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"A beautiful pure sweet mellow English tenor": "Joyce and England" at the 18th Irregular Miami J'yce Birthday Conference, 31 January-2 February 2013

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011
pp. 18-21 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0121

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It was a nice bit of planning that our conference began on the top of a tower—or, at least, on a fifth-floor terrace—and closed in communal darkness after a banquet and a song. The text, however, that dominated many discussions—as is appropriate for a resurrection event (the Miami conference has been in abeyance since 2006)—was the Wake.

The conference focus was "Joyce and England." It is not obvious that Joyce, who once wrote to Grant Richards, "I know very little of the state of English literature at present nor do I know whether it deserves or not the eminence which it occupies as the laughing-stock of Europe," was inspired by English writing (LettersII 134), but conference participants explored the many ways in which he took it into account and vice-versa. Sessions included "Victorian Joyce," "British Space," and "James Joyce, Irish National," with papers such as "Joyce and Arnold" by Grace Holtkamp, and "Bloom and Crusoe" by Austin Briggs among other British-inflected offerings.

Under the category of "Joyce and England," Suzette Henke, in "Joyce Among the Bloomsberries," reminded us of Virginia Woolf's first uncertain reading of Ulysses and then explored the possible influence and intertextuality between Hope Mirrlees's Paris: A Poem and Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Henke's historical analysis was followed by a fine graduate paper by Rachel Kaplowitz, titled "A 'Protean' Play with Language, or, Joyce and the Time of Modernism."

The range of influence between Joyce and England was not confined to literature. "Musical Joyce" included papers on Joyce and the (English) music hall, by Heyward Ehrlich, and an expressive reading of John Dowland's aria "Weep You No More Sad Fountains," which was located within the text of "The Dead" by Cóilín Owens, whose book, Before Daybreak, released by the Florida James Joyce Series just a few days earlier, was sold out at the book exhibit. I noticed several other "musical" papers that did not make it into that particular session, from Milos Zatkalik's "Ulysses: Sonata in the Psychoanalytic Key" to Rebecca Troeger's "Molly Bloom, Don Giovanni, and the 'Diva' Role in Ulysses."

A different English connection was developed during "Comic Joyce," a session held in honor of Zack Bowen, where Jesse McKnight delivered a paper called "Joyce and 'That Englisher': Corner Boy Comedy from Antic London to Attic Dublin." He noticed how Ulysses figures the English as usurpers and intruders (Edward VII, the viceregal procession, the one-legged sailor, and, of course, Haines) but argued that the "men in black," that is, "Bloom and his alter ego, Charlie Chaplin," perform intrusions of their own. In Ulysses, McKnight found Chaplin's oversized, secondhand boots on Stephen's feet and his tight jacket on Bloom's dark back. In political terms, McKnight said, "It is ironic that such comic characters as Poldy and the tramp are perceived as agents of chaos . . . when in point of fact they are bringing a liberating order to a generally ignored or misperceived disorder."

McKnight's thesis demonstrates how valuable the conference is for Joyceans. Miami J'yce is a venue well suited to experimenting with and performing scholarship in a speculative key. Other virtues include its manageable size and what this year's program manager Timothy Sutton described as "a mix of young Joyceans with intellectual promise and experienced Joyceans with their excellent scholarship and good humor." Sutton also noted the participation of an "international crowd," which broadened conference geographies into other areas, such as Marco Camerani's comparison of Bloom and Cretinetti (André Deed), an Italian slapstick film star. Other international attendees included a Bakhtinian cohort from Pamukkale, Turkey, a Roman curator based at the Keats-Shelley House, and scholars from Belgrade, Jordan, Ireland, England, Spain, and Canada. It was a pleasant diversity for a small conference. This environment invites lively, productive early commentary on one's more venture-some ideas.

In that bold spirit, Sebastian Knowles spoke on Joyce and New England and showed us a Joyce rehearsing a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game, which Knowles found depicted in FW II.2, cursing the Red Sox who were guilty of an offense...



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