restricted access A Life with Joyce
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A Life with Joyce

First of all, let me thank my colleagues in the English Department, Alan Friedman and Chuck Rossman, who occasioned the first Bloomsday that I’ve spent in Austin.

I’m so glad that Chuck and Alan arranged for Murray Beja to introduce me, for he brings to mind a number of the adventures we’ve had over the years, not the least of which was riding in the tiny back end of Gerry Franken’s station wagon with her huge dog through the wet streets of Paris on the way to visit Maria Jolas, who had invited us to tea but kindly provided us with much wine.

Perhaps I’m confusing my stories, but if I recall, we had just recovered from the 1975 symposium in Paris, which was attended by Jacques Lacan. I remember Lacan falling asleep in the middle of Walt Litz’s presentation, but when Walt started drawing figures on the chalkboard, Lacan awoke and began frantically taking notes. We all paid closer attention to Walt then, for if Lacan thought what he was offering was important, there must have been something between the chalk lines.

It was the Jesuits who led me to that great apostate James Joyce. Cynics might say I owe the Jesuits my career, for when I began reading Joyce, I felt that nearly everything I had learned before had been in preparation for the study of his work. When I first read “The Dead,” I became totally immersed in the world that Joyce had created in it. From the opening line to Gabriel Conroy’s epiphany at the end of the story, I was mesmerized. I responded to Joyce in this work in a way that I had to no other writer. Certainly the psychological complexity of the story must have eluded me then, but with youthful exuberance, I, too, had an epiphany of sorts. I became a reader in Roland Barthes’s sense—of the writerly text. Of course, I was soon to learn, and continue to learn for the next fifty years, that just when you think you understand a work by Joyce, a page, even a [End Page 3] sentence, your certainty fades like a shimmering mirage of an oasis reflected on the desert sand.

At an absurdly young age, as Ruskin would say, out of the “sanguine credulity of youth,”1 I started the James Joyce Quarterly in 1963 at the University of Tulsa. Vivien Mercier, the Irish scholar at City College in New York, said that publishing a Joyce quarterly in Tulsa “is rather as if I were to set up an Oil Quarterly in Dublin.” I wrote back that were he to start an oil journal I would help him, but in the meantime I asked him to join our advisory board. He did.

The journal had an unassuming beginning. In his book, Our Joyce, Joe Kelly remarked on the “naïve simplicity” with which I undertook the project. He wrote, “Originally [Staley] conceived it as a hobby, which he pursued for the enjoyment of the work and of the people he met, and the first issues, published out of Staley’s garage, were (despite their high quality) the product of a cottage industry.”2 A colorful account of the journal’s founding, told with an echo of Flann O’Brien, appeared in the James Joyce Literary Supplement in 2003. It alleged that I had befriended Joyce, who had faked his death and escaped to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, on his deathbed, he finally divulged his secret identity to me and asked me to establish a quarterly publication to carry on his legacy. I quote:

Burdened with this secret mission, Staley carried out Joyce’s last request and began the arduous task of publishing the JJQ (as those in the know refer to it) out of his own garage with a staff of leprechauns and banshees. These legends surrounding the origins of publication have also spread to the celebrity status of past subscribers; word has it that John Lennon and Wynona Ryder have both had subscriptions.3

It is true that Joyce studies, in those days, was not so...