Joyce Centenary Symposium

16 June 2022, 9:00am – 5:30pm
The Oratory. Newman College. University of Melbourne

Stephen Dedalus famously declared his intention to ‘fly by’ the nets of nationality, language and religion. One hundred years after the publication of UIysses (1922), this symposium asks where Joyce might be ‘caught’ in the widest senses of that word.


9:00am – 9:15am | Ronan McDonald | Welcome Symposium Opening

9:15am – 10:45am | SESSION 1

The Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 crashed over the newly globalizing world in four waves, hot on the heels of WWI, killing somewhere between 15 and 50 million and infecting half a billion—a third of the world’s population. Spreading through the capillaries of Empire, war, trade, and tourism, the pandemic affected every continent and devastated communities from Finland to New Zealand, Alaska to Istanbul, robbing them of people, industry, resilience, and hope. In Ireland alone, the flu accounted for a third of all deaths in the year 1918-19. A century later, in the tail-end of another devastating pandemic, we are better positioned to appreciate the turmoil, pail, and loss of those years, which too often are eclipsed in memory by the more localized destruction of the Great War.

Joyce’s Ulysses, in its centenary year, emerges in a very new light from this uncanny repetition: a novel written over the duration of the pandemic, in places profoundly affected by it, it seems to want to avoid the plague as much as the War itself. Set in 1904, Ulysses can afford to ignore any explicit traces of the deadliest emergency since the Black Death; but there is an argument to be made for the book as a cryptic management campaign over the terrible mortality rates and infectiousness of the so-called Spanish Flu. This paper will consider how Ulysses charts the same global scale as the pandemic, driven by viral contagions of language, which spread irresistibly from one corner of the globe to another; while looking at those signs—of foot and mouth disease, smallpox, whooping cough, and other communicable diseases—which associate its formal devices with the logic of epidemics.

Julian Murphet holds the Jury Chair in English at the University of Adelaide

The (particularly apt) theme for this conference – ‘catching Joyce’ – links a set of key themes surrounding the commemorative event of the centennial (apprehension, reception, recollection). To be capable of catching a text, for a text to be catchable, implies firstly that we are capable of pursuing or apprehending it, and secondly that we are capable of receiving it, bearing it, or taking it in. To think about what it might mean to catch Joyce I propose that we turn our attention to the chiastic dimensions of language: to the qualities of reversion, inversion, and recursion at play in Joyce’s work, as well as to the stickiness of certain words. I intend to examine the theme and function of inversion in Dubliners and Ulysses. I intend to demonstrate, with reference to the work of Werner Hamacher, that inversion forms a powerful rhetorical and epistemological figure for the consolidation of meaning in these works, one that complicates a number of the controlling tropes through which these two texts have been read.

Monty Patton is a PhD Student in English at the University of Melbourne

A widely recognised feature of modernist art is its problematisation and decentring of personal, human perspectives and engagements. In a canonical early statement of what could be called the ideology of modernism, José Ortega y Gasset celebrates what he calls modernism’s dehumanisation of art. For Ortega y Gasset, the modern artist “leaves us locked up in an abstruse universe, surrounded by objects with which human dealings are inconceivable, and thus compels us to improvise other forms of intercourse completely distinct from our ordinary ways with things.” Joyce’s Ulysses can in many ways be understood to provide a paradigmatic form of this dehumanisation of art, in its work within and upon the genre of the novel: most strikingly, perhaps, in its penultimate chapter (“Ithaca”), which presents the narrative’s central ‘event’ – the meeting of Dedalus and Bloom – in the form of a radically abstracted and impersonal set of questions and answers, reducing this dramatic event to an unending sequence of indifferently available information. I will argue in this paper that the force of a modernist ‘impersonality’ in Joyce’s work is inseparable from a sense of devastation at the diminution of human meanings and engagements that might have served to animate this world,

which the modernist text registers in the very enactment of its impersonal or dehumanising gesture. I will do so by reading the “Ithaca” chapter in relation to a work whose commitment to style as a deflation of the personal greatly influenced Joyce’s own – Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a work which I argue equally attains its impersonal force only through and in relation to the devastation it evokes at the slackening of a human capacity to respond to the world it presents. I further lay out the stakes of this argument about impersonality and devastation through a concluding discussion of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a novel which renews these qualities of the modernist novel in its presentation of the radical loss of self of its central character, Pecola Breedlove, under social-historical conditions marked by their inhumanity.

