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While many are on their summer holiday, many at the beach, few would choose to take alone James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Finnegan’s
Wake as light summer reading. You may not chose them to take along even on your e-reader. However, would you take along James Joyce himself?

Thanks to, Open Culture, one of the best sites on the internet, you can: James Joyce Reads From Ulysses and Finnegans Wake In His Only Two Recordings (1924/1929)

To quote from the Open Culture post by Josh Jones,**

As much as it is about every part of Dublin that ever passed by James Joyce’s once-young eyes, Ulysses is also a book about books, and about writing and speech—as mythic invocation, as seduction, chatter, and rhetoric, fulsome and empty. Words—two-faced, like open books—carry with them at least two senses, the meaning of their present utterance, and the verso shades of history.

This is at least partly the import of Joyce’s mythical method, as it is that of all expositors of ancient texts, from preachers and theologians to literary critics. It seems particularly significant, then, that the passage Joyce chose for the one and only recording of a reading from Ulysses comes from the “Aoelus” episode, which parodies Odysseus and his companions’ encounter with the god of wind.

Joyce sets the scene in the newspaper offices of the Freeman’s Journal, epitome of writing in the present tense, where reporters and editors give puffed-up speeches punctuated by reductive, pithy headlines. Amidst this business, erudite professor MacHugh and Stephen Dedalus wax literary and historical, making connections. MacHugh recites “the finest display of oratory” he ever heard—a defense of the revival of the Irish language that compares the Irish people to Moses and the ancient Hebrews spurning the seductions of an oppressive empire in the person of an Egyptian highpriest: Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles at our name.

Joyce recorded the passage in 1924 at the urging of Shakespeare and Company founder Sylvia Beach, who persuaded the HMV gramophone studio in Paris to make the record, under the provision that she would finance it and that the studio’s name would appear nowhere on the product. Ulysses, recall, was in many places under a ban for obscenity (not lifted in the U.S. until 1933 by Judge John Woolsey).

Five years later, Joyce read from Finnegans Wake. As Open Culture writes,

Joyce chose to read from the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” section of the experimental text—a passage “overflowing,” writes Mental Floss, with “allusions to the world’s rivers.” He reads in the voice of an old washerwoman, and begins with a most succinct statement of the temporal dimensions of language: “I told you every telling has a tailing.” Where Ulysses foregrounds literary history, Finnegans Wake dives deep into geologic time, and privileges the oral over the written.

These are the only two recordings Joyce ever made, and they surely mark what were for him central locations in both books, though he also chose them for their ease of reading aloud (and, perhaps, memorizing).


James Joyce’s Ulysses: Download the Free Audio Book

Hear All of Finnegans Wake Read Aloud: A 35 Hour Reading

* H/T Laura Dziamba

*Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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