Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Re)Joyce: Ultrarunning and James Joyce, Bloomsday Edition

Today is June 16 -  Bloomsday - a red letter date for fans of James Joyce and his expansive novel, Ulysses, because it is the day all the events in the book take place: where the lives of two souls - Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom (hence, Bloomsday) - are laid bare as they make their distracted, angst-ridden, and entertaining way around 1904 Dublin, Ireland.

It is an amazing work that is both inspiring and infuriating.  It is also one that I came to see bore a number of parallels with ultrarunning after my own full day at the Wasatch Front 100 in 2009.  I wrote a post about that that September called One Hundred Miles with James Joyce: My Foos Won't Moos.

So, in honor of Bloomsday, I'm reprinting that post below, which calls out Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Joyce's overall philosophy of life.

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September 30, 2009
One Hundred Miles with James Joyce: My Foos Won't Moos

A transcendent romp through the night that meshes the real and imaginary, capturing life's tragedy and triumphs in the sample of hours between dusk and dawn. 

A circuitous, all day journey from watering hole to watering hole, where the same clutch of people cross paths throughout the day until they all come together in a liquid and calorie-fueled finale.

Descriptions of the last 100 miler you did?

Most likely. But they're also the plot lines (as they are) of James JoycesFinnegans Wake and Ulysses, respectively.

Though I've been a runner and a devotee of Joyce for most of my adult life, it was only in the last month that I saw any parallels between his writings and my running. During my usual mind games a couple weeks ahead of Wasatch, a phrase from the washerwomen chapter of Finnegans Wake kept coming into my mind, a phrase that would presage my first mile heading out of Brighton on race day.

In the close of Book 1, two washerwomen are doing laundry in the river, sharing rumors of the novel's two main characters. As night falls, they begin to transform - one into a tree; another into a stone (you just have to go with it). As the one woman changes into a tree, she tells the other: "Myfoos won't moos." Written in Joyce's at-times-maddening "night language," the line translates to, among other things: "My feet won't move."

So I had a great time playing this line with my wife in the lead up to the race, thinking of the 26,000 feet of climbing to conquer and the ever-increasing temps called for on race day. And the night ofWasatch, I actually did my best-ever washerwoman impression heading out of Brighton at mile 75. If I wasn't the personification of someone slowly turning into a tree, I don't know what I was (see previous post). Just ask my pacer - and the four people who passed us.

But, even beyond such a direct connection, Joyce's general philosophy meshes wonderfully with that of ultra-running. He reveled in the extraordinary within the ordinary. Whether it was a lowly advertising canvasser (Leopold Bloom in Ulysses) or a hod carrying father of three (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker in Finnegans Wake), he saw within each person's life a complex web of history, philosophy, mythology, observation and desire forged in the trials and triumphs of every day. Who of us who has been lucky enough to race, run, or walk through a 100 miles hasn't felt such a broad transcendent experience in that enriched time between the gun and finish line?

Moreover, Joyce's characters are nothing if not peripatetic. In Ulysses, the main characters journey in and around Dublin in an exhausting and event-filled day that begins at dawn and finishes with a final collapse into bed in the wee hours. In Finnegans Wake - perhaps the most ultra-esque novel - the characters traverse time, space, and reality as dreams and hallucinations play out over the course of a single, wild night.

Yes, I know. Such simple parallels between Joyce and ultra-running are not the thing that dissertations are made of, but I've always treasured the connections in my life - the small things that cross-over from one passion to the other, magnifying both. So, it was a real gift to finally see a connection between my favorite sport and my favorite author, so much so it was almost OK that heading out of Brighton my foos wouldn't moos.


Gretchen said...

Did you hear about the "Bloomsday Burst" twitterfest? It was on NPR this morning. I'm not much of a tweeter, but the whole thing definitely made me smile.

Hank Dart said...

I did. Haven't followed it yet, but I plan to read it "with relish." Cheers.

Stacy said...

I'm sure I was reading you regularly by then, so how did I miss this?! I'd say Joyce pairs with ultrarunning quite well. Really nice observations. As usual, you've given me something interesting to consider.

Hank Dart said...

@Stacy, thanks. For a number of reasons, this post remains one of my personal favorites, so I thought I'd give it another chance on Bloomsday proper. Cheers.