Santa Barbara Celebrates James Joyce and ‘Ulysses’

Bloomsday, Censorship, Dirty Books, and Dirty Minds

Santa Barbara Celebrates
James Joyce and Ulysses

Bloomsday, Censorship,
Dirty Books, and Dirty Minds

By Nick Welsh & Indy Staff

Credit: Ben Ciccati

James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, one of the most impactful ever written in the English language, will be celebrated on June 16 in an event known as Bloomsday. From Australia to Santa Barbara, devoted fans will mingle with the mildly curious to listen to readings from the book that was originally banned and burned in the United States for being pornographic until a federal judge finally declared it safe for American ears. In the following article, Nick Welsh tells the story of how the book became a legend, and how the same impulse to ban writing that disturbs, surprises, confuses, shocks, or tells stories outside someone’s comfort zone is still alive and well in this country. But so is the desire to protect and enjoy the freedom of expression and to read amazing writing. 

Love at First Gasp

The OG of Censored Texts

By Nick Welsh

It was a first date that rocked the world.

Though that date — an evening stroll through the streets of Dublin — took place more than 100 years ago, the world remains, to this day, very much rocked by its seismic reverberations.

Back in June, 1904, 19-year-old Nora Barnacle had just arrived in Dublin from Galway, having fled the savage beatings administered by the uncle with whom she lived. Tall, auburn-haired, and graced with a heavy-lidded sultriness, Barnacle walked with sass and confidence. She and a female friend used to go out dressed as men, wearing trousers and heavy boots and hiding their hair. They smoked cigarettes, told dirty jokes, and laughed loudly. 

James Joyce | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When James Joyce first saw Barnacle, she was working as a chambermaid and tending bar at a Dublin hotel. Only a few years her senior, he had been a precociously gifted child of a middle-class stability that had gone very badly to seed. Although Joyce had yet to emerge as the revolutionary writer and literary terrorist the world would know, he was already certain about his intentions. It was his exalted mission, Joyce declared, “to pierce the significant heart of everything.”

But it would be Nora Barnacle who pierced the significant heart of James Joyce.

The two first got together the evening of June 16, 1904. They meandered about the streets of Dublin, making their way to a dark, empty field by the docks where the River Liffey spills out into the bay. There, we are told, an intimate act ensued. When James Joyce groaned, Nora Barnacle reportedly smiled, asking, “What is it, dear?”

For James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, it was love at first gasp.

The two would remain together, though not always blissfully, for the next 37 years. Famously, they would love each other with a boundless sexual abandon that Joyce exalted in graphic — sometimes scatological — detail in his love letters to her. All was not peaches and cream, but there was never a shred of doubt who James Joyce’s muse was.

When he wrote Ulysses — his hauntingly daunting and world-shaking masterpiece — every word, thought, fart, echo, prayer, lustful glance, limerick, bar-room conversation, curse, and orgasm detailed within those 783 staggering stream-of-consciousness pages took place within the 24-hour time span of the very day he and Nora first went strolling: June 16.

It wasn’t until 1941, after Joyce was safely dead, that the world slowly began celebrating Ulysses. On the 50th anniversary of the day that takes place in the book, in 1954, a Ulysses pilgrimage was loosely organized through the streets of Dublin, but it apparently succumbed to inebriation and rancor at Old Bailey’s Bar.

Eventually, in 1994, the city of Dublin organized a formal celebration declaring June 16 “Bloomsday,” named after Leopold and Molly Bloom, two of the book’s central characters. That has since turned into a global event with passages being publicly read in pubs from Australia to Santa Barbara. 

