- “A Postcard from Zurich”: A Report on the 2017 Zurich James Joyce Foundation Workshop, 30 July – 5 August 2017
In the close quarters of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, delegates, representing thirteen different nationalities, assembled to launch a thrilling exploration of “Postscrapt.” The proceedings were ceremoniously opened with each participant receiving a beautiful stationery packet. Cleverly designed by Sabrina Alonso to match the year’s theme, the packages included envelopes with room for “stickyback snaps” (FW 183.11) and pages illustrated with the letters of Ulysses. The theme of “Postscrapt” required a certain stretch of the imagination from the participants of this year’s workshop. The distress of mailing a sole copy of a manuscript during wartime, the degree of intimacy implied in a handwritten message as opposed to a telegram or an anonymous card, or the anticipation inscribed in the time-lag between sending a letter and receiving a reply are foreign experiences in today’s culture of digital correspondence. A fundamental apparatus in Joyce’s world, the postal system is involved in every aspect of his life and fiction.
The workshop included close readings, comparative analyses, genetic studies, and biographical inquiries. Presentations were delivered in the required local style (no reading of papers allowed!), with Fritz Senn’s consistent encouragement and emphasis on discussion resulting in a warm and collegial atmosphere, unique to this academic event. The wide range of possible avenues of investigation was established on the first morning with a presentation by Jolanta Wawrzycka who surveyed post-related words and phrases throughout Ulysses, including post offices, telegrams, cards, and mail-boats. Though some attention was given to envelope matters such as the language of stamps, the discussion throughout the week was almost exclusively devoted to letters. To ensure that the plight of “postmen” was not forgotten, an impromptu reading group followed the “[l]etter, carried of Shaun” (FW 420.17). Posted to a “[n]ave unlodgeable,” the missive goes astray while the wandering Shaun must “[k]ainly forewarred” it from a page full of wrong addresses, including some of Joyce’s own Dublin residences (FW 420.23, 421.05).
Setting the stage for a weeklong Joyce marathon, Jesse Meyers spoke on Joyce as the defining cultural icon of our age, citing the author’s immense influence on writers, filmmakers, and musicians from Frank Budgen and John Cage to Kate Bush and Martin Scorsese. The talk provided a fascinating survey of references to Joyce in various media, including statistics on Google search results, impressively growing from 900,000 to over seventy-five million over the course of fifteen years. [End Page 192]
The following day, which coincided with a Swiss national holiday, supplied fireworks of both the literal and metaphorical kind. Shinjini Chattopadhyay delivered a talk on absent letters, focusing on Molly and Milly Bloom. Reading Ulysses alongside Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” she addressed the economy of the Bloom’s household, showing how cards function as gifts in addition to messages. Paul Devine’s presentation continued the exploration of letters as objects with an examination of the leitmotif of letters appearing with obscured contents or as fragments throughout the novel. Looking at sections from Dubliners and Ulysses, Devine discussed the reading of readers of letters. The material aspect of post was a common thread throughout the week, tying Chattopadhyay and Devine’s presentations with several others including Stephanie Nelson’s talk on Joyce and Homer, in which she referred to corrupted and misinterpreted messages, and Erik Fuhrer’s discussion of letters as erotic objects in “Circe.” This recurring emphasis revealed Joyce’s tendency to engage with the physical dimension of letters by either calling attention to their material characteristics or through various forms of their fetishization. Like his novels, Joyce’s letters operate beyond purely semantic functions.
Later in the day, Tim Conley addressed “infantile epistles,” unpacking a fascinating connection between children and the postal system. Drawing a line between Father Conmee’s warning “mind you don’t post yourself,” Stephen’s infirmary fantasy of a letter to his mother, Shaun the post(boy), and Issy’s postscript notes, Conley analyzed children’s letters as they relate to time, death, and economics...