"They'll be serving Joyce Happy Meals next."
June 12, 2006 10:01 PM   Subscribe

“You should consider a new career as a garbage collector in New York City, because you’ll never quote a Joyce text again." A New Yorker profile of Stephen Joyce, the man who controls James Joyce's estate - and, by extension, Joycean scholarship the world over. [more inside]
posted by anjamu (76 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some literary estates are busy licensing products and sequels (then again, maybe not). Others try to keep legacies untarnished. Still others can't make up their minds. (Ian Hamilton, author of the second piece, wrote an entire book on various literary estates after his experiences with J.D. Salinger.)

Meanwhile, the Irish side of James Joyce's family is not amused by the antics of their Francophile cousin.

The issue of literary estates previously discussed on MeFi here, here, and here (specifically, Joyce's letters).</small
posted by anjamu at 10:03 PM on June 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


How can James Joyce's heirs "control" citations or even readings, when the original text is in the public domain?
posted by Mr. Six at 10:11 PM on June 12, 2006


Joyce died in 1941, so the copyright runs until 2011 (70 years after the death of the author).
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:25 PM on June 12, 2006


"All of James Joyce’s works published in his lifetime had gone out of copyright in Ireland on December 31, 1991, 50 years after his death. However, the European Copyright Term Directive revived copyright in these works from July 1, 1995, as the rules extended the lifetime of copyright to 70 years after the author’s death." [here]

Moreover, Stephen Joyce doesn't seem averse to filing lawsuits whenever he sees fit.
posted by anjamu at 10:28 PM on June 12, 2006


Man, this reads like one of the FSF's anti-copyright cautionary tales. Except, you know, it's actually happening.
posted by hattifattener at 10:33 PM on June 12, 2006


Joyce died in 1941, so the copyright runs until 2011 (70 years after the death of the author).

Rest assured, Congress, under pressure from the content industry, will extend copyright again before too long.
posted by SirOmega at 10:39 PM on June 12, 2006


Yet another reason copyright should die with the creator (or preferably much sooner, but I'd settle for life).
posted by madajb at 10:45 PM on June 12, 2006


When I was presenting a paper at last year's North American James Joyce Conference, there was a special session just about dealing with the Joyce Estate. Some of the horror stories people had about Stephen Joyce. This one woman who had written a biography about Lucia Joyce, James' rather trouble daughter and Stephen's aunt, had a particularly difficult time getting access to medical records, letters, etc, and was one of many who had been harassed by Stephen.

On a lighter note, there was also a session of Joycean musical parodies, and one of the most celebrated scholars there sung a derogatory song about Stephen Joyce to the tune of "Popeye the Sailor Man."
posted by papakwanz at 10:46 PM on June 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


he told Adam Harvey, a performance artist who had simply memorized a portion of “Finnegans Wake” in expectation of reciting it onstage, that he had likely “already infringed” on the estate’s copyright. Harvey later discovered that, under British law, Joyce did not have the right to stop his performance.

By the way, I saw this guy, Adam Harvey, perform about 40 pages of Finnegan's Wake. It was un-freaking-believable. I'm so glad that he was able to perform and that Stephen was thwarted in yet another attempt to be a massive prick.
posted by papakwanz at 10:54 PM on June 12, 2006


Man, this reads like one of the FSF's anti-copyright cautionary tales.

Eh, Stallman has said that he opposes copyright, but that's not really the angle the FSF approaches issues from, since the GPL depends on it. As the article indicates, this is really Lawrence Lessig's thing. Not that he'll win this time either.

This doesn't strike me as the best case for anti-copyright activists to hang their hat on in the court of public opinion either. Steve (heh) Joyce clearly isn't doing this for the money; he wants to preserve his grandfather's image, and make his writing more accessible by removing the stigma of academia from them. When the Sonny Bono act was being debated, the Gershwin estate argued that they help to promote George Gershwin's respect for black culture by refusing to permit productions of Porgy and Bess that don't use black cast members. If the Joyce estate receives more media attention because of Lessig's new case, as it probably will, you'll have a celebrity academic on one side, and the last of James Joyce's descendents, defending the great author's work from all the pointy-headed academics/paparazzi, on the other.
posted by gsteff at 11:02 PM on June 12, 2006


Uh oh, Lessig's on the case!

“If a copyright holder misbehaves, we want people to know it’s not costless,” Lessig added. “It’s not just the tone of Stephen’s letters. It’s who the letters were sent to: researchers, archivists, and librarians, people playing by the rules. It ought to be possible for people to be good.”

