1985. Monaco - The Monaco Conference: Assessing the 1984 Ulysses.

Opening Statement of the book by C. George SANDULESCU, Monaco.

(The book was published by Colin Smythe, of Gerrards Cross, in 1986.)

[Full Text]


                    Disagreement proves to be more productive than agreement.

                                                                                    Roman Jakobson

1.            The 1984 Ulysses is an impressive but vulnerable achievement: many have so far stressed how impressive it is; few have emphasized its vulnerability.

        In calling an International Conference in Monaco to analyse this scholarly achievement of 'Monaco di Baviera', I assumed that the right balance would be struck between these two poles. Now it is up to the reader of this volume to see whether this has indeed been the case. For it is only when the right balance is obtained between agreement and disagreement that such a gathering could be considered to have been a success.

2.            As a Conference Convener, I owe the Joyce community of scholars a word of explanation. The International Meeting which took place in Monaco in late May of 1985 arose out of a deep sense of frustration which I first experienced  at the 1984 Joyce Symposium held in Frankfurt. On a precedent largely created in 1979 in Zurich, I went to Frankfurt-am-Main almost obsessed, and one might even say saddened, by the idea that the whole conference would be literally monopolized by the publication of the new Ulysses. Nothing of the kind !

        I was so blinded by my obsession that upon arrival I went straight to the Conference bookstand with the firm intention of getting hold of a copy: for I could not bear the thought of facing the discussion of a book that I had not even seen. I was bluntly told that the three-volume achievement was not yet available: but they were certain to get a few copies before the conference was half way through ! Desperately, I went through the programme in order to spot the sessions which I should most definitely avoid, deprived of the book as I was ...  I only found that there were no sessions devoted to the new book. Except the last ! Except the very last !

        After the publicity that the book had already been given in all the dailies, from the low-brow London Telegraph and Nice-Matin to the high-brow unmentionables, I was downright flabbergasted at the Joyceans' indifference. It took me quite a few hours to realise that there was something deliberate about it. And corridor gossip only contributed to strengthening an intuition. Then half way through the Conference the book arrived; and I was further astonished to find that Joycean colleagues were not even offered the slightest discount on that $200 bagatelle . . .

        Of course I did not buy it, of course next to nobody bought it, and of course a very low sales figure had indeed been deliberately envisaged as but very few copies were made available. It was only when I got back home that I was even more astonished: my New York book club, The Reader's Subscription, was offering it to all its members at a 15 per cent discount . . .   It was then that I was less surprised by the two parallel monologues of Stephen Joyce and Richard Ellmann on Saturday 16 June 1984 as part of the publication ceremony (most deliberately timed to take place on the very last day of the Frankfurt Conference . . .  ).

        I had first thought, in my naïve mind, that publication day happened, only happened, to be Bloomsday -- instead of  2  February  (as it should indeed have been !) -- and in its turn, that particular Bloomsday  happened -- only happened (by a very strange coincidence !) -- to be the very last day of the Ninth International James Joyce Symposium, Frankfurt, 11 - 16 June 1984. In retrospect,  such sheer coincidence appeared to be genuinely Joycean . . .   The way all his birthdays and all his art had always been: with a touch of cunning to it. The only difference was that Joyce's cunning never led to frustration.

3.         Later that summer   I was asked by one of the editors of Etudes Irlandaises, published in Lille, to write an account of what had happened at Frankfurt for that journal, the way I had already done for the Centenary Symposium in Dublin in 1982. I started piecing my information together and decided on making it as factual as is humanly possible, but then I realised that insincerity is a great sin  (alas! far too common among bureaucrats & academics alike . . . a true Quang-Mire . . . ) and dropped the idea of writing an account about Frankfurt altogether.

       However, it was at that moment that the thought dawned upon me, epiphany-like, that the New 1984  ('what's in a name ?') Ulysses was badly in need of collective scholarly discussion. In consequence, I then restricted the topic of the Monaco Seminar which I had announced in the very same Bloomsday in the very same hall to the very same public to that one book,  by cutting its title in half (though Anthony Burgess never got my message . . . simply because he never attended any of the sessions).

