The axis of the Joyce world shifted precessionally from Dublin this past summer, journeying westward to Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday, 11 June through Saturday, 15 June, for the 2013 North American James Joyce Conference. The conference program listed a superabundance of thirty-six panels (more than one hundred presentations), plus plenaries, roundtables, and special events, covering a wide range of topics, including intertextuality (three panels), cognition (two), indeterminancy, “CyberJoyce,” and signifier/signified. But I was enthused at the prospect of hearing presentations promising titillating details about more mundane matters—like zombies and whores in Dubliners (by Garry Leonard and Rebecca McNulty, respectively), cannibals in Ulysses (Norman Mack), and dung in Finnegans Wake (Monica Fagan); there’s no accounting for tastes.
My rental car came scudding in toward Charleston on Tuesday night, after the race from the airport that followed a less-than-two-hour flight from New York. My wife joined me for the trip, and we planned to visit family members living in the college town, in addition to selling collectible Joyce books to attendees of the conference. “America’s Most Friendly City,” according to Travel and Leisure in 2011, is well known for its Atlantic-coast sultry climate, distinctive architecture, southern hospitality, and eclectic cuisine; we were not disappointed on any of these fronts. Our investment was a good one, since the conference (and book sales) would prove to be gratifying.
The weather outside was steamy on Wednesday, but the opening sessions inside, in the College’s repurposed Library, were cool. They featured such varied offerings as Bob Spoo’s report on “Samuel Roth, Lawful Reprinter,” Joe Kelly’s provocative question “Was Joyce a Racist?” and Cóilín Owens’s insights on “What’s So Remarkable About the First Sentence of ‘The Dead?’” A plenary session on “Joyce, Ireland, and the American South,” presented by Vincent Cheng, rounded out the first afternoon’s academic program, before Charleston’s summer evening had begun to fold conference attendees in its embrace. A showing of the film “In Bed with [End Page 220] Ulysses”—promoted with photo ads of Nora Joyce proclaiming that the book had “become her rival”—ended that day’s events. The movie included readings from the novel, period footage, and commentary from Colum McCann, Edna O’Brien, and others.
Thursday morning’s panel on love stories featured Benjamin Boysen’s “Joyce and Modern Love,” while down the hall, at the “CyberJoyce” panel, Sean Latham spoke on “Gaming the Wake.” “CyberJoyce” also included Jasmine Mulliken’s fascinating “Mapping Dubliners Project,” a Google-earth approach to Dublin in the early 1900s. Using this technology, one can ride along with Gabriel and Gretta Conroy, viewing passing street scenes (including the statue just north of O’Connell Bridge) as their carriage traverses the distance between Usher’s Island and the Gresham Hotel. “Good-night, Dan!” (D 214).
The Thursday lunchtime Ulysses reading group was one of the highlights of this conference. The group was co-chaired by Michael Groden and Austin Briggs; Groden stated that it was their ninth year to be running this show. What made the session so notable was the skill with which the chairs encouraged the equal participation of graduate students, along with the rock stars of the Joyce lit-crit firmament—Murray Beja, Bill Brockman, John Gordon, Sebastian Knowles, and others, in examinations of “Cyclops.” Lively discussions of possible meanings of certain passages were ably informed by Groden’s illuminating references to Joyce’s handwritten additions to the “six or seven proofs” of this episode. One wished this reading group would never end!
That afternoon, Deirdre Flynn continued the high-tech spin on Joyce, imagining what Joyce’s Facebook page would look like, in her “Dubliners in the Age of Facebook” presentation. I suggested at this session that Facebook pages, updated by loved ones after the death of their original account holders, are like zombies, a foretaste of a presentation to come. Finally, Thursday’s events concluded with an 8:00 p.m. performance-art preview of Adam Harvey...