Scrotumtightening Law

"There is nothing like it in the whole of literature," Nikolai Popov, a UW senior lecturer in English, said last week, referring to a certain book and, more directly, a certain day: June 16, 1904. Known to Joyceans as Bloomsday, it's the long, weird Dublin day on which Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, the primary characters in James Joyces' defining modernist novel, Ulysses, walk and work and fight with drunks and drink and masturbate and eat meat, among other activities. (From early in the book, which is to say, early in the day: "Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.") Popov said, "No day of fiction is marked, let alone celebrated, in a similar manner."

Which explains why Popov was disappointed--"Everyone's disappointed," he said--when it became clear that his planned Bloomsday celebration (a live, nonstop reading of Ulysses at UW) would be a huge legal risk.

The risk? A copyright infringement lawsuit. The UW legal team's advice? Cancel the event.

Reading the work aloud constitutes a breach of its copyright, and the Joyce estate has sued Cork University Press, the Irish Times, and others for copyright infractions in the past. As recently reported in the Irish Times, Stephen James Joyce, who is the great writer's grandson and is "well known for vigorously defending the copyright," reinforced the estate's legal position in a letter to the Irish government, which is organizing the upcoming ReJoyce Dublin 2004.

"I am a Joyce, not a Joycean," Stephen Joyce has said, according to the London Times.

The copyright on Ulysses extends until 2011. And while its protections do not prohibit other kinds of events (scholarly conferences, symposia, etc.), there is of course only going to be one 100-year anniversary of Bloomsday. Which is "precisely the occasion to read Ulysses in its entirety, from cover to cover," said Popov, who was once, before defecting to the United States in the '80s, Bulgaria's translator of Joyce. "So to not be able to do that takes the wind out of the enterprise, you know?"

David Brewster, of Town Hall, recently asked the Joyce estate for permission to do live readings from the book and they named a five-figure price that Brewster (who is in ongoing negotiations with the estate about rights to other works) described last week as "extremely high" and "completely out of line."

What does Popov plan on doing on June 16 now? "Nothing," he said. "I'm going to eat a grilled kidney. If I [can] find one. Because there I run into potential conflicts with the FDA."

frizzelle@thestranger.com

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