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Was Joyce a true Socialist?


The choice of Trades Hall as a venue for Bloomsday 2002 was an inspired one. Its history-soaked spaces led by a natural vicus of circulation to a consideration of Joyce’s socialist credentials, indeed whether he could lay claim to anything of the sort. The venue which saw the enactment of the Eight Hour Day, where Squizzy Taylor’s gang was alleged to have stolen union tickets and left bullet holes in the foyer, inspired a focus on Joyce’s attitude to work, to workers and to his own work. The case was articulated via a court case with multiple exhibits. Joyce would make a claim to retrospective payment, using as a rough scaffold the idea of a contemporary Enterprise Bargaining case under Australian conditions.

Bloomsday scripters examined his life and fiction for answers to these questions:

  • How would Joyce face the challenges of defending his work practices?

  • Of going to enterprise bargaining? Is he capable of negotiating and consulting?

  • What bargaining power does a writer have?

  • Is there any evidence at all that he kept up with technological change?

  • Who are Joyce’s employers – his patrons? publishers? posterity? the state that presently makes an icon of him?

  • Is he one of the comrades, with fellow feeling for working-class Dubliners, or does he have a fine born-to-rule contempt for the working classes? Do his nationalist peers think he has anything to offer them, or the state? Will unionised workers, and his own characters, let him get away with his attitudes to them? Does his work as a litterateur have tangible, and measurable benefits? Does he, as he claims, do what Shakespeare does, only better? More disinterestedly?

  • Or does he engage in self-serving literary obscurities which undermine his case?

Trade Union banners at 8 Hours Day Monument, and Bloom copy.jpg


Insides Trades Hall and on the streets at the Eight-Hour Monument

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Ghandarvo as Molly and Jim Howard as Bloom remembering their past on the Trades Hall steps, close to the Squzzy Taylor bullet-holes, part of the tumultuous history of the Trades Hall.
The case was outlined by two reporters, Max and Alicia, in the colonnades before the main doors of Trades Hall. Their role through the day was to keep the punters informed, and to fill out the history of the Trades Hall, in the tradition of locating Joyce’s traditions in relation to Australian conditions. The reporters were an oddly assorted pair: Max had apparently been displaced from the sports pages of a none-too-reputable daily, and Alicia (‘Lush’ to Max) from the fashion pages, and before that from talkback radio. Neither of them could be said to be literate, though Max’s sincerity was outdone only by his proliferation of sporting metaphors. Having almost missed their quarry at the front doors, the literary genius then fell into the hands of a Judge (Rohan Walker) untimely ripped away from his memoirs, and agreeing only reluctantly to take on the case for the fillip it would give to them. Joyce’s counsel (Ted Reilly) had significant difficulty in briefing his client about the claims he might make (retrospectivity, value-adding, modernising, keeping abreast of technology) and keeping him on track.
Opposing Counsel (Libby Stone) was triumphalist in her claims that Joyce had done perfectly well out of a range of patrons and did not warrant retrospectivity on the grounds of poverty, and produced evidence in the bowels of the underground carpark that Joyce was in fact middle-class not only by background but in sensibility. Evidence about real poverty came from the real (not fictionalised) mouths of Dublin veterans of the Liberties, who spoke eloquently about rats (‘I have them in my book too’ – ‘But they’re plump-bellied’), about hunger, overcrowding, dangerous banisters, tuberculosis and other ailments, and the smells of the slums.
Lunch in the bar at Trades Hall had Joyce checking out his progress in the case with some Australian workers from Jeff Hogg’s mural, and some characters from his own novel. Neither group was particularly complimentary, again accusing him of bourgeois tendencies, arrogance and, in the case of the Ulyssean characters, distortion or omission. The mural workers expressed some pride in their productivity and their labours, while the Turkish bath attendant wondered why he’d not got a guernsey in Ulysses, especially as he furnished the most peaceful moments of Bloom’s day. Mary Driscoll was outraged by her treatment. A surprising defence of Joyce came from Leopold Bloom, who felt that his labours were deeply understood by Joyce to be creative, even poetic. He talked with mounting pride about his successes in advertising holy pictures, his awareness of what sold and why.
When the court resumed after the lunchbreak, it was to debate Joyce’s attitude to his own work, and to argue the apparently outrageous case that Joyce did what Shakespeare did, only with more integrity. The case was made using Joyce’s own examples from Ch. 9 of Ulysses. It would have to be said that the case for his political probity (compared with the Bard’s) was convincing.
Max and Alicia drew attention to one of the most sacred relics in the Trades Hall, the Eight Hour Day banner, filling it its history, and Bloom again made a defence of Joyce’s attitude to journalists as workers and artists. Then, after a reading about a procession of workers, a massive banner, comprising miniature versions of workers’ banners of the late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth centuries advanced to take the comrades to pay their respects to the Eight Hour Monument across the street from Trades Hall.
On returning to the Victoria Street foyer, Joyce’s attitudes to the ‘work’ of nationalists came under review. Davin and Stephen debated nationalism, the Citizen (Eugene O’Rourke) ranted and fumed, and was despatched summarily by the men of violence.
In a more serious tenor, the annual seminar examined not only Joyce and the notion of real work (Philip Harvey), but also labour conditions in Dublin (Jim Cusack) and Melbourne in 1904 (Ross McMullin).
The final scene in the day-long trial involved the judge’s summing up and dismissal of the case, whereupon Joyce retaliated with a mime show, based on his Wakese version of Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, Feeble One and Fable Too. Three Seans delivered the soundtrack with percussion accompaniment, while the Ant (Petula Clark) tried to teach the indolent Gracehopper a lesson or two.
In the evening,, with the judge and lawyers retired, multiple Mollies, some cavorted during dinner at the John Curtin Hotel. The Mollies were selected for contrast, and included three who did some gender-bending (including one with pierced nipples), one with a broad Oz accent, young and older Mollies.
Later, back in the bar at Trades Hall, in Ulysses Cantabile, an interpretation of Joyce’s great novel through its music, sang away the cares of the court system. This event explored the ways in which Joyce used music to explore and extend his text. It featured some specially commissioned music by Rod Baker and Trish Shaw, some traditional Irish music by Fiddler’s Rant, a selection of funereal lieder by Othmar Schoeck (sung by the redoubtable Bill Johnston and accompanied by Greg Rochlin), and pop music and parlour songs of the day, sung by Maureen Andrew and the ensemble. The music was organised into four movements: Andante con brio, March funebre, Lamentando sposo, Rondo amoroso, and interspersed the key narratives of Ulysses. It was a high point.
Patrons were grateful for a less strenuous walking tour of Bloomsday, enjoyed the ambience and history of Trades Hall, and went away with a lot of Joyce to think about.

A Union banner is carried proudly to the Eight-Hour Monument where the principle of 8 hours work, 3 hours  leisure and 8 hours rest was mandated for Australian workers beginning  in 1856 in Victoria

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