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  • “Beside the Rivering Waters of Charleston”: The Twenty-third North American James Joyce Conference, College of Charleston, South Carolina, 11–15 June 2013
  • Christian Howard

While perhaps not universally acknowledged, it is a truth nonetheless that Joyceans have a rather odd sense of humor. This fact—not an unpleasant one, I might add—hit me forcibly during the twenty-third North American James Joyce Conference, “Joyce in Charleston,” smoothly run and effectively organized by Tom Rice and Joe Kelly.

It was my first Joyce conference, and admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that the collective if somewhat daunting entity known as “the Joyceans” were friendly, yet I was unprepared [End Page 223] for the gracious and personal welcome extended by these scholars. Whether over drinks, on the ferry ride to the nearby Fort Sumter, or during lunch at a deli and bakery (with the unlikely name of “Caviar and Bananas”—a name, I feel, in which Joyce would have reveled), conversations assumed distinctive personalities as they ranged not only over Joyce and the scholarly work following in his wake (pardon the over-used pun) but also over the state of secondary-school systems in Texas, orphanages in Romania, and the imprimatur of—yes, cats. Eclectic, perhaps, but certainly in keeping with the Joycean spirit and altogether delightful.

My strategy (I use the term loosely) for choosing which panels to attend was similarly eclectic, though I followed two general rules, the first of which was simply to attend the panels most in line with two of my own scholarly interests, including various (visual, digital) representations of Joyce’s works and narrative studies. Two presentations in particular focused upon fascinating digital projects that are developing around Joyce’s texts: Matt Huculak’s work on the Modernist Versions Project to “build a versioned Ulysses” using “para.txts” and “modVers,” enabling researchers to view versioned texts simultaneously and isolate important paratextual differences, and Jasmine Mulliken’s “Mapping Dubliners Project,” a digital tool designed to explore the “geospacial elements” of Dubliners both within and beyond the classroom setting. Additionally, in her “Ulysses ‘Seen’: Re-visioning Modernism in the Digital Turn,” Melissa Higgins examined tensions between narratives and visual media through her analysis of the online serialization of Robert Berry’s graphic-novel adaptation of Ulysses. This focus upon visual aspects of texts made a similar appearance in Amanda Sigler’s lively “Provocative Punctuation and Licentious Letters,” in which Sigler considered the sexy, illustrated lettering in Two Worlds Monthly, giving a whole new meaning to Joyce’s “dirty letters.” More on the narratological side of things was Sean Latham’s “Gaming the Wake,” which evaluated the incoherence of Joyce’s fictional world by situating the Wake between “Possible Worlds” theory and ludology. These were merely a few of the presentations that navigated so well between the Scylla and Charybdis of intellectual rigor and innovative playfulness within Joycean scholarship.

The second rule I followed when choosing panel presentations was to attend those of fellow graduate students. Varying in much greater range than the panels I otherwise attended, these presentations were personally inspiring even as they revealed the intriguing directions in which a new generation of Joyce scholars is taking its research. Notable among these were Donald Calabrese’s “‘Give it a name, [End Page 224] Citizen’: Naming in the Ulysses Avant-Texte,” a consideration of naming (via the tradition of analytic philosophy) in relation to genetic criticism; Kathryn Webb’s “Circe’s Looking Glass: Joyce’s ‘Circe’ Episode via Jarry, Ibsen, and Strindberg,” a comparative analysis in which our protagonist was cast as “Ubu Bloom”; Gabriel Mamola’s “The Bass and Treble of His Method: Coincidence in Joyce’s ‘Sirens,’” an assessment of music as distraction and the subsequent narrative positioning of the episode; and Johanna Winant’s “What Is It Like to Be Another? Leopold Bloom and Empathy,” an ethical and philosophical examination of Bloom’s attempts to picture himself as another. I certainly hope to see these scholars at subsequent Joyce conferences!

Other notable events included Vincent Cheng’s plenary session, “Joyce, Ireland, and the American South: Blackness, Whiteness, and Lost Causes.” While broad in scope and implications, the presentation...


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