June 7, 2005

'Return to Ithaca' -- James Joyce scholars gather at Cornell

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Author James Joyce will be well-received in the namesake of the original Ulysses' hometown, when more than 180 Joyce scholars from around the world gather at Cornell University starting Tuesday, June 14.

"Return to Ithaca," the 2005 North American James Joyce Conference, will feature academic panels and papers on topics including censorship, language, psychoanalysis, sexuality, music, film, chaos theory and the literary significance of a cup of cocoa. The conference runs through June 18.

Joyce's writings -- including "Ulysses," "Finnegans Wake," "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Dubliners" -- have been the subject of broad-ranging critical theory and exposition by numerous scholars and writers, such as Anthony Burgess and Umberto Eco.

"Joyce's work is so expansive and dense that you can read it for a lifetime," said Jim LeBlanc, chairman of the conference's host committee. "Expansive in terms of the social and intellectual and political issues he addresses, and dense in terms of the language. He covers so much ground, in such a sophisticated and engaging way, that you can never run out of things to do with him -- you're always seeing new angles."

It's likely that more works have been published on Joyce in the last 20 years than on any other writer in the English language besides Shakespeare, said LeBlanc, who is in charge of the Post-Cataloging Services unit at Olin Library. 

"Joyce is a marvelous author and not only a great source for scholars, but more importantly, he's also read with pleasure all over the world," said Daniel R. Schwarz, professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell. He is the author of "Reading Joyce's 'Ulysses'" and several other works that touch on Joyce, including "Reconfiguring Modernism."

"The Joyce group tends to be a very pluralistic, tolerant, congenial group, and while very passionate on the subject, they are open to a diversity of views," Schwarz said. "Their conferences tend to be, in the most scholarly sense, a community of inquiry."

Schwarz will give a conference-opening talk, "ReJoyce in Ithaca," participate in a panel on teaching Joyce and moderate a panel of graduate students' work derived from his fall 2004 Joyce seminar.

Participants also include Margot Norris and Zack Bowen, current and former presidents, respectively, of the International James Joyce Foundation, sponsor of a Joyce symposium held in Europe in even-numbered years. LeBlanc said that Norris has inspired a lineage of scholarly research, and Bowen has made the University of Miami "a hotbed of Joyce scholarship."

The conference is as much a social and networking event as an academic one.

"What we have tried to do is to provide a lot of social situations where people can talk about Joyce in a convivial atmosphere," LeBlanc said. Social events are scheduled for each day of the conference. These include the exhibit opening, a banquet, a Friday reception at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and a Bloomsday lunch on June 16, the 101st anniversary of Leopold Bloom's tour of Dublin in "Ulysses."

Entertainment is also a tradition at Joyce gatherings. Three evening events, at 8 p.m. in Barnes Hall, will be free and open to the public. 

Actor Adam Harvey will perform, completely from memory, an entire chapter of "Finnegans Wake" on June 15 and 17. "It's a very physical performance, with few or no props," LeBlanc said of Harvey's show. "When I saw it, I was completely blown away that someone could do this. He's trying to get permission to do it professionally from the Joyce estate, which is notoriously cantankerous." 

In "Joyce and the Art of Song," on Thursday, June 16, soprano Sandra Cotton and pianist Scott Klein will perform music inspired by Joyce. 

Other conference highlights include a session on Joycean musical parodies, the traditional "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" reading groups, and a three-part Joyce and Homer workshop with classicist Keri Ames, focusing on the parallels in "Ulysses" and its "Ithaca" chapter, in which Leopold Bloom returns home.

William S. Brockman of the Pennsylvania State University Libraries is coordinating the conference's academic program. Other leading scholars and guest speakers participating include "Finnegans Wake" scholar John Bishop '70, Sheldon Brivic, Morris Beja, Thomas Jackson Rice and Richard Brown. "And there are strong young scholars emerging as luminaries of the next generation," Schwarz said. In addition to Bishop, Cornell alumni Stephen Sicari, Ph.D. '86, Caroline Webb, Ph.D. '88, and Christy L. Burns '84 also will participate.

The conference is hosted by the Cornell University Library, with support from Cornell's English Department, Society for the Humanities and Council on the Arts, the Pennsylvania State University Libraries and the Ithaca College Department of English. 

A related exhibit of early Joyceana, "From Dublin to Ithaca: Cornell's James Joyce Collection," opens Thursday, June 9, with a 5:30 p.m. reception in the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery in Carl A. Kroch Library, and will remain on display through Oct. 12. Also June 9, professor emeritus of English M.H. Abrams will give a public lecture, "An Unlikely Story: The Joyce Collection at Cornell," at 4:30 p.m. in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall.

Other upcoming events will be announced. "We are looking at this as a summer-long event," LeBlanc said.