Today is Bloomsday, an annual celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses that doubles as a sort of literary free-for-all, with some aesthetes boozing in costume as others attempt the herculean task of unpacking the tale of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ twisty trip through Dublin for rapt audiences. Stephen Colbert and a number of other celebrities are currently holding a virtual celebration of the novel, while, over on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, a rare 1982 recording of the entire book is being aired in its entirety for only the second time ever.
The recording, which encompasses 38 actors playing 187 parts across nearly 30 hours, is currently in its seventh hour as of this writing, but it will be archived in its entirety in an 18-part podcast that you’ll be able to access here. Performed by the Radio Éireann Players, the piece incorporates music, an immersive sound design, and, somehow, not a single dropped syllable. “I couldn’t imagine a project like that any more,” Kevin Reynolds, series producer with RTÉ Radio’s Drama on One, said in a new interview. “It’s the artistry of the production and the ambition of it. It is beautifully paced, brilliantly recorded.”
The release of the production follows the death of Joyce’s grandson, Stephen, who, as the executor of the Joyce Estate, refused any second airings of the production due to copyright restrictions. It comes, too, with 20 different “explainers” hosted by Joyce scholars; no matter how intelligent or well-read you are, they’re helpful—Ulysses is a beast, drifting as it does between literary styles, stream of consciousness, and deep historical allusions. (Those will be available here, the same place you’ll be able to find the podcast.)
It’s also about as satisfying a read as they come. Read our own case for tackling the literary behemoth here.
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