LOL LESSIG!!!
posted by foot at 11:08 PM on June 12, 2006


I think they should serve a Joyce Happy Meal! It would consist of kidneys ("fine tang of faintly scented urine") and a mustardy gorgonzola sandwich ("fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese"), accompanied by a glass of burgundy. Oh, alright, Guinness as a 'supersize' option.
posted by beniamino at 11:09 PM on June 12, 2006


Man, this reads like one of the FSF's anti-copyright cautionary tales. Except, you know, it's actually happening.

It's not the only such tale, sport. Check out the rights issues surrounding Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan and (especially) Winnie the Pooh. Nos 2 and 3 of these in particular suffer from being attached to the Disney corporation.

As for whether this guy's antipathy against academia is valid, notice that the examples he gave of James Joyce works that are readable by everyone did not include that noted neural colon blockage, Finnigan's Wake, a work which is impossible even for many well-read people to fully comprehend without a cheat manual on a par with that of Kingdom Hearts.
posted by JHarris at 11:18 PM on June 12, 2006


Yeah, I'm familiar with some of the other instances. For some reason this one just seems more ... in-your-face, arbitrary, and dystopic.
posted by hattifattener at 11:21 PM on June 12, 2006


gsteff, it sounds like you're talking more about an author's "moral rights" to a work rather than copyright, a legal concept in effect in the EU but resisted by the US. (Which, I think, is revealing.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:24 PM on June 12, 2006


Thanks anjamu, I was just coming here to post this.

gsteff, The New Yorker article was very good but it certainly wasn't comprehensive in terms of the long line of obstructionist behaviour by junior Joyce that happens to centre around exorbitant charges for any and all use of protected JJ material.

As the article notes, until junior got control, fees were nominal. I suppose it could be argued that the high fees are themselves part of his modus operandi for protecting the Joyce copyright, but I've read a steady stream of reports on the JJ email list over the years about the incredibly erratic nature of Junior's application of fees to petty and inconsequential literary or dramatic productions that I feel that his motives are at best mixed, if not specifically financially inclined.

I'd say it's probably a mix of protective instinct coupled with enimity towards academia (it took him 8 years to get his Harvard degree afterall - and he of course is quick to bring up grabquotes from Joyce himself or from the writings in support of a supposed original attitude against exegesis by James Joyce), a generous portion of megalomania with a healthy dose of dollarophilia on the side. If his intentions were purely protective, it's unlikely we would all be here reading and discussing his perverse behaviour.
posted by peacay at 11:26 PM on June 12, 2006


Ugh. Now I know that there IS a more obnoxious form of life than the literary Joyce snob: the Joyce family member with the white-knuckled deathgrip on the family jewel.
posted by slatternus at 11:33 PM on June 12, 2006


I guess you missed this in today's news:

Stanford professor sues Joyce's estate

A Stanford University professor on Monday sued James Joyce's estate for refusing to give her permission to use copyrighted material about the "Ulysses" author and his daughter on her Web site.

In the lawsuit, Carol Shloss, an acting English professor and Joycean scholar, challenged the estate's assertion that she would be infringing on its ownership of Joyce's image by quoting his published works, manuscripts and private letters on her scholarly site.[...]

The dispute centers on Shloss' research for "Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake," her 2003 book that posited James Joyce's mentally ill daughter was the muse behind "Finnegans Wake," his last novel. Published in 1939 and filled with Joyce's trademark puns and impenetrable prose, "Finnegans Wake" traces human history through the life of an Irish everyman and his family.[...]

Before the book was published, publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux removed several supporting citations from Shloss' tome to avoid a lawsuit, according to Olson. Shloss wants to post that information as an electronic appendix to answer several critics who charged that "To Dance in the Wake" was interesting, but thin on documentary evidence, Olson said.

posted by pruner at 11:36 PM on June 12, 2006


pruner, that's all in the New Yorker article.

