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  • The Joyce Industrial Evolution According to one European Amateur 1
  • Fritz Senn (bio)

There was never one compact, professional, let alone efficient Joyce Industry, as it came to be called some decades ago. However it loomed into existence, it must have had many origins and numerous individual starting points. Something analogous would have emerged in any event, given the escalating absorption in Joyce that is due partly to the multiform enthusiasm of readers and also because at one time it looked like the obvious choice for an auspicious career. I can speak of one of the accidental starting points from my own vantage point: the synoptic memories from a twofold position of an outsider and, simultaneously, an extramural busybody. I am aware of (and Joyce shows us) what tricks our memories can play; the witnesses reduce events into a fixed narrative, which then takes on a life of its own. The result is “history.” But then there are not so many around to recall even some of the earlier stories. In fact, there are only two persons left who have participated in everyone of the so far sixteen symposia.

This is inevitably personal. I first heard of this author James Joyce (other than from a brief paragraph in a history of literature) as a young and bashful student of English in Zürich. His picture, by Wilhelm Gimmi, was hanging in the seminar rooms, and I found out who it was through the professor of English, Heinrich Straumann, who had interviewed Joyce just weeks before his death and who often vividly told the story of that last meeting. In my year in England, I intended to take Ulysses on headway, that notorious and seemingly inaccessible novel or whatever it was. I was curious to find out whether my English was adequate; perhaps I felt a local obligation—after all, Zürich had buried the author; moreover the book was thought to be obscene (hardly any obscene books were available in 1951). Anyhow, I paid what was then about five percent of one month’s meagre pay (for teaching at an English Grammar School) and bought the Bodley Head edition. The going was rough; my English was certainly not up to the challenge; Ulysses was not the kind of erotic book I had expected (dirty in a general way, yes, but emphatically not erotic); but there was a fascination. This has lingered, and so, like many others, I was caught in the ongoing process and kept groping my [End Page 191] way through it by animated trial and inventive error.

So I persevered and plodded on, even after I had had to give up my studies to work for what is called a living, entirely on my own, as an autodidact, with all the drawbacks of having no one at hand to explain; the compensating advantage was not having to produce any premature testimony of simulated competence or, heaven forbid, to publish. Warming up to the obsession, I innocently graduated to Finnegans Wake and bravely attempted to make sense of it, sentence by sentence, as so many are still doing world-wide. Few studies could help one along, and books on Joyce as they came out slowly were eagerly awaited and avidly perused. Yes, we read them all. In Kain’s and Magalaner’s James Joyce: The Man, the Work, the Reputation, I learned that a few scholars were researching in the virgin territory of FW. One of them, an Englishman, James S. Atherton, lived in Wigan, and so I wrote to him and received an answer. I was lucky to contact a real independent scholar (he never did get a university position). Atherton’s first suggestion was to work out the Zürich references in the Wake (he had found many on his own). That pushed me over the edge, for I had never seen myself as actually contributing or even writing on Joyce. Still, I churned out, laboriously enough, my first piece, called something like Zürich Allusions, for the old Analyst. I have disowned this juvenile piece long ago, it was a typical sample of a neophyte’s interpretive excess, forgivable perhaps in novice enthusiasts (you find them...

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pp. 191-197
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