The Missing Joyce Scholar.

Jack Hitt, in the NYT Magazine, tells the story of John Kidd, “once celebrated as the greatest James Joyce scholar alive”:

Kidd had been the director of the James Joyce Research Center, a suite of offices on the campus of Boston University dedicated to the study of “Ulysses,” arguably the greatest and definitely the most-obsessed-over novel of the 20th century. Armed with generous endowments and cutting-edge technology, he led a team dedicated to a single goal: producing a perfect edition of the text. […]

Among scholars and Joyce freaks, everyone knew “Ulysses” was an odyssey of errors. Over the decades, there were rumors that some great textual fanatic was about to take on the brute task of cleaning it up. In the 1960s, excitement centered on Jack Dalton’s work, but the task seemed to overwhelm him, and he died in 1981 without producing his edition. By the mid-1980s, European scholars took up the charge, culminating in the announcement of a coming version — “Ulysses: The Corrected Text” — that would set straight 5,000 mistakes and give the world “ ‘Ulysses’ as Joyce wrote it.”

This updated edition was the product of years of fine-tooth-combing through manuscripts and copy-sheets, one letter at a time, all done according to a dense new textual theory that almost no one could understand. The entire project felt authoritative and dour, very German and all consuming, right down to the chief editor’s name, Hans Walter Gabler. Right away, Gabler was challenged by a New World scholar no one had ever heard of, his name right out of some early American morality play — John Kidd. It seemed as if the great watchmaker of the universe had handled the casting: German versus American, Old World versus New, credentialed versus self-taught. The face-off managed to draw an audience far outside academe. Try to imagine this today: For almost a year, textual criticism was happening, and red-hot copies of The New York Review of Books flew off the newsstands.

I vividly remember that NYRB piece and the subsequent exchanges of letters; Kidd was so brilliant and so obsessive about details it seemed clear he was going to produce the perfect edition. What a shame it’s apparently never going to happen! I leave you to discover the details at the link. (Thanks, Ran!)


  1. Stu Clayton says

    # gauleiters (pronounced gow-lieders) #

    Somebody on the Internet is wrong, and it’s Hitt.

    # “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” #

    Now I know for sure – this gave Heidegger the idea for Sein und Zeit.

  2. marie-lucie says

    # gauleiters (pronounced gow-lieders) #

    The suggested pronunciation is probably lie-ders as in ‘to lie’, not as in German lieder ‘songs’. Whether the following consonant is [t] or [d] seems much less significant.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    The entire article is about the significance of the insignificant. That was my point or dot.

    # Behind him he heard Buck Mulligan club with his heavy bathtowel the leader shoots of ferns or grasses. #

  4. I contemplated for about half-a-minute whether it is “The (missing Joyce) scholar” or “The missing (Joyce scholar)” and unfortunately settled on the correct reading.

  5. David Marjanović says

    I’d have gone with lighter… or even light-er in a foolhardy attempt to prevent T-flapping.

  6. “The Slave Isaura” was the first telenovela broadcasted in the Soviet Union in the late 80s. It was immensely popular. Even I happened to watch about 10 episodes out of about a thousand (ok, ok, Wikipedia says it was just 100, relax). Fazenda became a word for dacha. When one of the characters died (Ether, Estella, Ester? I forgot) there were public wakes in various places. Those were the times.

Speak Your Mind