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“A Rookie’s Guide to Joyce Charades”: “James James Joyce’s Ulysses: Texts and Contexts,” A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers, Dublin, Ireland, 18 June-20 July 2012

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 4, Summer 2011
pp. 598-601 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0083

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On Bloomsday 2012, I flew into Dublin and solemnly cracked open a new copy of Ulysses in preparation for “James Joyce’s Ulysses: Texts and Contexts,” a summer seminar for college and university teachers funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. From graduate students to experienced faculty members, the seminar’s sixteen participants gathered to read, discuss, and research Joyce’s Ulysses. For five weeks, our home and campus was Trinity College. Situated in the heart of Dublin, we were within walking distance of the Trinity College Library, the National Library of Ireland, the National Photographic Archive, the Irish Film Institute, and the James Joyce Centre. Trinity College was a wonderfully surreal place to read and write about Joyce. One morning, I walked out my front door into the path of a horse-drawn buggy, the driver tipping his top hat in my direction. The campus square had transformed overnight into a set for a new television series about Jack the Ripper’s London, circa 1888.

Each morning, we woke to the sounds of seagulls; by night, we dutifully obeyed the College’s curfews and submitted to security checkpoints. We were young scholars anew, walking through campus with dog-eared copies of Dubliners and Ulysses tucked under our arms. We would begin each day at Trinity College’s cafeteria (aptly named The Buttery) for heavy Irish scones and espresso—necessary fuel for a morning of study. Directors Kevin Dettmar and Paul Saint-Amour facilitated these discussions with care, modeling the spirited exchange and intellectual generosity that would come to define the seminar. They assembled a demanding curriculum of secondary readings to accompany Joyce’s Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses. Surveying a variety of critical approaches, we charted the reception of Ulysses across the twentieth century and up to the present day. In fact, several contemporary Joyce critics—Mark Wollaeger, Derek Attridge, and Anne Fogarty—visited our seminar to share their current research and to lead discussions. With Enda Duffy, we retraced Joyce’s childhood haunts north of the River Liffey. Luke Gibbons recreated Joyce’s fictional world on the streets of central Dublin, from Sweny’s pharmacy for lemon-scented soap to Buck Mulligan’s “parlour at the back,” home to the memorable arm-wrestling scene in “Counterparts.”

Outside of these group activities, seminar members pursued diverse research projects: Ulysses and epic, Joyce and animal studies, and the Modernist Versions Project’s digital initiative, “Year of Ulysses.” Sara Bryant, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, explored Joyce’s relationship to sound-film aesthetics, examining an unproduced adaptation of Ulysses as a Hollywood talkie, a project undertaken by Louis Zukofsky and Jerry Reisman in the 1930s. Some seminar members collected material for new essays or revised extant book projects, while others photographed manuscripts in the seemingly endless archives at the National Library of Ireland. A few of us were surprised by what surfaced in the course of seminar discussions and left Dublin with new, even unexpected, ideas for our next projects.

For some, the prospect of rereading Ulysses and its critical archive alongside ambitious research agendas was not quite enough. A small reading group formed to tackle Finnegans Wake a few pages at a time. Guided by Mia McIver, Patrick Moran, Saint-Amour, and Bryant, we read aloud, parsing and untangling as we went. Seduced by the Wake, we would reliably lose track of time and forget to dismiss ourselves until late in the evening. Joyce’s writings have a way of exposing expertise in each of us—a phenomenon that we termed “crowd-sourcing.” Reading Ulysses and Finnegans Wake as a group allowed us to draw on one person’s maritime vocabulary or another’s rusty high-school Latin.

Our daily discussions led to generative conversations about teaching Joyce and the pedagogical rewards and challenges of introducing undergraduates to Ulysses. Jennifer Dellner, Associate Professor of English at Ocean County College, shared with us her imaginative course on the epic tradition that placed Ulysses alongside Homer’s Odyssey and Derek Walcott’s Omeros. During our seminar meetings and in informal conversation, we exchanged lesson plans, sample activities, and essay prompts...

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