and, for the 8 p.m. performance of Ulysses in Nighttown, a slate of distinguished Kansas City actors. Shawver warns, however, that the play contains adult material.
But not pornographic material. One might not know much about Ulysses, but certainly one knows enough to have a good time.