The XXII North American James Joyce Conference—“Joyce in Science and Art”—was the first I had attended. As a graduate student devoting a chapter of my dissertation to Joyce, I am not unfamiliar with either the man or his oeuvre. Immersion in the collective Joyce community, however, was an entirely new way to experience the author, his works, and current scholarship on them. This community is, by its very nature, both small and eclectic. It is also welcoming to new scholars, and the encouragement I received while attending this event was genuinely warm and much appreciated.
The opening reception and first three days of the conference were held at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, with the last day hosted by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Huntington was an inspiring venue for a conference, since it numbers among its rare-book holdings many of Joyce’s writings. Many of the meeting rooms were small, creating an intimate setting for the panels and the discussions that followed. The gardens were the site of our picnic lunches; one day we ate outside the mausoleum of Henry and Arabella Huntington. The gardens and other open spaces of the grounds lent themselves to informal gatherings of Joyceans between panels, where conversations ranged from who might direct a film version of “Wandering Rocks” to the symptoms of congenital syphilis to the challenges of keeping the James Joyce Checklist compatible with ever-changing internet browsers.
While the venue of the conference was inspiring, the panels and speakers were even more so. In the plenary remarks on Monday afternoon, Jeff Drouin spoke on “The Einstein of English Fiction.” One of his more interesting points was that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was not widely known or understood, however superficially, by the larger early-twentieth-century public—a comment that seems to have reached folkloric status in both the humanities and the sciences. It is easy at a century’s removal to assume that cultural and scientific events we consider important through the spectacular [End Page 505] vision of hindsight would be of equal relevance to those living at the time. Drouin’s remarks suggested this is not always the case and led me to wonder what other anachronisms we apply to the works we study—particularly ones appropriate to Joyce.
Other panels that generated much musing included “Language, Signs, and Symptoms,” “Vitalism,” and “Maternity, Paternity, Dinner, and Death.” In particular, Aida Yared and Nicholas Miller offered insightful, if slightly differing, readings of Little Chandler in “A Little Cloud.” Of course, Fionnula Flanagan’s performance of “Counterparts” was memorable, generating both pleasure at her astute renderings of the accents of the varying classes in the story and discomfort at her realistic portrayal of the cries of Farrington’s son.
I was unable to stay for the entire conference, but for the time I was there, I left each panel with notes, ideas, and questions. To say that I was inspired would be an understatement. I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to write a limerick, and I finally succeeded while in the company of Joyceans. The fact that the rhyme resulted from an utter miscommunication with another conference participant seems all the more fitting. To Joyceans everywhere, here is my report on the conference—in limerick form:
The XXII North American James Joyce Conference The Huntington and Cal Tech welcomed us As we talked about Joyce, “Ithaca,” and “Proteus.” Fionnula Flanagan read And we dined with “The Dead.” Was a good time had by all? Oh, yes!