The XVIe Colloque James Joyce

Fritz Senn, Zurich James Joyce Foundation

For many years the Colloque James Joyce has been convened by scholars and students in Paris. The event is a moveable feast that is usually held in the Spring, and always on a Friday and Saturday.

The Colloque James Joyce was initiated by Claude Jacquet in the early '80s. Its backbone, from the beginning, has been French Joyce scholars, with Jacques Aubert as a kind of doyen, and some of them, who were just coming into their own in the Colloque's initial stages, are now among the foremost experts in their fields: Jean-Michel Rabate, Daniel Ferrer, Andre Topia, as well as a former student, Laurent Milesi; and then there are widening and growing circles of new talent. Guests from abroad, from Belgium to Korea, have also been a vital part of the Colloque's success. Traditionally the Colloque meets in the Sorbonne, but in recent years the Saturday sessions have moved to the equally renowned Ecole Normale Superieure. Its size, generally between 20 and 40 participants, is large enough to ensure good responses and small enough to facilitate contacts.

The Colloque consists of a number of sessions, with one hour allowed to each talk and some animated discussion. There has generally been a theme for the conference; it may have been Dubliners or Ulysses chapters (these choices were determined by the French academic system, an institution called Agregation, that sets a national syllabus for students each year), or Exiles, but other topics have been, Flaubert, Joyce and Italy, and Finnegans Wake notebooks. The results of some of these previous conferences have been collected in attractive small volumes (the third volume of Scribbles, Joyce et l'Italie, has just become available).

Because of the Colloque's entanglement with C.N.R.S. (the French centre for textual studies), there has recently been a strong emphasis on genetic approaches. This year, on April 7 and 8, the 16th Colloque was devoted to "La correspondence comme texte et avant-texte". Daniel Ferrer in his introduction raised basic questions and staked out the area, before Cornelius Crowley gave a concentrated intellectual talk on "FW I-5: la lettre trouvee" (though humanely given in English). Valerie Benejam, a French student, spoke enlighteningly on letters in Ulysses as they are received, read, hidden, or produced ("Writing and Corresponding in Ulysses: Sending a 'French Letter' to a 'Postmistress'"). Steven Dilks, from England (but now at Rutgers), in "Marketing FW: Joyce's Averthisment of Commodius Vicus of Recirculation," questioned the overall dominance of Vico in the Wake. Marie-Dominique Garnier gave one of her scrupulously spirited talks, this time on the memorable "Scrupulous Meanness of Joycean Letters" and its reverberations. The next day we heard Ingeborg Landuyt, from the Antwerp school of genetic criticism, on "Shaun's Letterbox," that showed the vagaries of notebook entries as well as their usefulness and their limitations. Andrew Treip ("Pass Him On: the Joycean Rumour") traced the ambivalent relationships between Joyce and T.S. Eliot, and this was complemented by David Hayman: "Enter Wyndham Lewis Leading Dancing Dave: What the Unpublished Letters Can Tell Us About the Wake's Development" (appropriately in a paper on letters not yet published one page of the typescript was intriguingly missing).

A (square) round table wound up the proceedings. The wide range of the term "letter" was duly noted, from the alphabet to epistolary messages to Literature (letters), from micro- to macro-cosm, as it is fully exploited in Finnegans Wake where "Letters play" with abandon. But more narrowly Joyce's many letters and postcards (whose pictorial subjects would deserve a minor study), and their unsatisfactory fate, was the main topic. One question that came up was which of Joyce's letters were really directed at their respective receivers alone and which ones may in part have been aimed at Posterity. The discussion was characterised by the absence of anyone with power (ownership) or authority to inform the audience (of about 30) and the world at large what exactly the grim prospects are. There is general agreement that the letters already available in print (though out of it) should be put in chronological order and be scrupulously checked against the originals (transmission errors abound) and adequately annotated. Above all an optimally complete edition, supplemented by all those items that have come to light or still are tucked away in scattered collections, is a crucial requirement. This is not because Joyce readers are more morbidly curious than others, but because it is by now expected for every writer, even those far less tortuously autobiographical, and has become a standard. In view of the confused situation of ownership and a highly restrictive permission policy, some of the participants thought the realisation of this overdue scholarly project highly improbable, at least for the next decades, though a few traces of vague optimism were also on record.