Bloomsday at the Lannan with Heff

It was a fairly quiet affair this time around. A bomb scare on the plaza turned out to be nothing more than an excuse to move Jim Heffernan’s annual Bloomsday lecture from the New Mexico History Museum to the Lannan Foundation HQ on Read Street. And yes, it does appear to be a “regular annual” now: I was there to overhear when Patrick Lannan invited him back for 2015. The boss had good reason: Even with all the confusion downtown, Jim’s lecture was packed, and the man delivered with one of the most beautifully ironic Bloomsday presentations you could imagine.

Ironic? Well, for one thing it wasn’t really Bloomsday. This happens every now and then; whenever June 16 falls on a Monday, everything gets pushed to the preceding weekend. So in a sense, it was a good thing, as it allowed for an extended Joycean celebration.

But the real irony of Jim’s lecture was its content. June 15th, the day of the lecture, was Father’s Day, and Leopold Bloom, hero of Ulysses, is rightly considered one of western literature’s great father figures. So what does Jim do? Answer:

Gender Flip!

For all of his fatherliness, everything Bloom does on June 16th, 1904 is indicative of a man with deep maternal instincts. He serves coffee and cocoa to Stephen Dedalus, whom he nurtures and encourages much like a mother would. This turns out to be very much the kind of thing Stephen is in need of. Unlike his Homeric counterpart Telemachus, Stephen is haunted by mother issues – the father doesn’t really enter into Stephen’s thoughts except in the most perfunctory and academic way.

But Stephen Dedalus was not the focus of Jim’s lecture, and this is the big surprise – I had already made the above observations in my own reading. What Jim brought to the mix that I hadn’t considered (and certainly should have) was that Bloom’s wife Molly also has deep mother issues, perhaps even more biting and painful than Stephen’s. The only thing she knows of her own biological mother is her name: Lunita Laredo, and it is Jim’s assertion that Molly’s vicious isolation from every other woman in the book (merciless attitudes are expressed even towards her own daughter), comes from a deep unspeakable resentment stemming from maternal abandonment. Molly’s ability to commune with her fellow women was stunted at birth, and so it is this very communion that she yearns for most. She gets along with men just fine, so what is her only hope? – a “new womanly man,” as the Circe chapter would have it. Leopold cooks for Molly, cleans up after Molly, and generally encourages Molly to be and do whatever she likes. And Joyce, never one to be subtle about anything, has Bloom give birth to eight offspring in an hallucination in the Circe chapter, crying as he does so, “O, I so want to be a mother.”

There is much more to say on this, but we can let Jim himself do the talking once http://www.Lannan.org posts his Father’s Day lecture. Know for now that, as always, Jim was rich in detail supporting his argument, and truly masterful in his reading. This is the mark of a true Wakean, by the way – a readiness to accept gender ambiguity as a norm, not an aberration. Jim doesn’t read Finnegans Wake; sadly he excused himself from our reading group on Saturday when it was time to move on to the Wake. But the man’s instincts are primed. He really should try it on.

That said, I’ll close this post with a final statement: Support the Wake – have a look at my Kickstarter page, and don’t be shy:

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