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On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Posted by Daniel Green on 06/14/06 at 06:00 AM

From D.T. Max’s New Yorker article on Stephen Joyce, prickly and uncooperative grandson of James:

More than a dozen Joyce scholars told me that what was once an area of exploration and discovery now resembles an embattled outpost of copyright law. Robert Spoo, who used to edit the James Joyce Quarterly, which is published by the University of Tulsa, quit the job to become a copyright lawyer. “New biographies, digital representations of Joyce’s work, analyses of Joyce’s manuscripts, and, to a lesser extent, criticism—they hardly exist,” he said. “People either despaired of doing them . . . or the demands were so high that they just didn’t feel it was worth continuing the discussions.” Although more than fifteen hundred letters and dozens of manuscript drafts have been discovered since Stephen gained control of the estate, scholars told me that no new biographies of Joyce or his family are under way. The estate has not licensed online versions of “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake,” seminal works for hypertext theory. Anyone who plans to study Joyce today has to wonder whether it will be worth the strain. In 2003, Thomas Staley, the director of special collections at the University of Texas, in Austin, folded the Joyce Studies Annual after twelve years, in part to avoid dealing with Stephen. “He is an almost impossible person,” Staley told me. (Buck Mulligan to Dedalus: “O, an impossible person!”)

I have to say that, despite Stephen Joyce’s manifest philistinism, I finished this article feeling some sympathy for his position. When he’s refusing to allow “scholarly” intrusion into the private lives of the Joyce family for gossipy biographies, he’s doing everyone a favor. Unfortunately, however, he seems incapable of distinguishing between this kind of useless speculation and genuine criticism seeking to explicate Joyce’s work. When he declares that all commentators on Joyce’s fiction merely “want to brand this great work with their mark,” he’s just being dense.

(Although I also have to say that Stephen’s hostility toward the Irish government, which has embraced Joyce only after it became expedient to do so, seems to me entirely well-founded.)


Grandson. Best quote: “The line dies with me.”

By nnyhav on 06/14/06 at 07:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the article rightly points out the inconsistency in SJJ’s thoughts about his grandfather’s work. On one hand, it’s this stuff any reader can and should pick up and enjoy, and on the other, all the scholars and critics of JJ have been misunderstanding him.

It reminded me a great deal of when I used to live with someone who managed his poet father’s work with an iron fist. He insisted that the poems were for the “people,” who are always assumed to be wonderful, generous readers, not for “scholars,” who kill poems by vivisection. Ironically, though, he would not release his father’s work for “popular” editions, which would be crass, capitalistic, and not true to his father’s ideals. The only people who own his work are those who know enough to hunt down the rare small press editions, which are wildly expensive collectors’ items now.

I’ve always been fascinated by this disconnect among literary types between “the people” (good readers) and “academics” (bad readers) and between “popular editions” (bad) and “small press editions” (good). And if a professor teaches a work, doesn’t that increase its circle of influence? Is this position toward the literary estate made coherent by assuming that the draw of the work must be so strong that even those who have never stepped in a classroom will spend days hunting down the right edition, merely for the pleasure?

By A White Bear on 06/14/06 at 08:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Some academic commentors make me feel like they’re doing the conceptual equivalent of explaining jokes.  What I put in the books should be something for the readers to discover on their own, and some readers will know more about the books than other readers.  I don’t think science fiction has gained any reader from having Ph.D. thesises done on works only two years old (which meant the thesis in question started about the instant the book was published).

Academics can be excellent readers and trade paperbacks are the way to go.

By on 06/14/06 at 11:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Didn’t Joyce peak about 30-40 years ago? By the time the material is released, interest will probably be less. The guy is a mix of the dog in the manger and pennywise poundfoolish. (Note annoying Joycean punctuation.)

When does copyright run out?—or is young Joyce hitchiking on the Disney-MS infinite extension?

By John Emerson on 06/14/06 at 12:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Gwan, John, ya nut ya!

A couple of other notes on little Stephen....

By Ray Davis on 06/15/06 at 08:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

So 2011 it is. Let’s hope that the boy doesn’t burn everything on New Year’s Eve.

One reason I ended up liking Joyce better than most of his Anglophone peers is his lack of snobbery, which includes his lack of anti-Semitism.

I am aware that this is an invalid reason to like or dislike a Modernist author.

By John Emerson on 06/15/06 at 08:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

On the contrary, John E.—many post-1930s Joyceans (among them myself) became obsessed with Joyce precisely for the genuinely (being genuinely hard-won) humane warmth emanating from his work.

(Along with a genuinely human stink, of course. Which is how the prim grandson began justifying his universal feud, although he long ago reached the point of “I am not thinking of the offense to my grandfather.")

By Ray Davis on 06/15/06 at 09:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

From The Globe and Mail, Stephen James Joyce is sued:

At war with the Joyce estate

Val Ross

Michael Groden met Stephen James Joyce only once, in 1984, on a receiving line at a conference in Frankfurt. That was before Stephen Joyce retired from being an aid official in Africa and emerged as one of the world’s most zealous defenders of the copyright protections of a literary estate.

The two men just might meet again in a U.S. courtroom some time soon. A lawsuit filed on June 16, 2006, by an American Joyce scholar alleges that Stephen, grandson of the writer James Joyce, along with estate trustee Sean Sweeney, improperly withheld access to materials and attempted to intimidate academics, among them the University of Western Ontario’s Groden. . . .

By Bill Benzon on 07/10/06 at 12:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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