- "Doctoral Strange Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb":A Report on the University College Dublin James Joyce Research Colloquium, 16-19 April 2008
There is a new event on the Joyce calendar. For graduate students, it is another welcome opportunity to enjoy a free busman's holiday. Hosted by the University College Dublin James Joyce Research Centre, the format devised by the organizers Anne Fogarty and Luca Crispi is distinct from other established Joycean gatherings, such as the Dublin and Trieste summer schools, the symposia, or the Zurich workshops. Speakers sit down to deliver their papers to an audience small but perfectly formed. Around twenty graduate and postdoctoral scholars join the twelve speakers at each session. Other participants are, of course, welcome and swell the pairs of ears to between forty and fifty people. This smaller, more specialist scale enables one to speak to most, if not all, of those in attendance during the course of the four-day event. There were no parallel sessions, and almost everyone was able to stay until the end, so the intellectual exchanges gathered a sustained momentum. Students came from Taiwan, Lithuania, India, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Ukraine, and North America, as well as Ireland and the United Kingdom, aided by generous scholarships that covered travel and accommodation costs and waived the registration fee. The colloquium format is a throw-back to the Paris Colloques Joyce of the 1980s that Fritz Senn remembers fondly in his Murmoirs.1
Speaking of memoirs, the colloquium reflected an emergent trend in Joyce studies: autobiography. The opening lecture by Michael Groden was a surprisingly personal development of the biography of Ulysses that he had been touting for the past few years. Groden read a section of his latest work in progress: a book about a boy becoming a man reading a book about the invasion of privacy. The project has a manifold impetus. First, there is that common question from Groden's adult-education classes on Ulysses in Toronto and New York: "Why read Ulysses?" Or as Groden preferred to phrase it: "Why did I it? Why did it me?" Then there was a two-page letter he once wrote to Stephen James Joyce attempting to explain why he had devoted his life to the study of the grandfather's work, regretted as soon as it had been posted. This eventually turned into an initially resisted contribution to a collection of essays about privacy edited by his second wife and high-school sweetheart, Molly Peacock.2 The writing has continued to lengthen. Despite this test airing, the book [End Page 13] is not aimed at a Joycean nor even an academic readership. Groden hopes it will attract new readers to Ulysses.
Some of us now know more about Groden's private life than we could have ever wished for (a stark contrast to Senn's book, which is characteristically cagey about his personal affairs). But the auto-biographical approach, particularly when it is so carefully reflective, does have its merits. Having confessed to a lonely childhood hobby of counting and tabulating his collection of bottle tops while listening to and keeping statistics on the pop-music charts on the radio, it is evident how and why Groden, once a freshman mathematics major at Dartmouth, went on to develop an expertise in the genetic study and indexing of manuscripts.
Anne Fogarty also encouraged an autobiographical slant from the other speakers. Emer Nolan admitted that she could not be as lucid as Groden because she has not had all the therapy he has had before going on to speak about her experiences as a graduate student from Ireland in the 1980s. She never read Ulysses while she was at University College Dublin and only considered writing her Ph.D. dissertation on Joyce at Cambridge when she realized that working on George Eliot under the supervision of Dame Gillian Beer would be a dead-end. Hers was the first Cantab. thesis on Joyce since Colin MacCabe ruffled feathers. Vicki Mahaffey spoke candidly on how one of the hard things about research is to retain one's sense of wonder and how patience...