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University of Basel

12 June 2014

Bloomsday is Coming to Basel

Every year on June 16, fans of literature all around the world celebrate Bloomsday. On this day, they commemorate the Irish author James Joyce and relive the events of his most famous work, Ulysses. This year, the Department of English is bringing the tradition to Basel with an event featuring sketches, songs and food from the novel. Michelle Witen, Postdoctoral Assistant for English Literature, shares on Joyce, Bloomsday and her passion for Ulysses.

Michelle Witen, how did it come about that you are organizing Bloomsday at the University of Basel?

This is the second time I am hosting a Bloomsday at the Department of English: last year it started as a rather spontaneous idea that sprang out of a seminar I was teaching on Joyce’s Ulysses. Given its success last year and how excited students were to participate, I decided to do it again this year. I hope this will mark the beginning of an annual tradition. In order to make literary works and our research on them continually relevant and current despite them having taken place in, say, the early half of the twentieth century, it is necessary that we make them come to life through events such as this one.

Why are people all over the world celebrating Bloomsday?

In 1922, the Irish author, James Joyce, published his novel Ulysses, which takes place in Dublin on a single day in 1904 – June 16. The name derives from the main protagonist, Leopold Bloom. The book has 16 chapters. Each represents an hour of the day and is written in different styles and modes to match its content. In Dublin, Bloomsday is celebrated across the entire city with readings and sketches on street corners or pubs that appear in the novel. We would like to recreate this on much smaller scale at the English Seminar and bring some of this passion for Joyce and his work to Basel.

What does the program have to offer?

In general, you can expect there to be lots of food, theatre, music and hopefully a good time. We will start at 5pm with a BBQ, where people can bring their own items for the grill and a layout of a culinary odyssey to represent Dubliners, a collection of short stories by Joyce. At around 6:30pm we will put on a series of sketches from the chapter, “Wandering Rocks.” The sketches will be followed by live music, including arias that appear in Joyce’s works as well as the Irish folk band, Luas. Everyone is more than welcome to join.

Why is Joyce’s novel such a landmark in the literary world?

Ulysses is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Modernist literature and regularly appears in the top ten of reading lists. For Ulysses, Joyce took Homer’s Odyssey as scaffolding and then transposed it onto Dublin and onto everyday characters. He also wrote every chapter in a different style and was highly experimental in doing so. A big part of the novel’s original popularity might also have come from the fact that it was rigorously censored and banned: Joyce did not tiptoe around everyday topics and described them very graphically. I hope that Bloomsday will be an opportunity to make Joyce’s work more accessible, and allow others to see its humor as well as its virtuosity.

You wrote your dissertation on Joyce’s Ulysses – why?

It was during my final year at the University of Western Ontario in Canada that I took a course on Ulysses and it completely changed how I thought about literature: suddenly it had taken everything that I had read before and made it new and relevant. It was real eye-opener for me. My particular area of interest is Joyce and his use of musical structure. Having done a degree in both music and literature, I felt myself uniquely situated to write on both. So, I applied for a PhD at Oxford, got accepted, and completed it last year. Currently, I am in the final stages of turning my thesis into a monograph for publication.

“Bloomsday in Basel”: June 16, 2014, from 5pm onwards at the Department of English, Nadelberg 6, no admission.

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