Do these words make any sense? Will this sentence ever end? Where do I even begin?
We’ll show you! On the evening of Tuesday June 14th, Professor Sylvie Hill of University of Ottawa will be hosting a workshop for beginners (or those who’ve given up) on reading Ulysses during our upcoming event, Ulysses, Sorted at McGill University. The workshop will help clarify the novel as well as develop an appreciation for the author’s creativity, the challenges he gives us, and just how relatable the text actually is. We interviewed Professor Sylvie Hill to find out more about the upcoming event, her relationship with Joyce, and a little pointer on how to embark on your 700 page adventure with Leopold Bloom.
Festival Bloomsday Montréal: What can we expect from your workshop this year? Are there any kinesthetic / experiential parts to it? What topic are you most looking forward to giving?
Sylvie Hill: “Shut your eyes and see.” We surely will be doing some of that to absorb fully how challenging it is to put words to our sensory images that we perceive. And therefore, how talented and different James Joyce was as a literary artist to master this so memorably in text. Using kinesthetic exercises, I’ll show how Ulysses is almost written to be seen, and heard – like a play. In addition to fun experiential exercises, participants will grasp the map, as it were, of the Joycean-Homeric parallels through the 18-chapter journey of varying narrative styles.
I’m most looking forward to seeing how in the end, the class will be able to identify chapters by style, and know what is going on. I want the workshop to boost their confidence, frame the story, demystify the complex style and get them ready to better understand the literary journey of their lifetime!
FBM: What was your initial impression after opening Ulysses for the first time?
SH: Opening the book, mid-way, Ulysses appeared incomprehensible, unfriendly, intellectual, dense and unapproachable. But the first famous sentence was readable. And besides, Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was there waiting for me, and I was excited to meet up. He had left us in Ireland at the end of Portrait to go to Paris to “forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience” of his race. As with all of Joyce’s characters, the reader forms a bond with them as though they are an old familiar friend. So, I was invested in hearing about his journey, however difficult. I perceived that every chapter having its own style would be exhausting, but once one is aware of why that is, the approach to reading is altered and you can sail through smoothly.
FBM: Have you ever celebrated Bloomsday before? If so, where and what did you do?
SH: Absolutely! A very dear Austrian friend was the first to get me started in celebrating Bloom’s funny morning routines over food, and we continue every year now to wish each other a Happy Bloomsday before anyone else! In 2013, I celebrated Bloomsday in Ottawa at the St Brigid’s Cultural Centre where one of the participants from my Joyce course at the Centre for Continuing Education at uOttawa was taking part in the Global Bloomsday Reading. After that, I’ve been coming to Montreal where I first met Christopher Joyce, the great grand nephew of James Joyce in 2014. And in 2015, last year, we very much enjoyed Kevin Birmingham’s lecture as he spoke from his book, The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. For 2016, I was planning on attending the XXV International James Joyce Symposium in London,UK, followed by a jaunt to Joyce’s Paris. But Festival Bloomsday Montreal with its “Everyone’s Joyce” motto is very dear to my practice of teaching Joyce and I am absolutely delighted to be involved this year.
FBM: What are you looking forward to doing most during this year’s Festival Bloomsday Montreal?
SH: Overall, I am very excited about meeting James Joyce enthusiasts at all the events and hearing their personal attachments to Ulysses, and what the book means to them!
I’m very much looking forward to all the activities, especially Panel 2 on Monday, June 13: Gastronomic Ulysses from 11:30 – 12:45 pm. On my latest trip to Ireland in March, I had the opportunity to meet University of College Cork, Ireland PhD student and Professor Flicka Small, whose research is also into food in Ulysses. My area is masturbation, sexual frustration and artistic failure in Ulysses, so this culinary focus will be an appetizing change!
FBM: If you could provide us only one tip to go by while reading Ulysses for the first time, what would it be?
SH: Acknowledge the style of the chapter, and you will know exactly where you are. The style will appear as a particular format, and at the word level. There are clues in HOW the chapter appears to you visually. And clues in what the language is doing. Style is the key that unlocks the meaning.
FBM: Finally, and just for fun, if you could be any of the characters in Ulysses, who would you like to be?
SH: I would absolutely be Stephen Dedalus so I could inhabit the body and mind of this sharp-tongued intellect and feel deeply his desire to be touched, longing to be loved, spite toward his poverty and general detachment from those around him. He is closest to James Joyce, Stephen is – and I wish to consume this character.
We here at Festival Bloomsday Montréal hope to see you at our upcoming workshop! Don’t forget to bring a copy of Ulysses with you.
What: Ulysses, sorted: Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses
When: Tuesday June 14th from 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Where: McGill University (a 4 minute walk from Peel metro station on the green line)
Who: Professor Sylvie Hill will be leading this experiential workshop you don’t want to miss.
Register here to save your spot for the event. If you can’t make it, check out her upcoming workshops at the University of Ottawa below.