It took Joyce seven years to finish Ulysses, but before he was even halfway through, its steamy passages generated such moral outrage that it would be banned in both the United States and England. In 1922, two American magazine publishers — Margaret Caroline Anderson and Jane Heap, both lesbians, it turns out, with socialist suffragette leanings who wore trousers and smoked cigarettes — had agreed to publish the book in serial form. For such adventurous impulses, they would be criminally charged, prosecuted, and convicted by a New York court. In this way, Ulysses would be effectively banned in the United States from 1920 to 1933. (Not coincidentally, that’s roughly the same time span Prohibition held sway.) Copies of Ulysses would be seized by authorities and burned in the United States and Great Britain. Hundreds upon hundreds would go up in smoke. 

In 1932, the American publisher Random House bought the rights to publish Ulysses in this country. After some machinations, the U.S Attorney’s Office brought a case against the book — the actual book, not the author or the publisher — before a trial judge. In United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, the government argued that the book was obscene and should be destroyed. 

But the attorney for the publisher maintained that it was not obscene and thus protected by the First Amendment. The presiding judge agreed. In his 1933 decision, he ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic, that its author was sincere, and that though some passages used “old Saxon words … it must be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.”

In Santa Barbara, Bloomsday will be celebrated, fittingly, at The James Joyce pub on lower State Street, where thespians, poets, celebrities, actors, and writers will read passages from Ulysses while Gorgonzola cheese sandwiches — in a riff from the book — will be served. 

Saving James Joyce from the hallowed halls of academia and bringing him back to the bars and pubs and gutters that he loved all too well are a couple of highbrow-lowbrow recovering Irish Catholics, James Buckley and DJ Palladino. 

Bloomsday Santa Barbara Founders DJ Palladino (left) and James Buckley | Credit: The Santa Barbara Bloomsday Committee

Like all great discoveries, Palladino, who runs the Mesa Bookstore, and Buckley, a publisher of children’s books and honorary fairy godfather of the Santa Barbara Foresters collegiate-level amateur baseball team, simultaneously stumbled onto the idea at the same time three years ago. Buckley and Palladino, both men of words and letters, decided to become men of action; Buckley arranged the logistics with The James Joyce pub, famous for its sawdust floors and peanuts. The two have been creative co-conspirators ever since. 

Buckley is struck by the repressive parallels now taking place with what was happening in the United States when the book was being written in the aftermath of World War I; the great influenza epidemic; and the infamous Palmer Raids, during which foreign-born political dissidents were rounded up en masse and deported courtesy of an up-and-coming autocratic bureaucratic named J. Edgar Hoover. 

While Palladino and Buckley agree on much, they differ on the extent to which Ulysses still qualifies as a steamy book. “Make no mistake: Ulysses is a dirty book,” Palladino said. “It’s also a pretty book, a funny book, and a sad story. By contemporary standards, Buckley countered, the book’s sexual references are too obscure and too tame to be considered even risqué. “If Fifty Shades of Grey can be a best-seller, Ulysses in comparison would be in the kids’ section,” Buckley said. 

In some ways, he’s right. The actual passage that got the publishers in trouble with the law — and Joyce banned — involved the character Gerty MacDowell, a 17-year-old girl who leans back while at the beach to allow Leopold Bloom, whom she sees staring at her from afar, enjoy a good long gander up her bloomers.

What the censors missed entirely was Bloom’s orgasm. He, it turns out, was giving himself a discreet pocket job while watching Gerty in her reveries. Even with Joyce’s allusion to Bloom’s “hoarse breathing,” it’s hard to detect.

But later in the book — in portions written after the earlier chapter had been banned — Joyce describes a hallucinatory brothel scene in which Bloom becomes transformed into a woman and is fisted in his/her vagina. Molly Bloom also delivers her now-famous orgasmic soliloquy of “O!” and “A!”, where the climactic message is unmistakable.

During the New York trial in 1922, presided over by a three-judge panel, there was serious debate whether the offending passages could even be read out loud in the courtroom. The prosecution was concerned that the passages could corrupt any women present. The only women present were the two publishers of The Little Review magazine. Ultimately, the passages were allowed to be read. 

