Monday, June 20, 2011

Retrospective Arrangement of Thoughts

Dali's "architecture of eternity" sketching
It's about time I resuscitate this blog after nearly a month of silence. My absence was due, as I've frequently mentioned, to the completion of my paper on James Joyce and Salvador Dali as well as the visual presentation material that I delivered to a group of about 25 people this past Thursday morning at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. My paper, entitled "Thought Through My Eyes: A Portrait of the Artist as a Dali Painting" was well-received; everybody seemed to enjoy it and I got plenty of positive feedback from folks. Having not endured public speaking for nearly four years, I somehow managed to avoid spontaneously combusting. In fact, I think I did pretty well.

The Joyce Conference overall was fun, though a bit mentally taxing (which is to be expected). Everybody I met was very nice to me and the whole group of Joyceans were very welcoming and appreciative that a young, non-academic like me was there to present my work. I did feel a little bit out of place at times, especially since most people would ask "so where are you from?" upon introduction, expecting to hear what university I teach (or go to grad school) at but not only am I independent of any university, I've also bounced around three time zones the last three and a half years. So, my answer was always complicated. Nevertheless, I made some friends and had a good time with everyone, getting to hang out with folks from all over the globe (Denmark, Australia, UK, Canada, Japan, to name a few).

One of the more interesting individuals there was an Australian named Jaya Savige who, as I realized earlier today from Googling him, is an award-winning poet attending Cambridge University on a full scholarship. One night, while gripping a glass of some sort of hard liquor, he told a memorable story about confronting Bill Gates on capitalism to the point where the bajillionaire Microsoft man accused him of being a "Stalinist." The story becomes all the more comical when you read that Savige is in fact a Gates Scholar, receiving the rare $100K scholarship grant to attend Cambridge for free.

Throughout the four day conference, the most captivating things I witnessed were:

1. Adam Harvey's mind-blowing performance of the Mookse and the Gripes story from Finnegans Wake, reciting with great dramatic emphasis the entire 15-page selection from memory. As far as I know, it was the only thing in the conference that achieved a standing ovation.

2. Actress Fionnula Flanagan's recitation of the short story "Counterparts" as well as the discussion afterwards. The Dubliners story, about a man who slips out of work for a quick beer, gets berated by his boss, gets drunk after work, loses a barroom arm-wrestling match and then beats up his son, was emotionally striking and she performed it extremely well. Afterwards, the white-haired (but beautiful) Irish woman discussed how important the story is to her because of the realness of it, mentioning "the sickness of my nation: alcoholism," and reflecting on why she feels it's the greatest short story ever written.

3. The closing ceremony, an outdoor dinner in the middle of a beautiful old Spanish-style villa on the campus of Caltech (right underneath the windows of a room where Albert Einstein lived for a while) in which two old songs that appear in Portrait and Ulysses were sung. I had never really thought I would enjoy hearing these old songs but the magical alchemy of the evening managed to lift me off the earth momentarily. Particularly, the song sung acapella (and with no microphone) by Patrick Reilly of the CUNY Graduate Center entered me into a trance, the undulating tones of human chords making me feel as though my beating heart were a uvula dangling alone in the universe amidst the entire vibrating energy of existence. Yup, it was that good. (The song is an old ballad called "Love is Pleasin', Love is Teasin'.")

4. Some of the academic papers I enjoyed were: Jeffrey Drouin's talk on Joyce as "The Einstein of English Fiction"; Benjamin Boysen's takedown of Jacques Lacan entitled "When the Psychiatrist Needs a Psychiatrist"; Tim Martin talking about Ulysses as an elegy; Mark Osteen on the "Handiwork of Portrait"; and Sheldon Brivic's paper on "Ulysses and Badiou" even though I didn't know who Badiou was and still don't (Brivic was just really interesting to listen to).

It is often sporting events that mark historical points in the constellations of my life experiences, time markers, helping me reach back and remember the specifics of past autobiographical events. This wonderful return trip to Cali certainly had that: I watched the Mavericks capture the NBA Finals inside the hotel bar drinking a brew with a new pal from the University of Alberta, and then sat next to a table full of black-and-yellow-clad cheering Bruins fans in a restaurant when they won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Certainly a memorable time. I'll probably have much more to say about it soon and I'm working on some more posts about my Joyce-Dali paper (which I printed in a monograph booklet, contact me and I'll send you one) as well as a bunch of other writings to come.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. I thought I commented here already. Anyway, it sounds like a fantastic time, and I wonder what it is about Joyce that makes for such a festive occasion, as both friends and I experienced also on separate Bloomsdays in Ireland.

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