Bloomsday, for the uninitiated, is the day upon which all of the action of James Joyce’s majestic modernist masterpiece Ulysses is set: June 16, 1912. I know this because I was once a big Joyce fan- -I even read Finegans Wake more than once, if “read” is the right word. (“Looked at the words” would be more accurate. “Looked at aggregation of letters that resembled words” would be more accurate still.)
A portrait of yours truly as a young man would reveal that I studied literature at the same time I was studying to be an architect. I had a penchant for finding similarities between the two disciplines, especially in early Modernism. Much of Le Corbusier’s early, good work, it appeared to me, embodied Joyce’s approach to words and vice versa. They both had a reverence for, and impulse to rebel from, Western European historical precedence.
The opening scene of the novel takes place in the Martello tower south of Dublin. I’d always thought that was the name of the tower– The Martello Tower, but it was actually a type, a Martello tower, the one in Dublin being but one of hundreds built along British-controlled coastlines worldwide in anticipation of Napoleonic invasions in the early 19th century. They were designed to hold a garrison of a dozen soldiers, and were round so as to afford up to 360 degrees of cannon fire, thwarting invasion from land and sea.
Looking at the above photo, it’s striking how anthropomorphic, balanced, and theatrical a dumb, militaristic structure can be.
Joyce lived in the Dublin one for a few days and it made enough of an impression that twenty years later he was compelled to begin one of the greatest novels atop the tower:
tately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and razor lay crossed…