This past week, Bloomsday was celebrated by James Joyce enthusiasts across the world. The celebration is held annually on June 16, the day on which Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. While fond of Joyce, and currently reading Ulysses, I will admit that the holiday completely escaped my notice. I had even planned to write a blog about Bloomsday, only to see the day move right past me. The reason, quite simply was the World Cup.

Still, I wanted to write something about Joyce, and this got me thinking. Is there perhaps some connection to be made between my obsession with football (more on that word later) and Ulysses? The answer (quite fittingly if you’re one of the dozens of people who have actually finished the book) is Yes!

People come to Ulysses for a number of reasons. There are, astoundingly, some professors who actually require it, but we’ll deal here exclusively with those who choose to take on this behemoth of their own accord. The first reason why many at least consider reading Joyce’s masterpiece is their desire to read a book which routinely finishes at the top of any ranking of the top books of the twentieth century. The second reason some choose to read it is that, well, you haven’t. There is–no one should even try to deny it–a certain (massive) amount of snob value to tackling Ulysses. For those of you not aware of the details, I offer this simple list:

  • Ulysses is written from multiple writing perspectives–with Joyce often changing technique completely from chapter to chapter.
  • Its final chapter (or “episode”) is made up of a 4,391 word SENTENCE.
  • It is a book considered so difficult that the author himself wrote two different study guides which instruct the reader what colors, bodily organs, art forms and symbols to consider while reading each chapter.

And then there are the prereqs. We all remember prereqs from college, I’m sure. Well, Ulysses has its own impressive list.

Before I even unwrapped my copy of Ulysses, I journeyed from a thorough rereading of Hamlet through Joyce’s two previous novels (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners) and finally, of course, to Homer’s Odyssey. The reading of these books ahead of time is not merely a suggestion. The outline of Ulysses, a book populated by characters from Portrait and Dubliners, one of whom very much resembles Hamlet, mirrors the Odyssey itself. I cannot fathom reading Ulysses without this background and, honestly, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The prereqs are where all of the AH HAH comes from and Ulysses is filled with such moments.

So how does one compare Ulysses to the World Cup? For me, it starts all the way back at the top of this post. People watch the World Cup for one of two reasons: because they are curious what everyone else is talking about or because of the dedication required to schedule the time to watch each and every match. The World Cup is similar to the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, Olympics and, fascinatingly, Wrestlemania in that one feels compelled to watch it whether one loves football or not.

And then there is that word, football. If you’re like me, an American that is, even insisting on the use of the word football carries with it a certain degree of arrogance. I watch football and find myself tweeting and discussing in the lingua franca of my fellow supporters (whatever language this is, for it is certainly not American English). I speak of pitches, kits and of being gutted. I’ve never watched a football game but I wake up at 4am KST to watch matches once or twice a week. For me, my ability to converse in football is as much a badge of honor as someone might feel when standing on a subway while reading Ulysses (which is terrifyingly almost a children’s book compared to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake–if ever you see someone reading Wake in public, call the authorities and walk away slowly).

So we have the recurring celebration. We have the reasons one attends casually or maniacally. What does that leave? Ah yes, the prereqs.

There are two main times that I smile while watching football. One is when I see something that I’ve never seen before. The other is when I see something which I have seen before at a specific, notable time. The latter of these represents the AH HAH of football–and these moments can come not only from other football memories, but also from any other notable experience. Passes can remind you of both symphony and geometry and sportsmanship, especially at the international level, can cause one to reflect on world politics. (The World Cup stadium which hosted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first ever World Cup match last week would not have held all of the people who died during the war which led to the formation of that country… Let that set in for a moment.)

These AH HAH moments are everything that I love about football, but they are also why no football movie will ever hit me the way Field of Dreams did. I don’t have the same long term relationship with football that I do with baseball. A United States match will never mean as much to me as watching the Yankees after 9/11 did. These pieces of nostalgia are so deeply rooted within us that even we know little about them until they come back around for seconds.

That’s why baseball will always be my native language. I am, however, delighted to consider myself bilingual with regards to sports, and enjoy speaking football a whole lot more than my native tongue these days.

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