*smacks slatternus on the back of the head with hardcover edition Finnegans Wake*
posted by peacay at 11:42 PM on June 12, 2006


sorry... I searched the NYer article for "Schloss" instead of "Shloss"... hadn't finished reading it when I posted (still haven't).
posted by pruner at 11:47 PM on June 12, 2006


it sounds like you're talking more about an author's "moral rights"

I'm familiar with the French concept of non-transferrable droit d'suite, although my understanding of French copyright is likely several decades out of date. Its a good idea, since it keeps some control out of the hands of corporations and in the hands of the author (or estate), though Steve is admittedly not the poster-boy for efforts like that. But yeah, its not a particularly American idea.
posted by gsteff at 12:00 AM on June 13, 2006


Googling indicates that the correct term is droit d'auteur.
posted by gsteff at 12:04 AM on June 13, 2006


I'd say it's probably a mix of protective instinct coupled with enimity towards academia (it took him 8 years to get his Harvard degree afterall - and he of course is quick to bring up grabquotes from Joyce himself or from the writings in support of a supposed original attitude against exegesis by James Joyce), a generous portion of megalomania with a healthy dose of dollarophilia on the side.

You're probably right. The stuff will (hopefully) pass into the public domain in five years anyway, so attempts to influence the public and academic perception of Joyce are probably just delaying the inevitable. The money and megalomania angles make more sense in that context.
posted by gsteff at 12:10 AM on June 13, 2006


Yet another reason copyright should die with the creator

That is a spectacularly bad idea. Anyone who owned a particularly valuable would be a target for murder. A fixed, reasonable amount of time would be much better.
posted by Potsy at 12:34 AM on June 13, 2006


Droit de suite.
posted by Wolof at 1:33 AM on June 13, 2006


Fascinating. Great post and discussion. This line stood out for me: "Every artist’s born right is to have their work . . . reproduced as they want it to be reproduced."

Um, no. You don't have to be a quasi-Marxist literary scholar interested in how "the author" is just one of many nodes along the long line of production methods for a given literary work (I've studied with one) to realize that publishing is a convoluted, fraught exercise to say the least, perhaps moreso in the 20th century than in any before.

Lots to think about. If you're ever in Zurich you can visit Joyce's grave way north of town, and then hit up the James Joyce Foundation, a very neat, friendly, kooky place (hmm. There website is down. I wonder if it folded?).
posted by bardic at 1:52 AM on June 13, 2006


Anyone who owned a particularly valuable would be a target for murder.

I don't follow your reasoning here. Who is likely to murder an artist so that their work loses copyright protection? Once that happens, surely the work falls into the public domain and so nobody can benefit from it?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:20 AM on June 13, 2006


Zurich James Joyce Foundation.


gsteff writes "The stuff will (hopefully) pass into the public domain in five years anyway"
Unless the powers that be in America decide to extend the 'Mickey Mouse Protection Act'. Although I was most interested in the JJ parts of that article, I got the feeling that Lessig has taken on this suit (which seems to this layman bound to fail) to demonstrate the negative effects of the present copyright laws - correct me if I'm wrong.

I don't think they went much into where the pro-copyright strengthening cartel are at at present with their lobbying/legislative intent. But the upshot has been that a lot of work on Joyce has been shelved or sidelined because it may all be for nought if the 70 years is pushed out further. People don't want the hassle of dealing with junior Joyce and are not secure about the 2011 endpoint.
posted by peacay at 2:36 AM on June 13, 2006


I'm following this with interest - and started looking up copyright law for manuscripts.

Having found some pages on British manuscript copyright law, I think that there are private archives and even some public and university archives which may be actually be breaking the law by claiming that their rights extend farther than they do. I work with manuscripts about 200-300 years older than any of Joyce's, but I have been told that they are under copyright restriction for copying (though in Britain perpetual copyright was ended in 1989); libraries and public archives do still have permission to control publication, but are suposed to allow unlimited copying for research purposes. I have also heard of one noble estate refusing publication of a poem in their archive which their ancestor did not even write but was simply sent. It was a anonymous threatening poem -- the noble estate owns the piece of paper, but they should not own the copyright - the poet's unknown decendants would have before 1989, and now no one does. It seems to me that the said estate no more owns the copyright by virtual of its ownership than I would own copyright on a Joyce letter had he sent me one.

I need to find out more about copyright laws, but I am angry at estates for restricting access like this. I actually understand why when dealing with recent personal history, though I don't agree (did Lucia decide she didn't want to be written about? Might EM Forster's heirs have decided the world shouldn't know he was gay, even though he wished the world could know?). But estates are controlling access to even older papers which are part of our collective heritage, even on spurious grounds. There is a reason there is a limit to copyright, and a hundred years is good.
posted by jb at 2:38 AM on June 13, 2006


Isn't this an excellent occasion to show the ignorant masses the worth of Joyce ? So that nobody will think this is yet another useless diatribe between rentiers, university professors and more liberal elite. I mean come on you see the framing coming on, don't you ?
posted by elpapacito at 3:11 AM on June 13, 2006




serenity approximates nicely victory
posted by elpapacito at 4:04 AM on June 13, 2006


Who is likely to murder an artist so that their work loses copyright protection? Once that happens, surely the work falls into the public domain and so nobody can benefit from it?

