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"It's All True?": A Report on "'Outside his jurisfiction': Interrogating James Joyce's Non-Fiction," University of York, 23-25 March 2012

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011
pp. 7-10 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0108

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I'll start with the doubly negative statement that Joyce is not known for his nonfiction. Generally, we mine his disparate writings collected in Occasional, Critical, and Political Writings for contextual sources, clarifications of Joyce's early beliefs, or biographical footnotes. But for Katherine Ebury and James Fraser, the "Outside his jurisfiction" organizers, it was finally time to query the status of these pieces in their own right. The primary focus of this conference was on how Joyce's nonfiction writing could be properly placed within his oeuvre, an effort highlighted by John McCourt's keynote "Second-Hand News: The Marginalities of Joyce's Non-Fiction." Another common inquiry was what "fictionality" could potentially mean for a writer's corpus that employs so many autobiographical and seemingly factual elements. Hans Walter Gabler's provocative statement the first morning—that Stephen Hero is a non-fiction "perception text" (simply a recording of a series of events)—set the tone for what was a stimulating and absorbing three days, not least because the majority of the quoted Joyce material came from less familiar or forgotten sources: no "nightmare of history" rehashes in York.

"Outside his jurisfiction's" main venue was the bright, large-windowed Bowland Auditorium in the recently constructed Berrick-Saul Building. Although we were inside these headquarters for the University of York's Humanities Research Centre most of the weekend, the auditorium's windows let us punctuate our theorizing with glances at the early spring sunshine and the rabbits and geese peeking in with curiosity. The Treehouse, the somewhat misleadingly named circular, glazed, top floor of the Berrick-Saul building, was the setting for a couple of wine receptions and the highly anticipated "workshop" discussion led by Kevin Barry. For those of us unfamiliar with the circumstances in the late 1990s, Barry first recalled how he came to collect and edit Oxford University Press's Occasional, Critical, and Political Writings, after Penguin, for whom he was editing an earlier version, found itself in the Joyce Estate's bad books. Luckily for us, following a Dublin Joyce Summer School talk and Irish Times write-up, Barry won Stephen Joyce's blessing to publish with Oxford, although some important pieces were then not able to appear in the book, like the dream notebook and anything copyrighted by Faber and Faber. After a roundtable conversation about the discontinuities between these short pieces and the major fiction and within the collection as a whole (especially the almost complete absence of Dublin in these writings), talk turned to the usual Joycean musings of what could go into a new edition in the absence of copyright restrictions. In the end, Barry's experience of editing this collection served as an object-lesson in what we all face as scholars in the absence of unrestricted access to perfect information, simply "making the best of the inadequacies you have to hand."

The second morning began with a panel of historicized readings of "Realism and Idealism in English Literature," "The Mirage of the Fisherman of Aran," and "The Motor Derby" by Alastair Cormack, Alison Lacivita, and me, respectively. Cormack read Joyce's essay in conjunction with prevailing public discourses of Revival aesthetics and the Irish National Theatre, and I situated Joyce's sole interview within the proliferation of journalism leading up to the highly anticipated 1903 Gordon Bennett cup. Lacivita spoke on the tensions between economic and industrial modernization and the traditional uses of land and sea and ecological responsibility in the West of Ireland Galway Harbour Scheme, a plan to construct a massive Atlantic port to link Irish commerce and shipping even more intimately with the North Atlantic and simultaneously protect the British Empire from the growing German naval threat. This panel was followed by a biographical turn with J. T. Welsch's paper on the confessional structures of Giacomo Joyce, which he then expanded to consider the larger strain of confession running throughout Joyce's works. Luca Crispi used a wealth of archival detail to recreate the events in Joyce's life during the year 1932, demonstrating conclusively that "voicing the archive" to write a comprehensive new biography of Joyce presents a well-nigh impossible task. Making...

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