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“Varieties of Irishness”: A Report on the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures Conference, University College Dublin, 16-20 June 2007

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 436-438 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0008

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Three cheers for Tony Roche, the organizer of the resoundingly successful IASIL 2007 conference! Having held its 2005 and 2006 annual meetings in Prague and Sydney, IASIL returned this year to Ireland, but Dublin's vibrant multicultural environment assured that internationalism was a continued topic of formal and informal conversation. The city center was flooded with visitors and residents from around the world, and Paula Meehan wryly commented that, with all the different languages and dialects one heard on the streets, Dublin was Finnegans Wake come to life. This linguistic diversity added another dimension to the 2007 theme, "Varieties of Irishness."

The conference began on Monday afternoon with a roundtable discussion on American Studies and Irish Studies, presented in association with University College Dublin's Clinton Institute Summer School. After opening remarks, Declan Kiberd gave a keynote address on "Joyce's Homer, Homer's Joyce" (though he admitted that, had he realized the proximity of his talk to the premiere of The Simpsons movie, he would have changed his title). He presented a new take on this topic by suggesting that we use Joyce to read Homer and that, if Ulysses heroicized the domestic, then The Odyssey domesticated the heroic.

Breakout sessions began the following morning. With as many as seven panels occurring simultaneously, conference participants spoke regretfully about papers they did not hear, but a book of abstracts included in the registration packet allowed a glimpse of what was missed. Joyce—referred to more than once as "UCD's most famous undergraduate"—was, as always, a popular topic, and four panels were dedicated to his writing. One of the most interesting was the independently organized panel, "Intertextualizing Joyce," in which Sam Slote, Vike Martina Plock, and Valérie Bénéjam each argued that Joyce's realism in Ulysses is mediated through other texts. Plock's paper, which pointed out that Joyce's use of Aristotle's Masterpiece in "Oxen in the Sun" borrows heavily from Laurence Sterne's employment of the same text in Tristram Shandy, was particularly compelling.

Several individual papers on Joyce were absorbed into other panels, often with great success. Maria McGarrity's work on Joyce's primitivism in Ulysses was juxtaposed with Stephanie Rains's discussion of the 1894 Araby Bazaar, an event that attracted tens of thousands of people and that showcased Dublin's upper-middle-class ladies performing the role of shopkeepers of various nationalities (those working in the Japanese tearoom, for instance, wore kimono-inspired garments). Both papers offered provocative implications about ethnicity in Joyce's work and in modern Irish culture generally.

While several panels focused on Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and W. B. Yeats, numerous papers tackled other subjects and less-established figures. Especially interesting were the ones that challenged common perceptions of Irish literary history, such as José Lanters's talk about the ambivalent reception of "tinkers" in early-twentieth-century nationalist writing. Literature of the Irish Diaspora was an equally compelling area of exploration, with papers ranging from Laura Izarra's about Irish-Argentine women's writing to Dunya Lindsey's on representations of indigenous Australians in Irish-Australian literature.

Like the panels, the keynote lectures at IASIL 2007 ranged widely in their subject material and approach. Through examining the representation of Dublin in contemporary Irish fiction, Anne Fogarty argued that, in their discussion of socioeconomics, immigration, and politics, these texts showed both the promise and the peril of "New Ireland." Similar issues were present in Nicholas Greene's talk about Irish theater in 2006, the year he acted as a judge for the Irish Times theater awards and saw every play produced on the island during that time. Cheryl Herr focused her attention on the importance of rock-and-roll in several Irish male bildungsromans, taking examples from popular culture sources like the film The Boy from Mercury and a performance by U2. The conference also featured keynote addresses by the Irish writers John Banville, Paula Meehan, and Richard Murphy, who were kind enough to read from their work. These sessions were a highlight of the conference.

Other appreciated aspects of IASIL were the receptions held every night, most notably the one that took place in the...

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