- Reading Joyce Again For the First Time:A Report on the XXth International James Joyce Symposium, Budapest and Szombathely, 11-17 June 2006
The A38, our host stationary boat, was contentedly snuggled against the south side of the Danube, providing a scenic view of castle hill to the south, the inner city to the north. What was once a hard-working Ukrainian stone-carrier offered, for a week in June 2006, a unique space where Joyceans attending the XXth International Symposium could lunch, converse, and enjoy a few drinks as the setting sun poked through the bars of Independence Bridge. During one particular break, a discussion emerged about those awe-inspiring moments created by the presence of real-life gods and goddesses. After Judith Harrington's account of the day Mikhail Baryshnikov walked into her husband's ballet class and John Gordon's description of his ambles amongst professional baseball players, I characterized my symposium experience as being a comparable moment for me.
This feeling was epitomized when Hans Walter Gabler and I found ourselves sharing morning trams that would take us to the Technical Institute. He left early to tend to the visual requirements for his talk; I left early in order to be—as it turned out—the first person into my panel room four different times, the effect of my jittery nerves. Gabler's support of my own project and follow-up inquiry regarding the success of my talk were especially kind gestures and helped me to realize the commitment within Joyce scholarship to its perpetuation and its warm welcome for beginning members.
Similarly, the second of three panel discussions chaired by Austin Briggs and Michael Groden offered another occasion for inclusion. While submitting a few comments as we collectively dissected the opening pages of "Circe," I mostly took pleasure in sitting inconspicuously in the back corner of an overflowing room and taking the fullest opportunity to gather intimate knowledge about the text which only a reading alongside experienced scholars can provide. Terence Killeen, for example, offered suggestions about Dublin's city operations when it came time to make sense of the uncobbled state of the "tramsiding set with skeleton tracks" (U 15.02). The group ultimately arrived at two conclusions: the tram was "sided" and, therefore, on a section of track unworthy of cobbling, or the tram could have warranted an incomplete [End Page 213] track given its nighttown location. The Nabokovian approach to the text—as it was all about the details—was always invigorating, at times surprising, and easily the most fun I had in any panel session.
I also took particular delight in the collective reaction to the second plenary panel in which six new pages of Finnegans Wake manuscripts were described by Daniel Ferrer, Michael Groden, and Sam Slote. The implications of two pages being handwritten by Nora had the room abuzz. They were a shock to all of us, given her well-documented resistance even to reading Ulysses. With proof of her involvement in the creation of Finnegans Wake, she becomes a figure to be reevaluated in the years to come.
Because of my attendance at all four postcolonial panels, I felt an inclusion within an even tighter group of Joyce scholars and was treated to some interesting and passionate talks. Spurgeon Thompson skillfully chaired the final two postcolonial panels while giving one of the more stimulating talks of the week—a look at a particular moment in which Joyce injects serendipitous coincidence into his works. Thompson posited Finnegans Wake as a text that responds to the preoccupations of the postcolonial condition by presenting a study of the real-life assassination of General Nikolai Bobrikov—occurring on 16 June 1904. With a weakness for coincidence, I gravitated to Thompson's talk centered on Buckley and the general. His panels were also fresh and diverse and warranted a greater audience, certainly for the thought-provoking ideas of a Croatian academic, Borislav Knezevic, who represented one of the largest Eastern European contingents ever to attend a Joyce Symposium. His quip about his Croatian students identifying with the Ireland of A Portrait when he teaches the novel was an intriguing introduction for...