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100 years to learn how to read Ulysses
Late Frank Callanan SC

31 Jan 2022 / people Print

It's taken 100 years to learn how to read Ulysses

Devised by late historian and senior counsel Frank Callanan and directed by Ruán Magan, a new hour-long documentary to mark the centenary of Ulysses will be aired on Thursday (3 February).

The documentary is dedicated to Joycean scholar Frank Callanan, who died in December 2021.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was published by Sylvia Beach in a small bookshop in Paris on 2 February, 1922.

The book, which consumed seven years of Joyce’s life, during which time his family’s circumstances were very difficult, had a profound and unprecedented impact on the literature and culture of the century to follow. 

No 20th century novel has rivalled Ulysses in its reach.

It has taken 100 years for us to learn how to read Ulysses, poet Paul Muldoon believes.

Though Ulysses was banned initially in the US and Britain, where it shocked and stunned in equal measure, Joyce’s epic soon came to be celebrated as a masterpiece of modernism, and a revolution in literary expression.

Ulysses inspired Bob Dylan

It has inspired creators as diverse as Eileen Grey, Sergei Eisenstein, Man Ray and Bob Dylan.

In Ireland, Joyce was accused of treachery for having gone to war with the Irish Catholic Church, and repudiating his own people.

He was also accused of ignoring Ireland’s struggle for independence from Britain, which culminated in 1922 – only weeks before Ulysses was published – with the foundation of the Irish Free State.

Now however, Joyce and Ulysses are being considered anew.  Recent scholarship suggests that Joyce’s war against the Catholic Church and nationalism may have been motivated by the deepest commitment to his people and his culture.

Prophetic text

Ulysses may be a prophetic text that imagines a better future not only for Ireland, but for Europe and the world, says director Ruán Magan.

The late Frank Callanan played a key role in the documentary, which sets out to unlock one of most impregnable and explosive books of modern times.

Callanan said that Joyce had proved an accurate prophet in relation to a more open and European Ireland.

100 Years of Ulysses will be broadcast on RTE at 10.15pm on Thursday, (3 February).

It was written by Frank Callanan and Ruán Magan, and produced and directed by Ruán Magan. 

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