There are a lot of things going on right now that I am interested in - Obama's speech last night, the Lakers about to crush the Celtics in the NBA Finals, the World Cup, the sort-of failure of The A-Team at the box office. But I noticed an interesting convergence of Irish historical moments today. June 16 is Bloomsday, the day that Ulysses takes place: June 16, 1904. Which is the day that Joyce went on his first date with Nora, his wife.
Tim Rutten, in the LA Times, reminds us of a great line: "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." This is eerily appropos of the second moment in Irish history that is being dealt with - not merely observed - today. The British government released a report about Bloody Sunday, the day in 1972 when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians. That unleashed "the Troubles," the years which saw 3,000 people die in sectarian violence.
This is the nightmare from which we are trying to awake. In America, it is hard for us to comprehend differences between two branches of Christianity as being so violent as to cause thousands of deaths. We have, in a sense, awoken from that nightmare.
We have also awoken from a nightmare that afflicted Joyce, that of censorship. The link above in the title of his masterwork goes to Amazon, where you can buy many different copies of this book, and lots of other books about Joyce. That wasn't always the case: it was initially banned in this country.
Every culture needs something to be good at, something that its people take pride in, something that they are better at than other peoples, other countries. For the Irish, this is literature. Novels, plays, poetry - the Irish are genius at creating art with words. Joyce personified this: what he gave the world was a beautiful but difficult work, a spectacularly gorgeous and challenging ode to his hometown of Dublin. He challenged himself, he challenged his readers, he challenged other artists.
What the British government has done today is to rise to a challenge, one that it imposed on itself: the challenge to live up to its own ideals. The United Kingdom demanded of itself that it hold itself accountable for its own failures. That is an extraordinarily difficult task. It was also extraordinarily necessary.
I'm going to end this post by quoting Ulysses, because I've read it. I've been to Dublin, and even read the first chapter in the tower where it takes place. I'm only going to quote one word, but it's the most famous word in the book, the one everyone who finishes it remembers, because it's the last word: