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Modernism and Copyright (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 2, Winter 2011
pp. 362-365 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0044

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To say that copyright law appeals to a select few is an understatement. Nevertheless, as the growing rigidity of intellectual-property laws continues to limit and often stifle scholarship, what we lack in interest we must make up in working knowledge. Modernism and Copyright, however, is far from the instruction manual that the somewhat uninspired title suggests.1 The genius of this collection lies in its drawing from diverse and often unexpected sources. Much as Jeremy Clarkson and his minions broadcast contemporary British civilization under the auspices of an automotives show, Modernism and Copyright effortlessly feeds us the minutiae of copyright with a sugary coating of culture. Absorbing tales of Tiffany lamps abut discussions of jazz, which, in turn, adjoin debates on literary biography. Though these topics, at first, seem dislocated, as we move through the collection, the connections mount. By the end, we sense modernism as a breathing entity connected to our contemporary ideologies and theories, yet severed from us often, because of the draconian sword of copyright. This collection is necessary and timely, not just because it reveals the ways modernist practice evolved but because it queries the ways we study this evolution. Modernism and Copyright is, in short, a grossly disparate compilation that works to fascinating import through the intelligence of its organizing editor, Paul K. Saint-Amour.

Though only one essay, Carol Loeb Shloss’s “Privacy and the Misuse of Copyright,” sets its aperture on Joyce, the collection often touches on issues that surround both his work and legacy. Peter Decherney, for example, combines vaudeville and Charlie Chaplin into a scintillating discussion of copyright as it affects both early film and its roles. He traces Chaplin’s tramp character, the army of devoted impersonators, and the disputes regarding authenticity, reputation, and piracy, all of which helped shape modern copyright law. While so doing, he references Austin Brigg’s work on the resemblances of Bloom to Chaplin’s tramp, a lawsuit that perhaps would be possible today but not even contemplated in Chaplin’s lifetime.2

Robert Spoo is at his best as he describes Ezra Pound’s refusal to sign the 1927 protest regarding the unauthorized Ulysses. This refusal was not resistance to Joyce’s plight but rather a refusal of the protest as an adequate remedy. It culminated in Pound’s draft of a new copyright statute that, as Saint-Amour describes, “would harmonize national regimes and enable living authors to compete more favorably with the dead” (7). When read in conversation with Joyce’s letters, we see the distinctive thinking of both Joyce and Pound as they confronted United States copyright laws they considered infamous (LettersIII 151–53). This essay properly frames one of the philosophical lynchpins of the collection: how do individual rights like artistic integrity and privacy compete with the biopolitical rights of dissemination, freedom, and access?

There is methodical organization here. Celia Marshik’s essay, for example, follows Spoo’s. It revisits Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own while rereading exactly how the individualism we have associated with one’s own room, in Woolf’s formulation, was a shared space of alteration and not the sequestered aerie we may have previously envisioned.3 In essence, Marshik enters the conversation Spoo starts. She goes further in her argument to warn: “The private room of copyright has become, in effect, not just a dwelling place but a kind of mausoleum” (71), a caution all too familiar to Joyceans.

This, of course, brings us to Shloss. Her book, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the “Wake,” is a masterful, poignant account of Joyce’s second child’s position as a pariah.4 If we consider Joyce’s Estate as some equally imprisoned and inaccessible progeny, Shloss, in her essay, chronicles her interactions with this enfant terrible. In his introduction, Saint-Amour suggests, “The Joyce community may feel its work to be jeopardized by the legal pugnacity of the Joyce estate, but much of that community has been galvanized, too, by the sense of having a shared adversary” (35). Shloss’s essay adds some modern Kevlar. Part scholarly essay, part legal brief, she provides the background to the case beginning with the problems...

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