Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Virtual Bloomsday, and claiming the dead

June 16 this year was Bloomsday--in point of fact, June 16 is Bloomsday every year--the day in which the action in James Joyce's Ulysses took place. It's a tradition of Joyce admirers to hold readings of the book on Bloomsday, and this year, according to an NPR report, a newly fangled version of the tradition was introduced--the entire text was tweeted.

My favorite part of the report was at the end. The reporter asked Stephen Cole, the organizer of the tweeting project, whether he thought Joyce would like the idea. As summarized online,

Cole admits that if he were alive today, Joyce might not like the idea that his book was being broken up into tweets.

"I think he really, really really liked what he put in Ulysses, on the page," Cole says. "And an adaptation of that, which is what we're doing — he probably couldn't see any reason to do. Because it was perfect on the page as he did it."

This honesty is refreshing. Usually when people talk about what the dead would have thought or wanted, by an astonishing coincidence it almost always coincides (as it were) with their own opinions or wants. Amazing! I admire Cole for admitting that he doesn't know (indeed he can't know), but that his guess is that Joyce would probably disapprove.

Some years ago, a young boy was killed early in an interethnic war overseas. I got an e-mail saying that he had been brought up in a family active in his country's peace movement, and that he wouldn't want people to avenge his blood. I got another e-mail saying that his blood cries out for vengeance, and that he himself would want vengeance. Regardless of my own position on this, both e-mails disgusted me, but especially the one calling for vengeance. Neither writer had any way of knowing what the little boy would have thought. If all that's left of the dead is their good name, these two e-mailers were engaging in the last available form of child abuse.

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