It will still sell, though. Many more people will benefit from it when it falls out of copyright, giving the original publisher no special rights. It means that the original publisher doesn't have to be paid in order for other publishers to print books containing that content and sell it. Something falling out of copyright doesn't mean all those books will suddenly be free.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:38 AM on June 13, 2006


"Et tu, Random House?"
posted by Mr. Six at 5:05 AM on June 13, 2006


It's interesting how this case mixes up two contradictory (incommensurate?) themes in copyright law: the concept of the "moral right" (noted by gstef) of the author/estate to control the work to guard artistic integrity; and the right of public to make "fair use" of the works in order to advance the arts. European copyright law apparently doesn't have a notion of "fair use"; and US law doesn't really have a notion of "moral right."

I think it's also important to point out the difference between text qua text, and unpublished manuscripts/letters as physical objects. The owner of the physical object may be able to limit reproduction of the object (and its text) by simply denying access to it, whereas the owner of the text doesn't have the same practical power to restrict use of the text.
posted by footnote at 5:39 AM on June 13, 2006


Who is likely to murder an artist so that their work loses copyright protection?

Imagine making an artist central to your academic career but having that artist (or, in this case, his grandson) sit on everything and demand fees that you cannot, as a poor scholar, afford to keep paying.

Not that most literary scholars aren't full of shit, and maybe I'd agree and even chuckle along with Stephen if I sat and had a drink with him, but I can see how a few Joyce scholars might not mind if Stephen were run over by a busload of Bloomsday tourists followed quickly by a Guinness delivery van. If Joyce himself were still alive and his death would release his writings into the public domain, there might be a few who would secretly wish him a broken hip and pneumonia so they could get at his unpublished papers and make their career-boosting publications.

I don't know if that makes such murder likely to happen, but it's a possible motivation.
posted by pracowity at 5:39 AM on June 13, 2006


MetaFilter: small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat.
posted by languagehat at 5:45 AM on June 13, 2006


the work falls into the public domain and so nobody can benefit from it?

No one benefits from PD works? Excluding the potential murderers at Project Gutenberg, you have an entire industry around public domain works - movie scripts, books, derivatives of every shape and size. For example, derivatives of Robert Louis Stevenson. There have been over 50 film versions of Treasure Island alone. How many film versions have their been from the Tolkien estate?
posted by stbalbach at 5:49 AM on June 13, 2006


If Stephen Joyce dies leaving no heirs before the copyright on the material runs out, does anyone know what the copyright status of the material would be?
posted by Leon at 5:49 AM on June 13, 2006


This guy wins the pick-six genetic lottery by being born into all of his grandfather's wealth and uses all this power and money to... silence academics and readings? What a serious asshole.
He has blocked or discouraged countless public readings of “Ulysses,” and once tried unsuccessfully to halt a Web audiocast of the book. In 1997, he sued the Irish scholar Danis Rose, who was trying to publish a newly edited version of “Ulysses,” calling it “one of the literary hoaxes of the century.”

In 2004, the centenary of Bloomsday, Stephen threatened the Irish government with a lawsuit if it staged any Bloomsday readings; the readings were cancelled.
Correction: a world class asshole. Even if copyright law was reformed this entitled wealthy punk would still find ways to sue his "inferiors."
posted by skallas at 5:50 AM on June 13, 2006


If Stephen Joyce dies leaving no heirs before the copyright on the material runs out, does anyone know what the copyright status of the material would be?
posted by Leon at 8:49 AM EST on June 13 [+fave] [!]


Off the cuff, I can't see why the lack of heirs would change the copyright status. Like any other property without an heir, it would escheat to the state (i.e., the govt. would get it).
posted by footnote at 5:54 AM on June 13, 2006


If Stephen Joyce comes to Montreal I very much intend to meet him and pee on his shoes.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:57 AM on June 13, 2006


gsteff: [ . . . ] and make his writing more accessible by removing the stigma of academia from them.

I've never understood this line. Writing about, contextualizing, or recontextualizing a work doesn't destroy the original. It just gives you a new way of looking at the original. And, when it comes to literary criticism, there's really no such thing as bad press: the works that get talked about are the ones that are remembered. Those that don't slide into obscurity (until someone "rediscovers" them and starts talking about them again).

