Every year for the past three, Herbert S. Guggenheim has staged a marathon reading of James Joyce's classic, "Ulysses," at the Martin Luther King Library.

This is not a sedate, one-hour reading by a contemporary writer like those at the Library of Congress. This is a 33-hour undertaking by 38 passionate Joyce lovers that began last Thursday and ends at 8:30 tonight -- Bloomsday.

"You have to be crazy to do it three years in a row," says Guggenheim, who bemoans the "logistics of finding 38 people who are literate and capable of reading 'Ulysses' out loud . . . who are good oral interpreters." Guggenheim, who lectures on literature at George Mason University and with Smithsonian Resident Associates, has tried to match specific parts of Joyce's tome with individual readers' interests. Former Folger Shakespeare Library director O.B. Hardison read a section in which Stephen Dedalus explains his theory of Shakespeare and "Hamlet." WETA's Robert Aubry Davis "loves Chapter 3, the Proteus chapter," says Guggenheim,and was duly lined up to read that chapter during the first day of reading, as he did the year before.

This year Guggenheim and his readers are spreading their declamations over four days. The first two years, they tried a continuous reading, but Guggenheim "got tired of pulling people out of bed to read 'Ulysses.' I would stay up the entire time, and be exhausted and collapsing at the end."

Guggenheim did not start the Joyce marathon because it was there. He started it "so that I could learn more about 'Ulysses' itself."

The readers recite on a stage in the library's main lobby, where passersby stop, some with their copies of "Ulysses," to listen and follow along in their texts. Local Dancers' Works

One of the most important local dance festivals -- and one of the few left that exclusively features local works -- begins Thursday at George Washington University's Marvin Center Theater. "Washington Dance Directions '86: A Festival of Premieres" presents, for the third summer, two weekends of new work performed by local dancers.

In fact, Washington Dance Directions has become a significant venue for new works -- some would say by default. The Smithsonian's Salute to Washington, which featured local works, has fallen by the wayside. The Glen Echo Summer Dance Festival has been pared down to a couple of weekends from its old summer-long size.

What is left, though, is far from homogenous. Lightmoves Collaborative,with Michelle Ava, will perform a dance-theater piece, "Recipe for a Hot Planet," using an amalgam of dance, lasers and masks. Upright Vertebrates, featuring Ron Paul and Dianne Hunt, has choreographed "Leopard People: A Quasi-Social Event" for a dance trio; it explores the "relationships of the socially polite."

Some of the dance troupes will be presenting their first official dance concert. One such group, a modern jazz company called Momentum, previewed some of its work last September at the AddArts Festival '85. Momentum founder Roberta Rothstein commissioned a new work from choreographer Jan Van Dyke for the group's premiere Saturday. Commemorating Liszt

The week-long Franz Liszt Centennial Celebration, commemorating the composer's death, kicks off Sunday with concerts at the Washington Cathedral and St. Matthew's Cathedral, and a dramatic reading of "The Music and Letters of Liszt" at 8 p.m. at the Library of Congress. Liszt biographer Alan Walker will narrate . . . Charles Millard, chief curator at the Hirshhorn since 1974, is leaving to become director of the University of North Carolina's Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill . . . "Concerts at 1690," a free series, continues June 29 at the Levine School of Music (at 1690 36th St. NW) with the Parnassus Wind Quintet . . . The chance to sing works by Mozart, Brahms and other masters under professional choral conductors presents itself with the Paul Hill Chorale's "SummerSings," a singalong series beginning 7 p.m. Tuesday at Riverside Baptist Church, Seventh Street and Maine Avenue SW. Tickets are $5 . . . "Karate Kid, Part II" doesn't open until Friday, but the Variety Club of Greater Washington is sponsoring a special advance screening at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Circle Avalon to benefit D.C. General Hospital's myoelectric limb bank . . . Brad Parker and Kristin Eames of Bethesda and Laura Freeman of Chevy Chase won honorable mention the James Wilber Johnston Sculpture competition, which took place earlier this month at the Corcoran School of Art; Sean Joyce of San Rafael, Calif., won first prize. Out of Town Showings

Exhibits out of town: The only East Coast showing of "The Vital Gesture: Franz Kline in Retrospect," the first retrospective of Kline's work in 18 years, opens Sunday at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The show was organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum . . . "Jasper Johns: A Print Retrospective," the most extensive show yet of his works, continues at New York's Museum of Modern Art through Aug. 19.