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Here Comes Everybody
by Mark Shechner
Scholars converge on Buffalo to celebrate James Joyce and Bloomsday
Everybody knows, do they not, that Lake Erie is mentioned in James Joyce’s 1939 book of puzzles, puns, and language under extreme duress, Finnegans Wake. (Printer, don’t add an apostrophe there.) “Bring about it to be brought about and it will be, loke, our lake lemanted, that greyt lack, the citye of Is is issuant (atlanst !), urban and orbal, through seep froms umber under wasseres of Erie.”
That’s what it says, “urban and orbal,” whatever orbal happens to mean. (Like an orb?) Joyce had never been to Buffalo, even though his papers now reside here, but he knew that Erie was a “greyt lack” and that the City of Is (Buffalo?) was “urban and orbal.”
In a matter of days, June 13, the North American James Joyce Conference, “Eire on the Erie,” kicks off with a showing of James Joyce’s manuscripts, drafts, page proofs, personal effects, and books, by and about, at UB’s Anderson Gallery on Martha Jackson Place (just off Englewood near Kenmore). The following day, June 14, the exhibition opens to the public and the academic portion of the conference shifts into high gear at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Buffalo. At last count, almost 200 Joyce scholars from around the country and around the world will be attending.
Around the world is no exaggeration. Scholars will be coming from Vietnam, Korea, Croatia, the Republic of Georgia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Iran, Lebanon, Serbia, and all over the US, including Buffalo. What brings them to Buffalo, along the wasseres of Erie? A conference? A chance to trade views on the great writer of the 20th century? Sure, 200 is medium-sized for a Joyce conference, but available finances have put a squeeze on all such events these days. The opening of an exhibition? No doubt. Certainly the manuscript collection has not been exhibited in public in anything like this fullness since the first installments began arriving in 1949.
But what people will actually experience will not be exactly what they are expecting, and when we planned the conference, we planned it around the experience of being in Buffalo as a surprise and a revelation. The North American James Joyce Conference, which is held on odd-numbered years, is normally a campus-bound event. In recent years, I’ve attended them in Austin, Texas, and Ithaca, New York, and a decade ago went to one in Irvine, California. These were in and of the campuses that hosted them, and since all are hospitable universities, they were genial and intimate gatherings. They were a bit limited in dining opportunities, as I recall, but I do remember dancing at a campus disco in Irvine. The insularity of campus conferences sets them apart from the international conferences (held every even-numbered year) that normally absorb the flavor of their locales. Last year’s program in Tours, France, was about the Loire Valley, complete with wineries, chateaux, and angels and trumpets on every ceiling, and past conferences in Trieste, Dublin, and Budapest were saturated in the essences of Trieste, Dublin, and Budapest. Could we replicate that here?
First of all, who are “we”? Well, the “we” is a fluid body of collaborators and advisors, but at the start there were five planners: Laurence Shine of Buffalo State College, who is the annual host of Buffalo’s own Bloomsday—June 16, in honor of the day in 1904 when Ulysses takes place; Connie Constantine, whose parents bought the Sylvia Beach (the publisher of Ulysses) collection for UB; Patrick Martin, whose riverrun and Cinegael Buffalo productions bring art, literature, and film to Buffalo; Michael Basinski, curator of the Poetry Collection of the UB Libraries; and me. This all started in Fall 2006. We’ve been at this for two and a half years.
Erie On The Erie Public EventsAll events free and open to the public.
Friday, June 12
Albright-Knox Gusto at the Gallery. 5-11pm. Pre-conference event: Everything in This Country Must, featuring novelist Colum McCann. McCann’s second reading, on Saturday afternoon, Let the Great World Spin, will be for visiting Joyce scholars and the public alike. Consult the schedule at www.albrightknox.org. Or see the riverrun Web site at www.bloomsdaybuffalo.com/CinegaelBuffalo2009.html.
The full Gusto at the Gallery schedule for June 12 is as follows:
5pm. Following James Joyce: Dublin to Buffalo, a film by Patrick Martin and Stacey Herbert.
6:15pm. In Bruges, a film by Martin McDonagh. The film will be introduced by Buffalo News critic Jeff Simon.
8:30pm. Colum McCann reads from Everything in This Country Must and other work. He will be introduced by Mark Shechner.
9:15pm. Everything in This Country Must, a film by Gary McKendry and Colum McCann.