The judges struggled with Joyce’s language — fragmented, clipped, and radically reinvented into what’s now known as “stream-of-consciousness.” One judge complained of Joyce’s radical stylistic innovations, stating, “It seems to me the ravings of a disordered mind.” The defense seized on this, arguing that what can’t be understood cannot sexually arouse. Ultimately, the two publishers were found guilty and fined $100. That, at the time, was a considerable sum. 

In the 1933 federal trial, Judge John M. Woolsey, ruled that the book needed to be evaluated in the context of its totality, not judged based on isolated excerpts. To do otherwise would have been “artistically inexcusable.” 

Ulysses may be the greatest novel ever written, certainly the best ever written in English, but for the first 12 years of its existence, it was considered a crime to import a copy to the U.S.,” said UCSB English professor Enda Duffy. “It shows how powerful books can be: Governments fear them. If you want to have an independent mind, read lots of great books — starting with the banned ones.”

All of human life, Duffy said, is revealed in Ulysses and in beautiful language. “Like life, except more so. It’s by turns wild, tiresome, superb, obscene, full of surprises and very droll,” he stated. “People say it’s difficult and a challenge — just like life, right?” 

Celebrate Bloomsday on Sunday, June 16, at 5 p.m. at the James Joyce pub (513 State St.). Enjoy a free evening of spoken-word performances followed by an Irish concert featuring music by The Waymarkers. Ulysses readers include: Roger Durling, Matt Tavainini, Lark Batteau, Michael Katz, Chryss Yost, George Yatchisin, Bill Egan, Henry Brown, Rachel Brown, James McCarthy, and James Claffey. Light refreshments will be served and the James Joyce will offer Happy Hour prices for drinks. In addition, Donations at Bloomsday will support the Santa Barbara Public Library Foundation’s ( efforts to keep books available for all.

Record Number of Books
Targeted for Censorship

Efforts to Censor 4,240 Titles
Reported for 2023

By Indy Staff

The number of titles targeted for censorship dramatically increased in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching the highest levels ever documented by the American Library Association (ALA). Public libraries and schools reported efforts to censor 4,240 unique book titles, topping the 2022 figure of 2,571. These numbers were compiled by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom using information from professional librarians and news reports throughout the United States. 

The ALA identified four key trends in the data received: 

  1. Pressure groups in 2023 focused on public librarians as well as school libraries.
  2. Groups and individuals demanding the censorship of multiple titles, sometimes hundreds at a time, drove the surge.
  3. Books dealing with the voices and lived experiences of people in the LGBQIA+ community and people of color made up almost 50 percent of the titles targeted. 
  4. There were attempts to censor more than 100 titles in each of these 17 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

“We must all stand together to preserve our right to choose what we read,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person’s constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced.”

“Libraries that reflect their communities’ diversity promote learning and empathy that some people want to hide or eliminate,” said ALA President Emily Drabinski. “Libraries are vital institutions to each and every community in this country, and library professionals, who have dedicated their lives to protecting our right to read, are facing threats to their employment and well-being.”


Top 10 Most Challenged
Books of 2023

Every year, American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. ALA documented a record 4,240 unique book titles targeted for censorship in 2023; of those, the most challenged and reasons cited for censoring the books are listed below.

1. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Number of challenges: 106
Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

2. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Number of challenges: 82
Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

3. This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson

Number of challenges: 71
Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, sex education, claimed to be sexually explicit

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Number of challenges: 68
Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content, rape, drugs, profanity

5. Flamer by Mike Curato

Number of challenges: 67
Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Number of challenges: 62
Challenged for: rape, incest, claimed to be sexually explicit, EDI content

7/8. (tie) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Number of challenges: 56
Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit, profanity

7/8. (tie) Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

Number of challenges: 56
Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit, drugs, rape, LGBTQIA+ content

9. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan

Number of challenges: 55
Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit, sex education, LGBTQIA+ content

10. Sold by Patricia McCormick

Number of challenges: 53
Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit, rape



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