Amanda Greenwood, Bigelow Project Archivist
Union College, Schenectady, New York
For almost thirteen years, I celebrated Bloomsday in Seoul, South Korea. Normally, the scholarly Joyce organization of which I was a member of, the James Joyce Society of Korea, would have a meeting on June 16th. Dinner and drinks would follow, and our conversations would weave in and out of the literary, the personal, and the political, circling back around to Joyce at every opportunity. The James Joyce Society of Korea became my second family in Korea, so spending one of my favorite days of the year with these extraordinary people was one of the highlights of living in Korea.
When I joined the Society in 2008, I was warmly welcomed and immediately attended the Ulysses reading group they held. The members consisted of Joyce scholars from all over Korea who attended the monthly reading group. One member in particular, the society founder Chong-Keon Kim, was most inspiring. He published the celebrated first Korean translation of Ulysses in 1968; by 2013, he translated all of Joyce’s works into Korean. As a Professor Emeritus at Seoul National University in 2022, he continues to publish articles and translations of books related to Joyce, gives talks at Korean universities, and, of course, is active in the Society.
When he was a Ph.D. student at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Professor Kim published his dissertation entitled Ulysses and Literary Modernism. In the 1985 preface, he declared that “It was, is now, and forever shall be my intention to increase Joycean activity on the Korean campuses in order to enrich our people’s understanding and appreciation of James Joyce” (Kim, 1990, p. 468). He took that promise and created with it the James Joyce Society of Korea in 1979. The Society published the first volume of its peer-reviewed journal, the James Joyce Journal in 1984 (Kim, 1990, p. 468).
Often, our Society would be invited to the Bloomsday events held at the Irish Ambassador to Korea’s home. There would be a lovely reading from every episode, musicians playing music relevant to Ulysses, and the usual Bloomsday food and drink items such as burgundy and gorgonzola sandwiches. In 2016, I was invited to speak at the event, and I chose one of my favorite passages from the “Hades” episode of Ulysses:
“– I am the resurrection and the life. That touches a man’s inmost heart.
— It does, Mr Bloom said.
Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning. Pennyweight of powder in a skull. Twelve grammes one pennyweight. Troy measure.” (lines 670-682)
The following Bloomsday, an Irish friend and I decided to plan our own romp around Seoul, reading bits from Ulysses at local locations parallel to those in the book. We’d start out near the water at Incheon for “Telemachus,” then move to the university we taught at for “Nestor,” “Proteus” would take place along the Cheonggyecheon, “Calypso” would take place at Changdeok Palace, and so on and so forth. We were especially pleased with ourselves that our reading of “Circe” could take place in the red-light district. We had backpacks filled with bags of Tayto crisps, had planned where to get lunch and dinner, and packed a lovely bottle of whiskey. Unfortunately, we never got around to the entire event as we got too drunk at the “Telemachus” spot and couldn’t continue on our odyssey.
Joyce, James. Ulysses, edited by Hans Walter Gabler. Vintage, 1986.
Kim, Chong-Keon. “Joycean Study in Korea.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 3, University of Tulsa, 1990, pp. 465–72, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25485054.