[. . .] the pointy-headed academics/paparazzi, on the other

Great. Now you've equated scholarship with sneaking photos of celebs in the buff. Nice.
posted by wheat at 6:04 AM on June 13, 2006


What a great post. Thanks, anjamu. The supporting links are wonderful.
posted by mediareport at 6:05 AM on June 13, 2006


I saw this guy, Adam Harvey, perform about 40 pages of Finnegan's Wake.

This was really creepy, because my name is Adam Harvey, but I'm not that guy.
posted by sciurus at 6:16 AM on June 13, 2006


Thanks, anjamu!
posted by Mr. Six at 6:16 AM on June 13, 2006


Very nice post and discussion. The best of MetaFilter.
posted by OmieWise at 6:16 AM on June 13, 2006


Absurd; while I don't hold academic wankership in the highest regard, li'l Stevie Jimmy Joyce's attitude that the Joyceans are scaring off potential readers is terribly patronizing and self-defeating, since the entire point of Bloomsday events and the like is to make people aware, to make the work a little more appealing and relevant, and a little more fun.

Nerts to him.

Question: Regarding Joyce's letters, particularly the infamously bawdy ones - yes, the estate registered its desire that the letters be kept private, but how did scholars get access to them in the first place?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:17 AM on June 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Eventually, all novels will be about absolutely nothing whasoever, because everything under the sun will be owned in its totality by pricks like Steve.

I can understand that he doesn't want his grandfather's horniness and his aunt's mental illness (and perhaps her molestation) to become the focus of academic articles, but his methods aren't going to achieve this. Maybe he'd be happier if no one gave a shit about his grandfather?
posted by Nahum Tate at 6:18 AM on June 13, 2006


I've seen Adam Harvey (mentioned in the article) perform an excerpt from Finnegans Wake (at a Joyce conference in Miami a couple of years ago). It was pretty crazy. I had little idea what he was saying, but could at least comfort myself by knowing that I was in the room with most of the people in the world who probably did.

One thing I observed at that conference was the apparent violent schism between the older Joyce scholars, who seemed to be primarily concerned with formalist analysis, exegesis, and hagiography, and the younger grad students and newly-minted assistant professors who, as the phrase goes, "wielded the tools of theory." (It was pretty clear that the former saw the latter's attempts at criticism as abuse of the text in many cases--at one point in the Q&A session following one paper on a Freudian/queer reading of Stephen's conversation with Mr. Deasy in "Nestor," an audience member rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, come on, are you trying to do that 'money equals shit' thing?") So maybe that has something to do with where Stephen Joyce is coming from--not that I sympathize with him.

(Also, a whole hell of a lot of drinking went on at that conference--I wouldn't be surprised if a third of the attendance fees went toward bottles of Jameson's. Good times; good times.)
posted by Prospero at 6:45 AM on June 13, 2006


Regarding Joyce's letters, particularly the infamously bawdy ones - yes, the estate registered its desire that the letters be kept private, but how did scholars get access to them in the first place?

I'd guess Harriet Shaw Weaver gave scholars like Ellman access but asked him to keep the contents private. Which he didn't.

...Ellmann maneuvered around it. His 1959 biography alluded to the correspondence; his 1966 volume of Joyce’s letters contained expurgated versions of the letters; and his 1975 “Selected Letters” contained every word. In 1909, Joyce had implored Nora to “be careful to keep my letters secret.” Stephen viewed the letters’ publication as a transgression against his family.

"Scholarly" behavior like that helped lay the groundwork for the current problem. And I hope I'm not the only one with a bad taste in his mouth after reading Ellman's response to Stephen's early concerns about privacy - "There is no doubt that biographies are hard for the survivors, yet...this is the price of greatness."
posted by mediareport at 7:09 AM on June 13, 2006


World class asshole for blocking some readings? No, this guy is a world class asshole for his crimes against the future:
Shortly afterward, at a Bloomsday symposium in Venice, Stephen announced that he had destroyed all the letters that his aunt Lucia had written to him and his wife. He added that he had done the same with postcards and a telegram sent to Lucia by Samuel Beckett, with whom she had pursued a relationship in the late nineteen-twenties.

