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The XXII North American James Joyce Conference opened with, among five concurrent sessions, the “Rock Reads Joyce” panel, a searching hour-and-a-quarter on versions, references, and echoes of the famous Dubliner in the voices of Syd Barrett, the lost singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd, memorialized in “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” who actually recorded “Lean Out of the Window, Goldenhair” from Chamber Music; Van Morrison, who has included the name of his southern countryman in songs at least twice; and Bruce Springsteen, whose “Thunder Road” bears comparison with “Araby” in terms of Mariolatry. Cheryl Herr led the exploration of the Syd Barrett connection, using sound and video to tantalizing effect, while Lauren Onkey, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, unable to attend due to a family emergency, sent in her thought-provoking discourse on a video that included footage of the Belfast cowboy in performance, and I sang parts of “Thunder Road” interspersed with moments of reverie over Mangan’s sister. As if the proposed intersections could not get more spectral and fugitive, the next hour included a session in which the imagery of fellatio in “Lotus Eaters” was elaborated on by Anna Finn and the resonance of Benjamin Franklin among the “Irish heroes” of “Cyclops” was amplified by Thomas Jackson Rice. Suitably inspired conversation flowed over lunch at the Huntington mausoleum, and events gusted to a cosmic scale afterwards during a plenary talk by Jeffrey Drouin entitled “The Einstein of English Fiction.” Some participants carried on the dialogue at a more psychodramatic level in an hour devoted to the strange language of “Circe,” ably presided over by Alexander Starkweather Fobes and Tabatha Hibbs. That happy Monday ended with interested members of the public welcomed into the Huntington to hear the poets Eavan Boland, Sinead Morrissey, and Paul Muldoon read as part of the Arroyo Literary Festival.
The involvement of the public engendered a congenial atmosphere pervading the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in the aptly named [End Page 7] Friends’ Hall as Fionnula Flanagan delivered an electrifying reading of “Counterparts” that gave rise to an impassioned discussion the next day led by Austin Briggs and Margot Norris. The conference organizers, along with their partners in “Imagine Ireland,” an initiative of “Culture Ireland” and the Pasadena Public Library, deserve the highest praise for fostering such a uniquely engaging and welcoming atmosphere. These events both broadened and narrowed the focus wonderfully, lending credence to Camille Paglia’s assertion, in Sexual Personae, that “Joyce has only one subject—Ireland.”1 In that spirit, the “Irish History” panel chaired by Sean Latham achieved both global reach and local grounding as Robert Colson, Seokmoo Choi, and Srinivas Venkata tackled the two-sided attack on nationalism in “Cyclops,” Ireland’s partnership in empire, and the wounding reverberations of the Charles Stewart Parnell affair in A Portrait respectively. Wednesday morning’s “Letters, Codes, and Notebooks” panel, featuring William Brockman, Rodney Sharkey, and Anthony Fusco, lured its audience into the pursuits of handwritten correspondence, conspiratorial codes, and the genesis of a Finnegans Wake passage. In this way, three inspirational days went by in what seemed the blink of an eye with hardly a moment spared to glance at the wonders of the Ellesmeer Chaucer manuscript, open to the “Cook’s Tale,” the Gutenberg Bible, and the Botanical Gardens.
Early Thursday found intrepid delegates in the Beckman Institute Auditorium at Cal Tech hearing Peter Quadrino adumbrate Salvador Dali’s haunting of A Portrait of the Artist and Akira Tamura trace links between Ulysses and Irish Impressionists. Then it was time for those remaining to scale the dizzying heights of “Lacan, Badiou, and the Inconsistent Multiplicity of Ulysses” in a plenary session with Tony Thwaites and Shelly Brivic, who made a beguiling pair applying the lessons of French psychoanalysis and philosophy to the book that brought so many pilgrims to southern California, the former navigating “On the Edge of the...