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“Too full for words”: A Reflection on the XXIst International James Joyce Symposium in Tours, France, 15–20 June 2008

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 45, Number 2, Winter 2008
pp. 209-212 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0051

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A Renaissance specialist in a field of Joyceans, I expected to be, like Bloom, an outsider at the XXIst International James Joyce Symposium in Tours, France. Instead I felt like a long-lost cousin at the family reunion whom everyone welcomes back into the fold. From the first moments of the Symposium, however, I knew that this would be more than just a quirky family gathering. The aptly named (and oddly shaped) Da Vinci Center hosted the festivities. The opening reception of “Re-Nascent Joyce” buzzed with activity, setting the tone for the rest of the week. Friendly folks welcomed newcomers into their lively conversations, and long-time friends greeted each other warmly. As the evening wound to a close, we realized that we had drained the sparkling white wine, and conference-goers reluctantly parted to get some rest for the first full day.

In the first session that I attended, “Desire and Knowledge between Shakespeare and Joyce,” Jessica Lucero and Ljiljana Ina Gjurgjan reflected on desire and authority, subjects that continually re-emerged. The Symposium’s theme seemed to prompt papers reflecting the modern desire to make meaning out of a (n)ever-present textual historicity. Maria-Daniella Dick of Glasgow directly confronted the desire for such “blanks” in her fascinating Derridean rumination on the lost Hamlet lectures, and Richard Brown pondered the significance of “lived context,” dates, and the “habits of everyday life” in Ulysses. Anne Fogarty’s paper at Monday’s plenary panel also picked up on this desire for historicity in what she called the “modern delight in the abyss.” Fogarty described Joyce’s continual reassignment of the roles of Hamlet in the context of the Irish literary revival. Both Marie-Dominique Garnier and François Laroque enlisted the aid of puns in enumerating ways that Joyce engenders and displaces identity and meaning through names and writing. Invoking Lucretius and Bruno, Jonathan Pollock brought atomism into this heady mix. Equally excitingly, at another panel, William Brockman unveiled the new James Joyce Checklist database.

After such a full day, we were ready for our cocktail hour. Unfortunately, the weather interfered with our plans to celebrate in the gardens of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, but we were shepherded to the obscenely opulent Hôtel de Ville for appetizers. I found myself separated from my comfort group of other conference newbies and barely had time to grab a scoopful of Bugles before I was invited into a conversation about Joyce and comic books with Paul Saint-Amour. At the buffet, we were treated to the traditional rendering of “Love’s Old Sweet Song.” Later on this Bloomsday evening, we found ourselves wandering through “Old Town Tours,” and we discovered the perfect pub to celebrate: Buck Mulligan’s. The planned social events and the impromptu nightly rendezvous were as provocative and necessary as the sessions. Even when the soireés devolved into the dangerous game, “Humiliation” (inspired by David Lodge’s academic fictions), the intellectual riffing on everything from modernism to current events was stimulating. Just as vital to the conference success, in my view, were the lively discussions on the green next to the conference center or over delicious French cuisine at local restaurants.

Tuesday morning found me sweaty-palmed, since I presented at the second “Joyce and the Renaissance” panel, chaired by François Laroque. The papers intersected on issues like desire, otherness, and narrative structure. Dieter Fuchs laid out an elaborate and convincing argument that Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella served as a source for rewriting the Odysseus-Archetype, while Laura Pelaschiar brilliantly explored issues of alterity and adultery in Othello and Ulysses. As in earlier panels, participants seemed excited about Joyce and the Renaissance, perhaps even about the “Re-Nascence” of the topic. Sadly, I missed the panel entitled, “Dear Dirty Joyce,” though I heard that it was a delightful romp through Joycean obscenity. In fact, Mark Shechner managed to sneak the title, “Ejaculation: The Novel,” past conference censors. Joyce would have been proud. The lunchtime Finnegans Wake reading group was reportedly a treat as well.

One of the most electrifying panels that I attended was “Collaborators and Anticollaborators: New Genetic Readings in...

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