        John Kidd's visit to Monaco on Epiphany Day of 1985 in order to attend the inaugural lecture Anthony Burgess was giving on "Joyce and the Wake" in the premises of the Princess Grace Irish Library of the Principality of Monaco only strengthened my by now deep-seated conviction that the 1984 Ulysses  was very badly in need of collective assessment. The readiness and interest with which more than forty outstanding Joyceans responded to the invitations sent on behalf of the newly set-up Library in Monaco was further solid evidence along that line.

4.            In addition to the choice of topic, another word of explanation may be needed about two other choices -- that of the date, and that of the invitees.

        Mid to late May is indeed the best time of the year to have a scholarly gathering in Monaco: neither the wave of heat nor the big crowds of tourists have yet arrived. Also, it is a fairly convenient date for academics on both sides of the Atlantic, and it has the advantage over late August and early September that it does not clash with many other conventions. I insist on the date for the simple reason that the Whitsun weekend will remain a permanent choice for all the international gatherings to be sponsored by the Princess Grace Irish Library in the years to come (as long as I am in charge . . . ),  be they on William Butler Yeats, or on Beckett, or -- why not ? -- on Finnegans Wake. Their Proceedings will all be issued in the present series, which this volume inaugurates.

        The choice of participants seemed at the start, and in theory, equally simple and straightforward: in addition to the parties concerned -- Publisher (Garland), Editor (Gabler and team), Advisors (Ellmann & Hart) --, one simply needed a representative cross-section of the Joyce Symposia habitués.

        In other words, I aimed at a mini-Symposium audience, worked out on premises which were analogous  to population samples in a Gallup Poll. After all, professional merit conjoined with symmetrical geographical spread are criteria which are very much there even for the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature . . .  Five participants from the United States and, say, five  from France would be a fair balance . . . and five from Britain would balance the five from the German-speaking area of central Europe (including Zurich-based Switzerland ?). 

        Then, Switzerland (?) would balance Belgium, and Scandinavia would balance Monaco. I was painfully aware, at the time the invitations were being sent out, that I was the first in Europe ever to organize an invitational conference on James Joyce closely, minutely, and deliberately patterned on the communicative gimmicks of the Chomsky-type think-tank-cum-brain-storm at M.I.T.

        Then the trouble seemed to be starting: Garland Publishers never even bothered to reply to the invitation. Hans Walter Gabler wrote to me saying in as many words that I was "to a considerable degree falling victim to the strange operations of Dr John Kidd", and the French, with one exception -- that of Jacques Aubert, who acted as observer (and is not present in this volume) -- decided that they were unavailable for the Monaco event, as they had their own Gablerian funforall at the Sorbonne anyhow.

        At first sight, these were insurmountable difficulties, but in the long run they turned into clear advantages of objectivity and homogeneousness. The objectivity was generated by the absence of both Hans Walter Gabler and John Kidd, for by now the Washington Post splash article had been published, and the Kidd - Gabler New York duel had taken place (in spite of my attempts at U.N. neutrality, all three texts were going round like hot cakes among the Monaco conference participants). Homogeneousness meant an emphasis on Ireland, and an increase in the English-speaking contingent, which led to very heated and very spontaneous debates in the centre of which was more often than not the ebullient and all too resourceful David Norris, Senator.

5.            Speaking of spontaneous debates  . . . They have not vanished into thin air: they have all been recorded on tape, have by now become part and parcel of the archives of the Princess Grace Irish Library, and in the centuries to come inquisitive Joyce scholars will have the opportunity to study the birth of Gablerisms, or how opinions may vary from one day to another, or from the spoken to the written medium. At one time Clive and I even envisaged including the tapescripts, given in full, in the body of this volume. But on account of strict limitations of space, that will have to wait for another book.

