On 9 September 2009, Fritz Senn was awarded the Golden Medal of Honour of the Canton of Zurich. In order to celebrate the most recent of his many achievements, the English Department of the University of Zurich organized a symposium in his honor which took place on 6 November. Attendees included professors, students, scholars, the English Department in corpore, former students, friends, and longtime aficionados of Fritz's reading groups from all over Europe and North America. Andreas Fischer, the Rector of the University of Zurich, briefly introduced Fritz, the director of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, before leaving the floor to other lecturers, each of whom paid a personal homage to their colleague and friend.
Fritz's atypical career, which was outlined by the Rector, distinguishes him from every other literary critic. Academic ambitions never drew him to the studies of James Joyce; instead, his driving force was a purely visceral passion for Joyce's works that are rich in ambiguities, details, and provocations and that contain an intricate labyrinth of references impossible to be fully grasped. Thrilled by this challenge, Fritz has dedicated the last half of his life to finding the key to Joyce's enigmatic words. Thanks to his enthusiasm and undoubted sacrifices, he acquired an enviable expertise on Joyce.
In his address, Fischer remarked that "Fritz Senn can speak to any kind of public." Because he is direct but also witty and ironic, Fritz knows how to seize his audience's attention whether at the Foundation, at universities, at any symposium, or on a page. Fischer noted that some of his devotees attend his lectures merely "to listen to him talk," regardless of the topic covered.
The first lecture, delivered by Michael Groden, Professor at the University of Western Ontario, dealt with three main issues: Bloom as an outsider, the archival jolt (as quoted from the drafts), and the identity of Joyceans. While recounting the first meeting with Fritz, Groden described the warm welcome he received upon his arrival in Zurich.
John McCourt, of the Università Roma Tre, presented the second [End Page 7] talk and focused on the importance of biography as a fundamental field in Joyce studies. In turn, he explained how he met Fritz, who played a decisive role in his career and provided support at the time when he was still a novice. As McCourt observed, Fritz's "generosity of spirit" prompts him to "invest in younger scholars," giving them "the courage to take on Joyce" and the confidence to persevere in dark moments of academic frustration.
After these addresses, Fritz delivered a speech of thanks, in which he declared his dislike for pompous celebrations of his achievements and referred to himself as an "amateur" who is convinced that his accomplishments are nothing but the result of a "hedonistic" occupation. He felt "uncomfortable, but touched" by the presence of the people who came to share this moment with him, rather than by the ceremony itself. His goal, he stated, is "to pass on enthusiasm," and he said that "teaching on occasion gives him the feeling of not having lived life in vain." Fritz described the Joyce community as "the best club in the world" (the words of Brenda Maddox) and revealed that the emotion brought a lump to his throat. After a moving interruption, he concluded, "and I am experiencing it." On many occasions, Fritz has claimed not to be able to write about emotions, but he can certainly convey them. Joyceans constitute a big family, whose members share not only the same research field but also the feast of Bloom's Day, including symposia, workshops, excursions, and meals. The cordial atmosphere these occasions engender, especially ones at the Zurich Foundation, is very supportive.
The most entertaining part of the symposium came, after some refreshments, with alternating textual analyses and performances of musical sections of Joyce's canon, including, among others, "I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls," selections from Bizet's Carmen, and the traditional Joycean anthem, "Love's Old Sweet Song." This ironic and joyful interpretation was provided by Michelle Witen, a...