Usylessly, a work by John Morgan, is the result of a close observation of the blue cover and form of the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The book duplicates the size, bulk and appearance of the 1922 Shakespeare and Co. edition. Everything but the text.
At the heart of the mostly blank 736 page book is a printed sixty-four page section containing two essays written twenty-seven years apart by Edward L. Bishop and Ted Bishop. The first essay, Re-Covering Ulysses, was initially published in Joyce Studies Annual in 1994 and explores the ‘non-literary’ aspects of the book, charting, as Bishop explains, ‘the movement of Ulysses the book – the physical object with its various jackets, blurbs, ads and price tags – from modernist work to social document, to status object, to cultural artefact to, finally, what seems to be a kind of futures commodity in the freewheeling post-copyright market.’
The second essay, Ulysses Blue, published here for the first time, starts its journey in the archive of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas with over forty copies of the 1922 edition and follows Morgan and Bishop on the quest for the blue cover, which for Joyce had to be blue – ‘The colours of the binding (chosen by me) will be white letters on a blue field – the Greek flag though really of Bavarian origin and imported with the dynasty. Yet in a special way they symbolise the myth well – the white islands scattered over the sea.’
John Morgan is the founder of John Morgan studio and Professor of design, typography and book art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
Ted Bishop is the author of Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books (Penguin 2005), and The Social Life of Ink: Culture, Wonder, and Our Relationship with the Written Word (Penguin 2017).
‘a chain of white islands, petals shaken on a Greek sea’
William Gass, On Being Blue
Beach, Saillet, and the Nazis
It was 1941 and the Germans had occupied Paris. A Nazi officer, who spoke perfect English, came into the shop and wanted to buy the Finnegans Wake he had seen in the window. Beach refused because it was her last copy. The officer, enraged, stomped out, promising to return. Beach hid the copy, and when he returned a few days later she said it had been put away. The officer shouted ‘We’re coming to confiscate all your books!’ She called the concierge, got permission to use the fourth-floor apartment, and with Adrienne Monnier and the young Saillet moved 5,000 books upstairs. She then called a carpenter to take down the shelves in the shop and a painter to cover the name on the building. In a single day in December 1941 Shakespeare and Company disappeared. The officer never returned, and though other Nazis eventually arrested Beach they never found the hidden books. On 26 August 1944, the day after the Germans surrendered Paris, Hemingway came by, checked the roof for snipers and ‘liberated’ the bookstore. It was around this time that Sylvia Beach gave number 17 to her shop assistant Maurice Saillet, as a thank-you, for helping to hide her books from the Nazis.
Dismorr, Vorticism, and Scotch tape
The opposite of the immaculate Saillet copy was number 600: the edges of the cover were ragged, the blue and the white both darkening toward brown, and the spine repaired with cellophane tape. Where the one had been preserved with reverence, this one had been used for its function, a reading copy, not a sacred object. It had belonged to the Vorticist painter Jessica Dismorr, whose reputation had left her on the periphery of Modernism, but recent scholarship has demonstrated that she was at the heart of the movement. She joined Wyndham Lewis’s Rebel Art Centre, contributed poetry and illustrations to BLAST (1914), and signed the Vorticist manifesto. Four years later Margaret Anderson published her poetry in The Little Review. Dismorr appears in the March 1918 issue with Modernist luminaries Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Hueffer, Arthur Symons. And James Joyce: this is the issue in which Joyce’s Ulysses makes its first appearance, with the ‘Telemachus’ episode.
1960s California Pirate Edition
If you flip open the back cover and the first thing that hits your eye is a big ad for ‘All Male Nudes!’ the opening words of Ulysses are likely to be read in a different register. Further, if you have just glanced at a modest list of titles that ranges from de Beauvoir to Katherine Mansfield in the Penguin, as opposed to having been confronted by the sprawling Modern Library catalogue, your frame of mind will be different again. The ads in the Modern Library edition establish the reader as hopelessly ill-read, the ads in the California edition as male and hopelessly ill-experienced. The latter caters to sexual anxiety, the former to cultural anxiety; there is a parallel between the promise of sexual prowess and that of cultural prowess. Both suggest instant gratification and long-term improvement: there is a self-help aspect to the marketing (which Bloom would not find inappropriate), a suggestion of usefulness aside from the aesthetic, which prefigures the Book-of-the-Month Club edition.
KIND OF BLUE
‘his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles’
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
A selected typographic bibliography for Ulysses
Melissa Banta, Oscar A. Silverman, James Joyce’s Letters to Sylvia Beach 1921–1940, Plantin Publishers, 1987
Bernard Benstock, ‘Bedevilling the Typographer’s Ass: Ulysses and Finnegans Wake,’ Journal of Modern Literature 12, no. 1, March 1985, pp. 3–33
Edward L. Bishop, ‘Re-covering Ulysses,’ Joyce Studies Annual 5, 1994, pp. 22–55
Edward L. Bishop, ‘The “Garbled History” of the First-edition Ulysses,’ Joyce Studies Annual 9, 1998, pp. 3–36
Ted Bishop, ‘Ulysses Blue,’ Usylessly, John Morgan studio, 2021
Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses and Other Writings, Oxford University Press, 1989
Eric Bulson, Ulysses by Numbers, Columbia University Press, 2020
Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, New and Revised edition, Oxford University Press, 1983
Tekla Mecsnóber, ‘The Ineluctable Modernity of the Visible: The Typographic Odyssey of Ulysses in Interwar Print Culture,’ European Joyce Studies 26, 2018, pp. 192–224
Jean-Michel Rabaté, ‘“Thank Maurice”: A Note About Maurice Darantiere,’ Joyce Studies Annual 2, 1991, pp. 245–51
John Ryder, ‘Editing Ulysses Typographically,’ Scholarly Publishing 18, no. 2, 1987, pp. 108–24
Glenn Storhaug, ‘“Seems to See with his Fingers”: The Printing of Joyce’s Ulysses,’ Matrix 6, 1986
Peter de Voogd, ‘Joycean Typeface,’ Aspects of Modernism: Studies in Honour of Max Nänny, eds. Andreas Fischer, Martin Heusser, Thomas Hermann, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1997, pp. 203–18
Jolanata Wawrzycka, ‘Newspapers, Print, Language; Steganography in Joyce,’ European Joyce Studies 26, 2018, pp. 57–76
Usylessly by John Morgan
Texts by Ted Bishop
Paperback, 240 × 195mm, 736 pages. (64 pp. printed, 672 pp. blank)
Published in December 2021
Edition limited to 500 copies, each copy numbered
The books are wrapped in brown paper and shipped in cardboard protective packaging. As the note on binding explained, some minor damage may still occur in shipping and handling, this is to be expected.
Please note that the book is mostly blank, and does not contain the text of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
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