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  • Perplex in the Pen--and in the Pixels: Reflections on The James Joyce Archive, Hans Walter Gabler’s Ulysses, and “James Joyce’s Ulysses in Hypermedia”
  • Michael Groden (bio)

In a November 1924 letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, early in his work on Finnegans Wake, Joyce vividly conveyed his sense of frustration: “Complications to right of me, complications to left of me, complex on the page before me, perplex in the pen beside me, duplex in the meandering eyes of me, stuplex on the face that reads me. And from time to time I lie back and listen to my hair growing white.” 1 Textual scholars and literary critics who have retraced Joyce’s writing in an attempt to make sense of the documents that he left us and to find patterns that sometimes seemed to elude even their creator have experienced second-level versions of the original complex, perplex, duplex, and stuplex. In my own case, I listened to my hair falling out rather than turning white, but a life spent among manuscripts, scholarly editions, and large editing projects has convinced me that Joyce’s complaint about complications manifests itself almost daily and in fascinating ways.

I never intended to be a textual scholar. I went to graduate school in the early 1970s after traditional mandatory courses in bibliography had been eliminated. I actually did not know what a textual scholar was until after I started seeing the term applied to me. But it seems that I became one in summer 1973. After a year of struggling with a Ph.D. dissertation that was clearly not working out, I was reading around in Joyce’s manuscripts in the hopes of finding a new topic. I had just made my way through Phillip Herring’s edition of Joyce’s British Museum Ulysses notesheets, then only a year old. In a lucky coincidence, just as I was finishing Herring’s edition some microfilms of a few of the Ulysses drafts that I had asked to [End Page 225] borrow from Buffalo arrived in the mail. When I started reading Joyce’s drafts for the “Cyclops” episode, I saw a short “poem” in one of the them—”O Ireland! Our sireland!/ Once fireland! Now mireland!/ No liar land shall buy our land!/ A higher land is Ireland!”—and I remembered that I had seen it in one of the British Museum notesheets. (Joyce being Joyce, he had revised the first two lines from “O, Ireland! my sireland!/ Thou fireland! thou direland!”) Herring, doing pioneering work, looked for notesheet entries in the published Ulysses, and many of them, including the poem, were not there. As a result, he could not discern any pattern in Joyce’s use of his notes or in the colored pencils that he used to cross out many of them. Joyce had crossed out the notesheet poem in red, and it appeared again in the “Cyclops” draft, and so I looked for other red-deleted notesheet passages in the draft. I found many of them. I also realized from the microfilm copy that Peter Spielberg, cataloguer of the Buffalo collection and another pioneer, had assumed that the shorter of two “Cyclops” drafts was the earlier one and gave it a lower number, whereas the shorter one was actually a revision of the second half of the longer one. So Joyce’s little poem, which he abandoned after the “Cyclops” drafts, made it possible to begin charting out his compositional sequence—notesheets, longer “Cyclops” draft, shorter “Cyclops” draft—as it is documented in the surviving materials.

From these small details, Joyce’s working methods began to come into focus: he used every note that was crossed out in some subsequent draft (even if many of the phrases were eventually deleted or revised beyond recognition), and the colors indicated a particular run through the notes. By filling in more details, I was able to establish a stemma (family tree) of the notes, drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs that led to the first edition of Ulysses, a chart I used to anchor my dissertation and my book, “Ulysses” in Progress. Earlier scholars—James Van Dyck Card, Robert Hurley, A. Walton Litz, Richard...

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