World's Premier James Joyce Collection to Mount Major Exhibit in June

Opening of traveling exhibit will coincide with 21st International James Joyce Symposium

Release Date: April 30, 2009 This content is archived.


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Personal and literary artifacts of James Joyce's from UB's vast collection will be included in a major exhibition that opens June 13 in the Anderson Gallery.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On June 13, the most extensive exhibition of material from the world's premier James Joyce Collection will open in Buffalo, N.Y., as part of Eire on the Erie, the 2009 North American Joyce Conference.

"Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection," will feature a vast number of personal and literary artifacts related to the 20th century's most influential and intensely scrutinized writer.

The exhibit will remain in the university's Anderson Gallery, One Martha Jackson Place, off Englewood Avenue, until Sept. 13 when it will travel to other venues throughout the United States.

Michael Basinski, Ph.D., curator of the UB Libraries' Poetry Collection, which includes the Joyce Collection, says that while previous exhibitions have focused on scholarly interests alone, "This show is designed to appeal to the general public as well, and to illuminate Joyce's fascinating life and art by demonstrating visually and in great detail the singularly complex, super-organic ways in which he worked," he says.

The exhibit will include Joyce's handwritten notebooks used in preparing "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake," along with handwritten drafts, typescripts and printer's proofs. Also, rarely seen oil portraits of Joyce family and friends, including those by Wyndham Lewis and Irish portraitist Patrick Tuohy; scores of intimate family photographs; first editions by literary personae of Joyce's day including Eliot and Hemingway, all of which help contextualize his work.

"All in all," says Basinski, "the exhibit will be a tremendous and important undertaking. We have a vast, vast amount of Joyce material and even though this will be our largest exhibition of that collection, it will comprise only a small portion of our holdings. So we can be quite selective and present the most interesting and illustrative materials."

There will be gems from the writer's private library; first editions of his novels; Lucia Joyce's letters and sketchbooks; news clippings, and much other personal material owned by Joyce, including his eye glasses (he had serious eye trouble), his passport, several walking canes and arcanae.

"In fact, such an exhibition as this is the only way for the public to truly understand in a hands-on way such a creative process as that of James Joyce," Basinski says, "so it is well worth our effort to put this together. It will be a unique, valuable experience for those who see it."

Basinski says the exhibition catalogue edited by Joyce scholar James Maynard, visiting assistant curator of the UB Poetry Collection, will further visitors' understanding of the material.

The opening of the exhibit will coincide with "Eire on the Erie," the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference, co-sponsored by UB, which will take place in several venues in downtown Buffalo June 13-17.

Details of the exhibition's opening reception, docent tours, related lectures and gallery hours will be announced in May. Information on the collection is available at

Basinski says Buffalo was selected as the site of this year's symposium, which is expected to draw hundreds of participants from here and abroad, because the Joyce collection is located here. In fact, say the organizers, the exhibit is considered the symposium's most important attraction.

He explains why the working process of "the fabulous artificer" is so fascinating.

"To begin with, Joyce employed a wealth of cryptic source material -- notes about dreams and memories; decades of news clippings and bits of conversations overheard in pubs, at events and on the streets; doggerel and song; prayers and catechistic bits; pieces of Greek, Latin and Italian prose and poetry, whatever caught his attention. These he entered into handwritten notebooks for later use," he says.

"As he wrote, he selected notebook entries and wove them with additional text into holographic drafts of the novels. Since Joyce couldn't type or read his own handwriting (neither could some of his copyists), his writing was transposed by a legion of secretaries and typists into additional handwritten or typescript copies," Basinski says, "many of which we have in the collection."

"The errors in language, spelling, grammar and usage they made were either expunged by the author or deliberately kept," he says, "as were mistakes made later by the longsuffering French typesetters who struggled to cope with his Irish-accented neologisms."

Basinski says, "On top of that, Joyce directed entire campaigns of revision from the minute he began, constantly rewriting and rewriting until the thing went to press. There were so many errors, corrections and post-authorial changes in the text of "Ulysses" alone, that they could keep the Joyce interpretation industry going forever."

"In fact," he says, "'Ulysses' continues to be debated and interpreted because it is virtually impossible to know whether certain references are Joyce's, someone else's, deliberate or accidental and whether the version under consideration was really final. And then there was the American edition, which was based on a pirated text full of additional errors…."

"In the end," Basinski says, "Joyce's work is engaging in its play of language in part because it incorporates the personalities of an intriguing array other people. The complexity of the writing, its arcane references and word play present deliberate puzzles for the readers that can never be appreciated fully except in person. We plan to present it in a way that is as lucid and visually interesting as we can make it, tracing how one text or reference led to others so the viewer can follow along." There are some intriguing sidebars as well.

Among them is a portrait of a woman who served as a model for the "river-woman" (a metaphor for the River Liffey), whose presence is implied in the 'riverrun' section that opens 'Finnegans Wake' and whose monologue closes the book.

Basinski points to another example of contextualization -- letters from some of the Joyce's sexually titillated readers who wrote to his publisher Sylvia Beach in 1923 requesting more "French" material (i.e., dirty bits). She did not have it, but examples of what they were looking for will be shown.

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