75 Years Later, Joyce Obscene Again

Every Bloomsday for the past 27 years Symphony Space has done a program of readings from James Joyce’s Ulysses, and every year those performances have been broadcast on WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York.

Tonight, though, according to The New York Times, WBAI will be parting ways with Symphony Space due to “apprehension about obscenity and government regulation.” Symphony Space will be reading the racy* “Ithica” episode, while WBAI will be playing it safe with other passages.

This immediately got my Irish up: how dare our government censor great literature! Then I read the article more closely, and it doesn’t actually say anything about government censorship. Symphony Space and WBAI censored themselves “to avoid concerns at the radio station about some of Joyce’s words and descriptions.”

How gutless! In 1933 a federal judge ruled that Ulysses was safe for public consumption, and what was deemed acceptable then has to be infinitely more so in this lurid age, when hair-palmed teenagers have so many better options for making themselves blind. It’s disappointing that Symphony Space and WBAI lack the courage of their convictions. The government rarely displays either**, but you expect more of great cultural institutions.

That said, I bet they both put on a good show. Genteel readers can listen to the family-friendly WBAI production, while you pornographers out there can enjoy the Symphony Space slimefest.

* Kidding. It’s not half as racy as this.

** Though it makes me think maybe the Bush administration might be right after all that industry can regulate its own CO2 emissions. If the culture industry can do such a good job regulating itself, why not coal-fired power plants?