6.            Finally, speaking of the spoken medium . . .  Not all the papers contained in the present volume were read in session in the shape they are in now. Some were not even "read" (in the 'American' sense) at all: they were spoken.

        Bernard Benstock was invited to the Monaco Seminar, but could not attend: he sent a paper instead, which did not arrive in time to be read and discussed in session. On the other hand,  Wilhelm Füger, Michael Patrick Gillespie, and Charles Peake did attend the Seminar, though they did not read formal papers at the time; Professor Peake was particularly active throughout the Seminar discussions. After their return home, all three of them sent n their respective papers at the end of the summer. Suzette Henke, Richard M. Kain, Ira B. Nadel, and Donald Phillip Verene read out their respective papers in session in almost exactly the same shape in which they are printed in this volume.

        During the summer, Richard Ellmann slightly strengthened the argumentation of the original version of his paper. All the others spoke from notes in the Seminar sessions and submitted their definitive texts some time afterwards.

7.            The First Monaco International Seminar on Joyce was hailed in the media as an outstanding success: in a B.B.C. interview, somebody even tagged to me the label 'remarkable academic impressario', and Fritzie Senn, thinking of the Seminar as a whole, kindly jotted 'one of the best ever' in the Library's Livre d'Or on his departure.   

        But organizational success is not enough: it is merely a stepping stone towards something else. The first step is to provide a forum for genuinely unbiased and free discussion; but the real goal is to provide an accurate, explicit, concise, and lasting assessment of the 1984 Ulysses, as tabled by Hans Walter Gabler and his team.  And in that respect, though I now leave the reader to decide entirely for himself, I personally express the conviction that there is still a tremendous lot to be done.

8.            It took the Gabler team just about as long to fish this fictional man-made mountain out of the water as Joyce himself had initially needed to throw it in. And one is never quite sure whether this mountain-size fish now out of the water in three-volume format (three-decker-size alone would indeed have made old Joyce grin with Irish pleasure !)  does not indeed feel like a fish out of the water  . . .   John Kidd has so far made a few very strong points in favour of a return to the 1922 Ulysses, and there are a few other points to be made in the same direction.

        As Gabler himself has so far brushed aside all these points, and as the Monaco Conference, with the exception of philosopher Verene (in this volume), did not have much time to deal with them, a satisfactory assessment of the 1984 Ulysses is by no means finished: it is, on the contrary, barely starting to take shape. What is the cause of the slow start ?  you may ask.

9.            Before, during, and after this memorable conference devoted to the man who broke the back (sic !) of Monte Carlo, I had literally been haunted by a statement (partially quoted as an epigraph to this account) made in 1958 by linguist Roman Jakobson [FootNote 1 ] at an analogous conference which was being held at the University of Bloomington-Indiana:

Fortunately, scholarly and political conferences have nothing in common. The success of a political convention depends on the general agreement of the majority or totality of its participants. The use of votes and vetoes, however, is alien to scholarly discussion where disagreement generally proves to be more productive than agreement. Disagreement discloses antinomies and tensions within the field and calls for novel exploration. Not political conferences but rather exploratory activities in Antarctica present an analogy to scholarly meetings.

        Joyce scholars might wish to give extra thought to the above memorable statement (pointing to the inherent dangers of the Quang-Mire  . . .), but also to remember that the assessment of the 1984 Ulysses attained in Monaco in May of 1985, and only imperfectly mirrored in this little book, is but the tip of the iceberg. (Antarctica, you said ?).  For Gabler has by now effectively proved that anything dealing with Joyce's Ulysses must be at least twice -- or three times ? -- its size in order to begin to make sense . . .  genetically.

Monaco, 2 February 1986

                                                                        C. George Sandulescu


                                                                        The Princess Grace Irish Library.

[ FootNote 1 ]   'Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics' in: Thomas A. Sebeok, ed.,  Style in Language, New York: M.I.T. and John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1960.