“I have not destroyed any papers or letters in my grandfather’s hand, yet,” Stephen wrote at the time. But in the early nineties he persuaded the National Library of Ireland to give him some Joyce family correspondence that was scheduled to be unsealed. Scholars worry that these documents, too, have been destroyed.
It's the arrogance of denying important source material to the future because one thinks they know best that is absolutely unforgiveable. I wonder how much incredible literature and history the world has lost because of small, insecure men like this guy.
posted by norm at 7:09 AM on June 13, 2006


"and make his writing more accessible by removing the stigma of academia from them."

"I've never understood this line. Writing about, contextualizing, or recontextualizing a work doesn't destroy the original. It just gives you a new way of looking at the original."

I don't think that the argument destroys the work, just that it stigmatizes it. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, but stigmatization seldom, if ever, involves destroying the work in question, so it can be true (whether it is in this case or not) that Joyce's works could be nondestroyed yet stigmatized.
posted by Bugbread at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2006


Excluding the potential murderers at Project Gutenberg, you have an entire industry around public domain works - movie scripts, books, derivatives of every shape and size. For example, derivatives of Robert Louis Stevenson. There have been over 50 film versions of Treasure Island alone.

Once a book or any work enters the public domain, anyone can do something with it, meaning its value is limited. Sure you could republish it or make a movie of it, and the guy down the street can as well, therefore the value to any one person isn't that high. There's a little bit of money to be made, but the companies that handle public domain works either don't charge all that much (dover thrift editions or say BN classics) or only publish obscure books that were way out of print.
posted by drezdn at 7:21 AM on June 13, 2006


Alvy Ampersand writes "the estate registered its desire that the letters be kept private, but how did scholars get access to them in the first place?"

The great Richard Ellmann spent the 1950s assembling material for the definitive Joyce biography ("James Joyce") which was first published in 1959. He was able to meet and gain unprecedented cooperation from all the Joyce clan as well as many friends and correspondents who knew Joyce first hand. At that time, Harriet Weaver was executor of the literary estate and the biography was written with her imprimatur.

Ellmann had access to a wealth of material including many letters. I think the New Yorker article mentions that there were at least allusions to the more controversial letters. It's years since I read Ellmann but I don't recall anything too risqué appearing there. Anyway, I think it was 'known' that there were smutty letters in existence.

It's far too complicated I'm sure to work out where exactly all the letters came from - Joyce's secretary Paul Leon, who saved a great deal of material in Paris when JJ fled to Zurich during the war, was a great contributor of correspondence &c to the surviving body of works.

I've never read the collected (smutty) letters that came out a few years ago. By all accounts they are outrageously primal and personal and I can only imagine they were published in a place where the the copyright tentacles of junior Joyce inc. held no sway.
posted by peacay at 7:37 AM on June 13, 2006


Oops! Didn't see mediareport's answer.
posted by peacay at 7:38 AM on June 13, 2006


James Joyce's erotic letters to Nora were previously linked here. Text only, but that text may still be extremely unsafe for work.
posted by Prospero at 7:42 AM on June 13, 2006


Good post and great discussion. Truly Metafilter. A fine example of this site at its best.

Stephen Joyce does seem like, as mentioned above, a world-class asshole. But I don't really care because I don't much care for his grandfather's work.

But, provided I did, I would be highly pissed off, and I am even now astounded at his lack of foresight and just plain ignorance.

He reminds me of a 3 year old clutching a crystal goblet. He thinks he has something of great worth, but doesn't truly understand what he has, nor the consequence of his actions.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:44 AM on June 13, 2006


This is why I keep coming back here. Thanks, all.
posted by jokeefe at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2006


I really hate the Sonny Bono Copyright Act of 1998. An estate should not be collecting royalties. Create your own damn art and stop relying on your ancestor's genius or whatever.

Ray Bradbury's estate and T.S. Eliot's estate will not allow their works to be used in "an electronic environment." We tried to get permission, but were flatly refused, at any cost. Luddites, all of ye!
posted by mattbucher at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2006


Mark Twain on copyright:

I like that bill, and I like that extension from the present limit of copyright life of 42 years to the author's life and 50 years after. I think that will satisfy any reasonable author, because it will take care of his children. Let the grandchildren take care of themselves. 'Sufficient unto the day.' That would satisfy me very well. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then long have been out of this struggle and independent of it.

this isn't meant to be a dismissal of stephen joyce's position, but I think it's worth noting that what an author wants for their work 75 years after their death isn't really as simple as what they may have advocated for in their lifetime, or what impression they gave while alive. Twain himself was an advocate for irrevocable copyright law, but was perfectly happy to settle for 50 years after author's death because he "shall then long have been out of this struggle and independent of it."