Conall Cash is a Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Melbourne

10:45am – 11:15am | BREAK

11:15am – 12.45pm | SESSION 2

Can we apply Mandelstam’s metaphor for Dante’s Commedia – in which each canto is a ‘score for a particular chemical orchestra – to Joyce’s Ulysses, written 600 years later? And even if we could, what would be the point? I want to use Mandelstam’s complex and luminescent formula to address three ‘readings’ of Ulysses, framing them not only as performances but as transmutations of Joyce’s ‘score’: Luciano Berio’s electroacoustic composition Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958), Jorge Luis Borges’ single-page translation of the book’s final lines (1925), and two songs based on the Penelope episode, ‘Flower of the Mountain’ (2011) and ‘The Sensual World’ (1989) by Kate Bush. In treating each of these distinct compositions as different modes of performing and thus transmuting the same textual score, I seek to address the relationship between reading, translation and performance in Joyce’s work. I also want to highlight certain affinities between Joyce, Dante and (indirectly) Mandelstam, particularly pertaining to the relationship between musicality, poetics and the materiality of language as something that is both utterly untranslateable and always already in translation.

Abigail Fisher is a PhD student in English at the University of Melbourne

As John Frow observes in Character and Person that the use of a broad idea of narrative to define self-coherence in time is a widespread gesture present in the work of John Stewart Mill, Charles Taylor, Paul Ricœur, Martin Heidegger, and many popular psychological writers. This paper treats the representation of temporal contiguity in Ulysses as a limit-situation of this convention, indexed by the opaque reading of Hamlet Stephen Dedalus performs in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, which, read against other sections of the novel positions it as the historically impossible encounter between the same individual at different points in time.

Jonathan Dunk is Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Deakin University, co-editor of Overland Literary Journal, and a widely published writer


Justin Clemens is a poet, critic and associate professor of English at the University of Melbourne

12:45pm – 1:45pm | LUNCH

1:45pm – 2:45pm | SESSION 3

There is a Brunswick Street in Dublin and a Brunswick Street in Melbourne. By reading James Joyce’s epic Ulysses (1922) alongside its Antipodean successors – Π.O.’s 24 Hours (1996) and George Papaellinas’s The Trip (2008) – we can walk down both. The question this paper grapples with is: are they in fact the same street? I will argue, somewhat polemically, that Π.O and Papaellinas can be categorised as having written the defining epics of Australia, and are therefore, exemplary ‘Australian’ authors. Their ‘Australianness”, however, is paradoxically conditioned by their status as ‘migrant writers’ and their antipathy to those values’ characteristic of the Australian project. This will be an attempt to bring a new – and literary – significance to what Rex Butler and ADS Donaldson have been formulating as an ‘UnAustralian’ art history. By examining the Joycean allusions and contexts of Π.O and Papaellinas’s works, the second half of this paper will claim that not only does the Australian epic depend on the Joycean canonization of a modernist paradox – an obsession with the local begets the interest of the international – but that the continuing relevance and radicality of the Ulysses project is itself underpinned by its peripheral successors such as those undertaken in Melbourne.

Jeremy George is a PhD student in English at the University of Melbourne

One hundred years of Ulysses poses the question: how does literary form mutate in history? Conversely but no less decisively, how does history mutate in form? This paper will explore this subject by re-reading Joyce’s own examination of it in his diachronic–parodic rehearsal of the history of English prose, “Oxen of the Sun.” That episode consciously associates textuality and birth, and so the dialectic of form and content is repeatedly transposed onto a biological register. Bloom, for instance, asks after the relation between “the nisus formativus of the nemasperm on the one hand and on the other a happily chosen position, succubitus felix, of the passive element.” What indeed, in a text like Ulysses, provides the “formative tendency” and what the “passive” raw material? Such a distinction probably cannot be maintained for very long—perhaps the novel makes it impossible to do so. Nevertheless, the mutations in this episode—with Bloom transforming from the knightly “Sir Leopold” to “Mr. L. Bloom (Pubb. Canv.)” to an unnamed “stranger,” according to the dictates of the given style—suggest this question, which will guide my encounter with this difficult portion of the novel. Moreover, how should we read Joyce’s multiplex parody now that the “Joycean” itself has been culturally reabsorbed and subjected to countless parodies and imitations? I will develop these ideas by considering Joyce’s distinctive ensemble of techniques, motifs, and characters—and their mutations—in the novel and in its afterlife.

Joshua Barnes is a PhD student in English at the University of Melbourne working on the concept of totality in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel

3:15pm – 3:45pm | SESSION 4

In ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, episode 9 of Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus expounds – or more accurately performs – his anticipated ‘theory’ on Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a small audience of elite, mainly Anglo-Irish, men of letters. The episode brims with rivalry and sexual betrayal as well as intellectual and critical debate. This paper examines the inevitable casualties incurred in the competitive environment, especially to a certain idealized notion of ‘world literature’, and its exposure of the brute economy of artistic success and literary value.

Ronan McDonald is the Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne


Sascha Morrell is a Lecturer in English at Monash University

4:00pm – 5.30pm | READINGS FROM ULYSSES

Professor Ronan McDonald
Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies
University of Melbourne