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“Paradise Found”: A Review of the XXII North American James Joyce Conference, San Marino-Pasadena, 12–16 June 2011

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 1, Fall 2010
pp. 9-12 | 10.1353/jjq.2010.0039

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As an academic radiologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, at first I felt unsure about something so foreign, my first major Joycean event, the XXII North American Joyce conference at the Huntington Library, Caltech, and Environs in Pasadena, California. Still, once past Wisconsin with its overflowing brick cheeses, bratwurst, beer, and medical conferences with their constant interpersonal buzz devoted to topics medical or sports-related, it felt good to get away from it all geographically and spiritually.

My wife and I set out westward and found Eden. Albert Einstein himself said that Pasadena was “like Paradise.”1 Those luscious, tall, blue-blooming jacaranda trees, the gorgeous botanical gardens all around the Huntington Library, the opportunity to meet so many new people, and the magnificent temperate climate all led to a rib-tickling feeling every day. That week, while my wife and son explored the international array of cacti in the desert garden with geckoes angling about, the Chinese garden with orange koi touching the surface of the pool, the jungle garden waterfall, the lazy lotus flowers out among the lilies, the sculptures on the lawns, and all the stately bonsai trees, I took a number of hard swallows and did my mingling.

After a stirring reception Sunday night at the Huntington, on the first regular conference day, there were that impressionistic California light, a short bus ride from the Sheraton Hotel, cups of coffee and delicious scones, and the beginning of paper presentations—far too many for my inadequate memory—mostly under the thematic rubric “Joyce in Science and Art.” Aida Yared began with what felt like an operatic performance on the issue of child abuse in Joyce’s fiction, particularly in “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts.” As a pediatrician—and with projected photos overhead of turn-of-the-century “humorous” post-cards of spanked children—she gave a very sobering talk. Later in the morning, in the session titled “Rags and Fish Wraps,” James Reppke spoke about Joyce’s journalistic career, the power and influence of the written media, and James Duffy’s reaction to those influences regarding the newspaper article in “A Painful Case.” Brandon Kershner gave a wonderful rundown of the light weeklies at the end of the nineteenth century and their varied impact on Joyce’s works, in particular, Titbits with its short fictions and anecdotes, readers’ contributions, and contests—to which Joyce’s father was addicted. Midday on Monday, after lunch outside at the grand Huntington mausoleum, the astute Jeff Drouin, of the University of Tulsa, delivered a stimulating plenary address entitled “The Einstein of English Fiction,” discussing the use of periodicals, popular culture, and textual criticism between the world wars that cemented Joyce’s place within a cultural nexus containing Einstein’s relativity and mechanics theories.

Although admittedly I had never really gotten past “riverrun” in Finnegans Wake, I enjoyed the dynamic, gesticulating performance that the fabulous Adam Harvey gave of “The Mookse and the Gripes” late Monday afternoon. That night, between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., using the little light that was available, I read pages 152–59 of the Wake over and over again to my delight. Along those lines, I thought Nuvoletta herself was there in person at the poetry readings Monday night when I heard Sinead Morrissey recite her poems with such vocal intensity, and the readings by Eavan Boland and Paul Muldoon were equally impressive.

On Tuesday morning, the site for presentations related to Joyce, Jacques Lacan, and George Orwell was a small Huntington class-room—and thankfully not Room 101. In a sense, all three writers battled it out intertextually, with the latter two securing masochistic victories/failures. In his penetrating paper, “When the Psychiatrist Needs a Psychiatrist,” Benjamin Boysen nicely lanced Lacan by pointing out that his mirror-reading of Joyce’s presumed psychotic writings made Lacan, not Joyce, the psychopath. After a fine evaluation of Joyce’s profound influence on Orwell, Martha Carpentier made the case that the Winston/O’Brien relationship in 1984 repeats Orwell’s inadequate patterning of the patriarchal Joyce. Between these two talks, Leila Baradaran Jamili presented a spirited interlude regarding the ties between the “chaosmos” (chaos...


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