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"Putting Truth and Untruth Together": The 2012 Zurich James Joyce Foundation Workshop, 6-11 August 2012.

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011
pp. 15-18 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0117

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It seems that, sooner or later, all Joycean roads lead to Zurich. Dating back to the Foundation's establishment, the annual summer workshops held in the city are so well known within the Joyce world that one sometimes suspects it would be impossible to find a seasoned Joycean without at least one workshop story to tell. Numerous reports in this journal over the years have expressed the unique appeal of these week-long gatherings, where participants are invited to speak on the conditions that each presentation remains open to interruption and reading from scripts is discouraged in the strongest terms. These rules make the workshop an exceptionally discursive environment, allowing the attendant scholars to develop ideas in dialogue and resulting in an atmosphere distinct from that of similar events.

As the attending scholars of the 2012 workshop entitled "Lying: Putting Truth and Untruth Together" gathered at the Foundation for the first night's welcome dinner, the subject turned, perhaps inevitably, to rumors from the Joyce world (of which no account shall be given here). While the conversation developed and participants tried to sort fact from fiction, questions began to emerge that would be asked again—under more scholarly conditions—later in the week: how does one ascertain what the truth is? How do gossip and rumor, which reside somewhere on the outskirts of truth, function? And how "truthful" should we expect fiction in general to be? As one scholar put it: "it's not telling a lie to twist the facts, it's just . . . telling a story."

After an evening of talk, wine, and Fritz Senn's famous potato salad, the workshop proper opened the following morning with a discussion of lies and falsehood in Dubliners, A Portrait, and Ulysses, as, first, Senn and then Sabrina Alonso invited us to examine notable extracts. We began with Senn guiding us through several instances of lying in Dubliners, using key passages to establish from the outset the general uncertainty involved in reading Joyce, "a great writer for telling us how little we know in general." This led to some discussion regarding the nature of truth in Joyce's works, a topic that arose repeatedly over the week, prompting one participant to observe that "the most simple statements are often the most dubious." Moving on to Ulysses, Senn led us in analyzing the deceptions in Molly and Bloom's marriage, an instance where the reader may believe each is well aware of the other's tacit deceptions. The next morning, Alonso continued the analysis of Ulysses by focusing on Molly specifically, discussing both her language and actions. Particularly interesting were Alonso's examples of non-verbal lies, such as corsets and other "contraptions," which are not only advertised somewhat dishonestly but also alter one's body and appearance from their true forms.

After Alonso, Stephanie Nelson gave a talk entitled "Pseudangelos." A classicist by trade, Nelson spoke fluently on the Odyssey and false identities in "Eumaeus," coining the term "Eumaeunism" to refer to the episode's peculiar doublings of language. She drew our attention to the way truth is represented in both Joyce's and Homer's language, citing idioms like "in fact" and "matter of fact" as instances of language exhibiting its preoccupation with truth, and asserting that "language itself is the father of lies." Turning to Bloom, Nelson highlighted phrases that demonstrate how the character goes through variations during Ulysses, such as "though in reality I'm not" (U 16.1085), said by Bloom about his being a Jew—a quote that, Senn pointed out, "raises the question of what reality is."

That afternoon, Rie Shimokawa, a visiting scholar at the Foundation, presented some of her recent work on Dubliners, before Marina Dobrovolskaya returned us to the theme of lying by analyzing some of what she termed the "symbols" of Ulysses. Dobrovolskaya showed us some of the painted cards she uses to illustrate different objects in Ulysses to her students and, of particular interest to me, briefly raised the idea of dreaming as a means of lying: imagining things that one cannot actually do. To finish the afternoon, Mary Power took us from the non-verbal to the verbal with her...

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