restricted access A Memorial Tribute to Zack Bowen
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A Memorial Tribute to Zack Bowen

We've lost him, surely: the only Joycean of the Western World. Zack wrote many books: his compendium of Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce (1974) is, with Ruth Bauerle's Songbook, the origin of all study of Joyce and music. "Ulysses" as a Comic Novel (1989) is the most compelling use of Bakhtin I know: when Zack Bowen spoke of the carnivalesque, he spoke authoritatively. Bloom's Old Sweet Song (1995), his marvelous set of essays on Joyce and music, has a hidden acronym: he was the B-O-S-S, both as editor of the Florida James Joyce Series, a position he held from 1995 to 2004, and as the President of the International James Joyce Foundation from 1996 to 2000. His work on Padraic Colum (1970), Mary Lavin (1975), and the two cultures of Science and Literature (2001) established him as a polymath, writing freshly and fervently about subjects and writers who mattered to him, so that they could matter to us.

But he was more, far more, than the sum of his bibliographic parts. The tributes that flew around the Joycean circuits on the news of his death bear witness to a life well lived: he was the great connector, the person who created, as Chair of the Department of English at the University of Miami from 1986 to 1996, what was arguably the greatest concentration of Joyceans in one department that the world will ever know. Testimonials on e-mail, on Facebook, in The Miami Herald, in the Newestlatter, speak of Zack Bowen having brought marriages together, lifting people from the depths of academic despair, setting right and sending forward career after career. He was, as Nicholas Fargnoli has said, "the most well-liked of all Joyceans"—and if all this is sounding a trifle Homeric, let me remind you of Zack's plenary lecture at the Trieste Symposium in 2004, "Plato, Homer, and Joyce: Involving Orientalism, a Smidgeon of Smut, and a Pinch of Perverse Egotism," in which Homer's "seamy epic" is revealed for the first time as the true source of Joyce's comic wisdom. My favorite memory of that Symposium was the question time after Zack's talk, which swiftly descended into a careful cross-examination of Penelope's virtuous intentions, with interruptions from Fritz Senn, who wanted to know the score of the football match going on at the same time. As Zack said at the end of his talk, speaking of his hope for a solution to the riddles of Finnegans Wake, "Whatever that involves, I know in my heart and mind that it will be funny."

And funny he certainly was—I have a whole drawerful of his lyrics to comic songs that we did together. What songs they were! "Three Crumbs in the Bedsheets," with the chorus "Make it Bloom/Only [End Page 423] Bloom/Make it Bloom." "Bloomusalem," set to the tune of "The Holy City," the finest bit of parodic writing I know. I would give a great deal to hear him sing "My Way," his great defense of Leopold Bloom, one last time. Zack was the Don Giovanni to my Zerlina, the Donald Flanders to my Michael Swann, the Oliver Hardy to my Stan Laurel. That I was ever able to be a part of the great comedy act that is Joycean studies is entirely due to this wonderful man, whose personal generosity and professional courtesy to me was, as it was for everybody, literally unbounded. Every highlight of my academic career can be in some direct way traced to something Zack Bowen did for me. And what is so stunning is that this is not in any way unusual: everyone who knew him was touched by the gift of his unconditional love.

Zack Bowen is one of very few Joyceans who will be remembered long after we are all gone, not just for his extraordinary scholarship—and there is abundant evidence of that—but because of his indispensable humanity. We are better people for having known him, and now our world—what Michael O'Shea calls "the Zack-less universe"—has...