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“Joyce in Austin”: A Report on the 2007 North American Joyce Conference, University of Texas at Austin, 13-17 June 2007

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 428-432 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0025

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The English Department at the University of Texas at Austin had a laudable goal for the 2007 North American James Joyce Conference: to honor the lifetime achievement of Tom Staley. Organizers Alan Friedman and Charles Rossman put together a tremendous conference that included over 150 academic presentations, an exhibition of Joycean documents and artifacts, a staged reading of Tom Stoppard's Travesties, a boat ride that showcased a swarm of bats, special panels and plenary speakers, film screenings, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake reading groups, and, of course, the requisite Gospel Brunch at Stubb's BBQ. I imagine that when Joyce wrote, "A glass of peel and pip for Mr Potter of Texas, please" (FW 274.35n3), he could not have had anything more spectacular in mind.

The conference began as attendees gathered in the lobby of the Harry Ransom Center, enjoying a spread of hors d'oeuvres and wine just ten feet from one of five copies of the Gutenberg Bible. The HRC had a small but fascinating exhibit of Joyce materials. In addition to page proofs from Ulysses and corrected carbon typescript pages of Finnegans Wake, highlights included Lucia Joyce's notebook, entitled "My Dreams," and a typescript of her brief biography, "The Real Life of James Joyce." The exhibit displayed various works of art depicting Joyce and a subscription list for Ulysses that included names such as John Dos Passos, Alfred Knopf, and William Carlos Williams. In addition to textual artifacts, the collection showcased Joyce's calling card, wallpaper from 7 Eccles Street (a faded orange and green pattern), and Joyce's death mask. Notably, many of the items on display came from the private collection of Tom Staley.

In addition to the exhibit, the Ransom Center boasts a broad collection of materials, including the complete and final first-edition page proofs of Ulysses and page proofs for Finnegans Wake. The Center also has correspondence from Joyce to his publishers, literary friends, and family. In addition to textual holdings, it has compiled many of Joyce's personal papers such as his receipts and memorandums. This wonderful resource is only enhanced by the kind and thoughtful staff of the Center.

As usual, there were far too many concurrent panels; at times, there were nine or even ten running simultaneously. People ducking in and out are a distraction, but with so many intriguing presentations it became a necessary evil. There were many notable presentations. Susan Adams, who traveled all the way from Fiji, gave an illuminating paper about the history of Gollywoggs and made a strong connection between the three-part structure of the minstrel show and the structure of "The Dead." Jim LeBlanc, one of the organizers of the 2005 Ithaca conference, presented "Mrs. Kearney's Spite: Risking One's Life in 'A Mother,'" in which he argued for the complexity of Mrs. Kearney's role in the text. He used Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel and Jean-Paul Sartre in order to explain the societal forces at work that keep Mrs. Kearney from simply existing as a "pompom mom."

Perhaps one of the most interesting papers, "Joyce Among the Jansenists," came from Richard Corballis and France Grenaudier-Klijn of Massey University in New Zealand and included a discussion of Marcelle Tinayre's novels and the numerous allusions to Tinayre's body of writing as it appears in Joyce's work. Tinayre was fascinated with the Jansenists, their role within Catholicism, and their subsequent condemnation by the Church. The authors' examination of intertextuality was complemented by Finn Fordham's enjoyable paper. Fordham, who had initially planned to present work on methodology for the new Joyce biography, changed his discussion to focus on Joyce's use of multiplicity, which he referred to as "a fundamental modus operandi of Finnegans Wake." He continued by discussing the genetic layers of the Wake, explaining the way in which the process of writing affected the writing itself.

After a long day, I was wary of attending the plenary featuring Sean Walsh; following the initial screening of his film in Dublin, he was defensive and abrupt with his answers. A sense of obligation (to whom, I am not sure) drove me to attend, however, and I...

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