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“Wasseres of Erie”: A Report on the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference, Buffalo, New York, 13–17 June 2009

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2009
pp. 204-206 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0161

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Gerty MacDowell “lifted her skirt a little but just enough and took good aim and gave the ball a jolly good kick” (U 13.361–63). This time, however, “Gerty” was actually Angus McFadzean, a conference participant from Wadham College, Oxford, and instead of leaning back upon the rocks of Sandymount Strand for the benefit of a single voyeur, Angus stood on the stage of Shea’s Performing Arts Center for a standing-room-only crowd reciting lines from “Nausicaa” that a mere hour earlier he had no idea he would be performing that night. But Buffalo’s Bloomsday celebration revels in the unexpected, and Angus’s impromptu performance provided the perfect foil for the subsequent impassioned (and actually planned and rehearsed) portrayal of Gerty.

The 2009 North American James Joyce Conference officially began three days earlier at the University at Buffalo’s Anderson Gallery, which was set to open its new exhibit, “Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection.” As conference attendees, we were treated to an exclusive preview (preceded by a much-appreciated open-bar reception). The exhibit displayed an impressive selection from the University’s remarkable Joyce archive, including photographs, letters, drafts of Ulysses, Henri Matisse’s Ulysses sketches, Finnegans Wake notebooks, signed copies of Joyce’s texts, and personal items such as Joyce’s passport and the pen he used to sign the first one hundred copies of Ulysses.

Buffalo, nestled gently against the banks of Lake Erie, might seem an unremarkable location for a Joyce conference if not for the allure of this collection. The exhibition at the Anderson Gallery set the stage for two more major components of the conference: Luca Crispi’s plenary address and a series of workshops moderated by Hans Walter Gabler. Crispi’s lecture, “Archive Fever: The Joyce Buffalo Collection,” described his work in updating the catalog of materials in the Buffalo archive, expanding the level of detail in the catalog descriptions, and making the improved catalog available online. He emphasized the scholarly opportunities available to anyone in the Joyce community wishing to take advantage of the archive’s collection of manuscripts and other materials and encouraged everyone to utilize the web catalog and to return to Buffalo for later research.

Gabler’s workshops (which actually involved several others, including Michael Groden, Daniel Ferrer, Claus Melchior, Tim Conley, Ronan Crowley, and Christopher Whalen, to name a few) were entitled “Working with the Making of Ulysses” and provided several examples of the process through which the text of the Gabler edition was derived from a progression of manuscripts, typescripts, and notes. Of course, many of these documents are housed in the Buffalo archive, and some were on display at the Anderson Gallery.

The museum experience was a recurring motif for the conference. Two days after the opening celebration at the “Discovering James Joyce” exhibit, the conference moved from the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown to the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the campus of Buffalo State College. While panels gathered in various rooms in the museum, the galleries were open to conference-goers who wished to view the collection. At the conclusion of the days’ panels, we moved across the street to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery for a cocktail reception. Docents led tours for anyone who wanted an expert’s guidance through the collection, which includes works by Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dalí, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, and Roy Lichtenstein.

Between the initial reception at Anderson Gallery and the Bloomsday celebration a few days later, a constant succession of panels provided opportunities to listen to papers on an immense array of Joyce-related topics: women, sex, gender issues, censorship, profanity, theology, physics, music, intertextuality, colonial and postcolonial issues, archival collections, the status of the Joyce estate, the status of Joyce scholarship, aesthetics, beauty, knowledge, alcohol, and countless others. One of the best parts of any Joyce conference is the chance to listen to scholars talk about subjects that would likely never surface in one’s own research. My personal favorite was Miloš Zatkalik’s paper entitled “Regressive, Hence Mythical, Hence Musical.” Zatkalik presented a psychological approach to music theory which he applied to Joyce’s texts...



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