13 June 2006

Juicy Tales

James Joyce    You don't have to be an aficionado of James Joyce to appreciate the (warning: Joycean pun ahead) juicy tales currently surrounding the management of his estate as they are recounted in this fascinating piece from The New Yorker.  The situation is a complex one, and I confess to having sympathy for both Stephen Joyce, the manager of his grandfather's estate, and the Joycean community at large.  The issues that seems to me to remain undiscussed, though, are those involving academic intentions and responsibilities.  After all, the academic community in recent decades has demonstrated a stunning capacity for indulging in speculation that borders on, and often ventures completely into, slander and character assassination.  That it often does so under the guise of constructing literary history makes the situation even more querulous, particularly as theories are posited (key word: posited) and that are closer to rumours rather than theories.  See, for example, the molestation or rape theory that came to underpin Shloss' research, which should call into question the motives for her research.  That's not to suggest that it's not warranted, but merely that the possibility of insidious intent demands examination.  We have witnessed in scholarship of late a tendency towards preening judgments of character and ideology that should make any executor of an author's estate wary.  Think of the ways in which "anti-Semitism" and "misogyny" are hurled freely about as terms of characterization.  I think it's crucial, though, then that academics reconsider, sincerely and methodically, their intentions and responsibilities in a fashion that adequately examines the capacities for research to be a pretentious, and licensed, avenue toward self-advancement. 

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