10pm. Reception open to all in Muse Restaurant, with music by Kindred. Food, cash bar, book signing by Colum McCann.
Saturday, June 13
Hyatt Regency Hotel, 2 Fountain Plaza
3-5pm. Colum McCann, reading from his forthcoming novel, Let the Great World Spin. McCann’s reading in the Hyatt Ballroom will be followed by an interview with Mark Shechner and a book signing. Free to the public and to the Joyce community.
Sunday, June 14
UB Anderson Gallery, 1 Martha Jackson Place, near Englewood and Kenmore Ave
1pm. Public opening of the exhibition Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection. The exhibition will be open to the general public starting Sunday, June 14. Gallery hours: Wed-Sat 11am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm. For more information, call 829-3754.
Tuesday, June 16, Bloomsday
Smith Theater at the Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 660 Main Street
5-10pm. Bloomsday festivities, readings and music, free and open to the public. There will be multiple events at the Smith Theater and the lobbies and balconies of the Shea’s, as well as docent-guided tours. Since Bloomsday has become an entire Bloomsweek in recent years, consult the Bloomsday Web site to stay informed: www.bloomsdaybuffalo.com.
What does that mean to hold a European-style conference in Buffalo? Where are our chateaux? Our wineries? Our frescoed ceilings? We wanted something flavored, flavorsome, savory, piquant, pungent. The hero of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, after all, is a sensual man, who loves the cheaper cuts of food for their faint tang (pork kidneys, yum), any sort of scent: aromas, pheromones, odd particles that waft upon the air and give a city its own unique fragrance. Bloom is the quintessential urbanite, a forager of impressions and a connoisseur of the random, for whom the city and its sensory opportunities, urban and orbal, is the only home he understands. Its narrow lanes are his boulevards, its wilderness of streets his New Bloomusalem.
Each city is uniquely flavored, as different as thick hencods roes are from gorgonzola sandwiches, pork kidneys from sheep’s trotters—all Bloom favorites. Buffalo has taken on the savors and aromas of its own geography, its history, its lakeside commerce, its riverside lore, its architecture, its sports teams, and institutions. Set Leopold Bloom loose on our streets and he’d be wobbly with impressions. And mentally reeling off sentences like so much fishing line.
So, the first decision was to use the resources of downtown. The Hyatt seemed like a centralized venue: You could have a meal there or a drink, and go walking, especially during the Allentown Art Festival, which is also this weekend. We then decided to see how much urbanity we could pack into three and a half days without turning the conference into a compulsive cruise through ports of call. Using the Hyatt as a home base, we decided to move the conference for a day to the new Burchfield-Penney Art Center and then for an evening—the second one, actually—to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. We added a pre-conference event at the Albright-Knox: a reading by novelist Colum McCann as part of wide-ranging Gusto at the Gallery series. (See the schedule of public events.) We found the Smith Theater of the Shea’s Performing Arts Center available for Buffalo’s own traditional June 16 Bloomsday festivity, while, for the Joyce scholars, the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery were available for a banquet early that evening. During this incubation period, UB Libraries was planning a spectacular display of the James Joyce Collection at the Anderson Gallery.
We found ourselves thinking in terms of certain things: the urban, Buffalo experience; making available what the city had to offer; orchestrating experiences and venues symphonically; and merging different populations. We wanted to find a formula for bringing together the citizens of Amherst, Elma, Buffalo, Lockport, and Tonawanda with scholars from Serbia, Croatia, Georgia, Korea, and Ireland in one festive moment, a funferall (that great Joyce word), and the Smith/Shea’s engagement looked like the opening. As scholars leave the Pearl Street Grill they will take the subway up Main Street to join Bloomsday-in-progress at the Smith Theater, where they will also be treated to docent-guided tours of the historic Shea’s, thus providing a grand finale for both populations.
The initials of the hero of Joyce’s Finnnegans Wake are H.C.E. for Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. But James Joyce also allows them to stand for Howth Castle and Environs, Haveth Childers Everywhere, How Charmingly Exquisite, Haroun Childeric Eggerberth, High Church of England, Hwang Chang Evelytime, “Hallucination, Cauchman, Ectoplasm” (one of my favorites), and especially Here Comes Everybody.
Well, Here Comes Everybody.
Mark Shechner is a professor of English at the University at Buffalo and one of the organizers of Eire on the Erie: The North American James Joyce Conference.blog comments powered by Disqus
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