restricted access James Joyce Symposium in Honor of Austin Briggs, Hamilton College, 29 September 2007
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James Joyce Symposium in Honor of Austin Briggs, Hamilton College, 29 September 2007

for Austin Briggs

On a beautiful fall weekend, a diverse group of Joycean and other scholars, along with professors and former students at Hamilton College, met at the small, upstate-New-York college in Clinton, New York, for a one-day symposium honoring Austin Briggs. The occasion was truly remarkable: Austin started teaching at Hamilton in 1957 and officially retired in 1999, but he continued to offer a fall Joyce seminar there, and this fall he celebrated fifty (!) years of teaching at the college—his last year, he announced later. The Joyceans came from a wide range of places in North America, England, and Ireland—Connecticut; Philadelphia; Toronto; Virginia; Ohio (3); Nashville; Florida; California (6); Dublin; London; and York—and, joined by the hundred or so of Austin’s colleagues and former students, paid tribute to his contributions to teaching Joyce, modern literature, and film through his classroom teaching and his writings and also to Austin as a person. The respect, gratitude, and affection that so many people who have been fortunate enough to encounter Austin feel for him permeated every aspect of the academic symposium and the social events surrounding it—thanks go to Hamilton English professor Catherine Gunther Kodat for organizing it all—and made the weekend informative, enjoyable, and memorable.

Especially successful and pleasant was the symposium’s format: thirteen speakers presented fifteen-to-twenty-minute talks in four panels during the course of the day. Only one took place at a time, and so, unlike at larger conferences, everyone was able to hear all of them, and the speakers were able to talk in front of fellow Joyceans who often cannot be in the audience—both a pleasant and a some-what unnerving experience. The twenty-minute time-limit left us (me, at least) regretting that many of the papers were not longer, unlike the wish (only occasional, of course) that a fifty-minute talk had been forced to be condensed into a twenty-minute time slot.

The first panel of the day began with John Gordon (unique among the speakers in also being a graduate of Hamilton College and student of Austin’s); his talk, “Two or Three Things I Know About [End Page 653] Him,” alternated ten observations about Joyce’s texts, ranging from “The Sisters” to Finnegans Wake, with ten about Austin. Second came Morris Beja, who, in “Joyce in Hollywood,” responded to Austin’s interest in film by presenting a series of wide-ranging clips featuring Joyce’s image within mainstream Hollywood films. In “Ulysses and the Newspaper,” Brandon Kershner looked closely at the Freeman’s Journal and Independent for 16 June 1904. Closing the first panel was Sebastian Knowles, who in “Joyce and Philately” recounted his attempts to track down the three postage stamps specified in “Ithaca” among the “object[s] of great monetary value” (U 17.1679) the discovery of which would allow Bloom to purchase his dream house, Bloom Cottage, in Flowerville.

In the first talk in the second panel, “A Slice of Fresh Ribsteak à la Austin,” Roy Gottfried looked at the meat and drinks in the Bloom household, especially at the “ribsteak” on a dish in the “kitchen dresser” that Bloom encounters as he prepares cocoa for Stephen (U 17.317, 297). Gottfried wondered how Molly purchased the meat and why it was there, speculating that she might have left it for Bloom, perhaps as a kind of penance. Next, in “Relics of Memory,” Ellen Carol Jones looked at the material aspects of Joyce’s Dublin, focusing on monuments and public commemorative spectacles such as the 1898 centenary monument to Wolfe Tone and on ways in which, through memory, the present can redeem the colonial past. John Bishop closed the panel and the morning’s talks with “A Triple Scoop of Bunny,” speaking about the area in upstate New York in which Hamilton College is located and where he himself grew up. The region’s towns, featuring such classical names as Camillus (location of the Camillus Cutlery Company, source of the fortune of Helen Kastor Fleischman, Giorgio Joyce’s first wife), Rome, and...