I also like the "let the grandchildren take care of themselves," bit, in this context.
posted by shmegegge at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2006


mattbucher: Ray Bradbury's estate and T.S. Eliot's estate will not allow their works to be used in "an electronic environment."

Really? Is this illegal, then?
posted by UKnowForKids at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2006


S.J. Joyce is obviously a fool, but it's the character of his foolery - its vicious anti-intellectualism and obvious hypocrisy - that's most resonant. He blocked public readings of a book that he claims to want to offer to an ever-wider audience of laypeople? Idiot. His actions and intentions are at cross-purposes but muddled even unto themselves.

The claim that academic attention 'stigmatizes' a work is freighted and not correct enough - or rather, as wrong as it is right. Do people shy away from Joyce because of his reputation? Yep. Are those people foolish to do so? Yep. Hell, the book on Lucia puts forward a really arguable and (to lay readers) not immediately helpful thesis. Can you read Ulysses profitably knowing nothing about its schemata, the objects of his parodistic attention in 'Oxen of the Sun,' the meaning of 'Chrysostomos,' or the way 'Penelope' is intended to embody(!) a certain complex notion of Womanhood? Sure. But to claim that such naive reading is inherently 'better' is stupid - a position taken out of defensiveness and fear. (I happen to believe quite the opposite - that you should endeavour to be Joyce's ideal reader if you love the work - but what do I know?)

Fact is, you'll have a hard time with the back half of Ulysses in particular if you go in without some idea of what Joyce is trying to accomplish. Stephen's animosity toward critical scholarship strikes me as a rationalization of dislike stemming from invasion of privacy, nothing more reasoned or sensible. He's simply wrong about the scholars, wrong in a common, boring, but ultimately dangerous way. And as for Finnegans Wake: Anthony Burgess called it the funniest book in English, and you may well find it to be so, but you're guaranteed - guaranteed, mind you - to miss most of the pleasures it can afford if you try to read it as straight English prose. Joyce offers so much thrill of knowing that a rejection of critical exegesis is in a sense a rejection of Joyce's method and passion.

But then, the New Yorker article intimates that Stephen can't be bothered to make it through the Wake. Of all the details in the article that's the one that says the most to me about him. Poor sad bastard.
posted by waxbanks at 11:36 AM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]



Is there anything more galling than watching a literary dog in the manger enjoying himself quite so much?

(At least the original dog in the manger wasn't especially bothered, one way or another, about the quality of the hay.)

Valerie Eliot (T. S. Eliot's widow who - as the New Yorker mentions - is still pulling a similar stunt) never gives the additionally infuriating impression of having a such a giddy old time in the process.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:24 PM on June 13, 2006


waxbanks, great comment. Flagged as such.
posted by OmieWise at 12:35 PM on June 13, 2006


Really? Is this illegal, then?


Yeah, probably. It looks like a homemade job and not something a major publisher would call up and ask permission for. I work for such a publisher and while we routinely publish Eliot and Bradbury in our books, wherever those works appear in an online text we have to black out the pages and say "Electronic rights denied" or something like that. I'm telling you, it's Ludditic.
posted by mattbucher at 1:30 PM on June 13, 2006


That doesn't make any sense. Do they give any justification for that policy?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:32 PM on June 13, 2006


Like any copyright issue, it's a matter of tight control and a fear of piracy. These folks are evidently worried that once the artwork is in an easily copied format, it will be pirated mercilessly (of course, this was possible long ago, I'm just telling you what the rationale is). Again, I sincerely believe that an estate should not be a rightsholder.
posted by mattbucher at 1:42 PM on June 13, 2006


Danger Mouse is gonna catch some serious shit for his Finnegan's Wake/Martian Chronicles mash-up.
posted by bardic at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2006


Also, ee cummings's estate is pretty guarded about how his works can be represented online, but I kind of understand that one since his work is so oddly formatted. Also, I think some of Eliot's copyrights might be held by Faber & Faber.
posted by mattbucher at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2006


Poor Rich sad bastard

waxbanks writes "Can you read Ulysses profitably knowing nothing about its schemata..[.?.]..to claim that such naive reading is inherently 'better' is stupid - a position taken out of defensiveness and fear."

Although I don't disagree with anything you've written, there is something special about wading through Ulysses naked the first time. Like your first sexual adventure, it is a unique pleasure and one unlikely to be forgotten. I was armed with only a pop-up map of Dublin which was handy in one sense but in reality it was about as useful as a pair of knuckledusters in a modern war. But in a good way. It gave me something to look at when my head was swirling; a handhold in a hurricane.

