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Tonight’s Rare Chance to Hear James Joyce, Day 131

October 6, 2010

Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry

Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry

James Joyce follows me. In my high school Honors English class, I fell head over heels for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his stream of consciousness style of writing. Shockingly, since then I’ve only enhanced my Joyce background with Dubliners and have diverted my attention from reading in general.  Sad, I know. This summer, my friend Josh Levitas piqued my interest once more (arousing international curiosity as well with an iPad application) when he and his colleagues Rob Berry, Mike Barsanti, and Chad Rutkowski created a stunning comic adaptation of Ulysses, designed to aid readers in their exploration of the infamously difficult novel. Although I have delayed my plans to read along with the comic, I hope to reinstate that goal soon after returning from Tri-Cities, WA in December. In the meantime, the creators of Ulysses Seen will visit New York City this Thursday evening at 7:30pm at the Irish Arts Center on the west side at 51st Street to discuss its process and evolution behind the scenes. If you can’t attend but would like to support their endeavors, visit their Kickstarter profile to donate to the completion of their project.

How now has James Joyce happily haunted my days? In my participation in the U.S. premiere this Wednesday night (tonight, in essence) at Carnegie Hall in the cantata by Mátyás Seiber, a Hungarian-born composer who brilliantly set his text to music. Taken from the section entitled “Ithaca” from Joyce’s Ulysses, these words create both unspeakable inspiration and challenge for a composer to undertake. Sieber has risen to the challenge, and this piece excites me as both a professional and a lover of choral and orchestral music. I have already waited too long to promote this performance, but if you have the time in your schedule and can make it to Carnegie on October 6 (tonight, for most reading this), go. A rare treat, you will miss out by staying at home for the premiere of this setting which I could never, without having heard it, ever have imagined. Either way, enjoy the text, as I have during every rehearsal with the American Symphony Orchestra and Collegiate Chorale.

From Ulysses, as set by Mátyás Seiber…
What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rear of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

With what meditations did he accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way: of Sirius, 10 lightyears (57 million billion miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules… ever-moving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, three-score and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained by cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Which various features of the constellations were in turn considered?

The attendant phenomena of eclipses, solar and lunar, from immersion to emersion, abatement of wind, transit of shadow, taciturnity of winged creatures, emergence of nocturnal or crepuscular animals, persistence of infernal light, obscurity of terrestrial waters, pallor of human beings.
His logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?
That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositions probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space, remobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.
One Comment leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 5:49 am

    Thank you so much for giving us a whole paragraph and for plugging our event and Kickstarter campaign. Both Rob and I wanted to be there (and we tried to make it work), but our schedules just wouldn’t allow for it.

    Glad you’re enjoying the text. All of Ithaca is written as a Catechism, and there are some hysterically funny pieces toward the end of the chapter when Bloom reflects upon his day. I should also mention that just after the passage you’ve put up here, Bloom and Stephen Dedalus urinate in Bloom’s back yard, under said heaventree of stars. ULYSSES is full of beautifully written toilet humor.

    Have a great performance, and if it’s recorded, I’d love to check it out!

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