At one moment it's like (I imagine) freefalling from a plane and the next, swimming in honey. "Did someone say something or was that a description?" "Are we still in the pub?" "Whose thoughts am I hearing?" "Is that a song or a poem and who was it by?".......... The book teaches you how to read it as you become incorporated as a character in its inestimable, lyrical depths.
"Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack , the nearing tide, that rusty boot."
We each enter the great door of the Telemachia armed with our own histories and educations and past readings and all of that is brought to bear as the cavalcade of linguistic (for it is as much a book of sound as anything) virtuosity, operatic esoterica, infinitismal historical tropes, universal life impulses and human empathy dance through, around and above us, sometimes resonating in our bones, sometimes sailing past out of reach. I used to 'perceive' Shakespeare out of the corner of my eye at times, I kid you not - just one of several presque vu happenstances of odd bliss that I experienced the first time around.

If I know Hamlet and or Don Giovanni, I will likely recognize a few hundred allusions and intertextual references; if I'm from Dublin, the stages where the day's little dramas unfold will add an air of familiarity; if I speak french I'll understand what Stephen is thinking at times.

Sure it's great to have Gifford as a companion, to have 'A Portrait of the Artist' and Ellmann in our literary kitbag, to have a deep understanding of astronomy or armorial nomenclature or the properties of water or the religious theory of transubtantiation or the ancient wars of Pyrrhus or the 1904 Dublin bay ferry timetable or even the Slocum ferry disaster in New York in 1904, but all the extratextual references and background reading that you can surround yourself with are just as likely to diminish or distract from the dizzying pleasures that a first time read of Ulysses has to offer.

If you simply let it all wash over you with an open mind, the book (so inadequate a term that) will take you soaring in its timeless magical symphony and the exegesis and deeper understanding of its encyclopaedic artifacts can be investigated and teased out later and for the rest of your life with reference texts, commentaries and the re-re-re-readings.

That attitude is not to say you shouldn't arm yourself with flotation devices for the first time reading if that's what you need; just that it is much more important to actually dive into the water and learn to swim in whatever way you can. It is a great love of my life (surely I jest?) and if junior Joyce were simply pushing the line that I've so inadequately outlined here as a reason one should (at first) shy away from the academic books and papers when approaching Ulysses in the first instant, then I would have more sympathy with his position. Alas, I think his idiosynchratic manouverings and comments and litigious nature are less about preserving the integrity of Mr. James Joyce's great war book ("What did you do during the war?" "I wrote Ulysses") and more about the power demons of inadequacy that plague junior Joyce's rather dull little mind.
posted by peacay at 11:33 PM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]


I was armed with only a pop-up map of Dublin

I loved your comment, but I'm afraid my brain has stuck on this. What is a "pop-up map"? When you open it up, do little scale models of Trinity College and the GPO spring up, quivering in three-dimensional glory before your eyes? (And are there little Republican rifles sticking out of the Post Office windows?)
posted by languagehat at 5:13 AM on June 14, 2006


languagehat writes "What is a 'pop-up map'?"

Charles Stuart Parnell arises from the mists of time as you fold back the pamphlet, dances a jig....and is shot by English troops.

It was perhaps a mischaracterization. 3 inch square cardboard covers open to unfold a 5 inch square flat paper map. Insert 'fold-out' for 'pop-up'. But it does 'pop-up' as it opens, but not in the Meggendorfer meaning of the expression.
posted by peacay at 5:53 AM on June 14, 2006


Thanks for the interesting links and discussion. I'm going to be in New york for bloomsday- can anyone reccomend a good pub to check out the festivities?
posted by psychobum at 8:28 AM on June 14, 2006


"Ray Bradbury's estate" I'm sure Ray, and his 4 daughters, will be saddened to hear about his death. When did he die? I want to call him and tell him.
posted by Megafly at 4:34 PM on June 14, 2006


Yeah, sorry, I meant his foundation or whatever through which he controls his literary assets. I will talk to our legal department tomorrow and give you the whole story exactly. I do think it is ironic that a science fiction writer comes down on the side of Ludditism. If you can call Ray Bradbury, ask him to grant permission for his work to be published online.
posted by mattbucher at 6:46 PM on June 14, 2006


« Older Saying goodbye to goodbye.   |   What's popular at the BBC Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments