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The Strange Case of the Missing Joyce Scholar (nytimes.com)
62 points by elemeno 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments



Sounds like a good cautionary example for 'real artists ship'. If he had just declared his Joyce edition complete at some point, even if he felt it was radically incomplete, it would have likely superseded Gabler and the major errors which he hated so much, and he could've improved subsequent editions or others could've taken it on after he disappeared. But the perfect was the enemy of better, Gabler won by default, and now he's spent decades on something else entirely. Odds aren't good he'll finish that either.


I enjoyed this casual detail in the article:

> she and a colleague were dedicating a book to him, a 31,802-page tome called “The Manual for the Advanced Study of James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’”

Academic studies of the Wake leaves Ulysses scholarship for dead :)


I was skeptical, but apparently this is real, although calling it a "book" seems like a stretch, as it comes in 122 volumes. (Volume 1, "The Romanian Lexicon of Finnegans Wake", 455 pages.)


I have never read ulysses, and didn't realize this was an issue. So what is actually recommended for the non-academic reader now?


It honestly doesn't really matter - the differences between different editions are subtle and of interest mostly to scholars. If you can find an edition with good annotations go with that one; otherwise just pick up the one with your favourite cover - I've always been partial to the Penguin one myself.


> It honestly doesn't really matter - the differences between different editions are subtle and of interest mostly to scholars. If you can find an edition with good annotations go with that one; otherwise just pick up the one with your favourite cover - I've always been partial to the Penguin one myself.

Without disputing what you say, I am curious: do you speak as a scholar who knows this to be true, or a casual reader who assumes it to be true, or from some other basis?


Fair enough - can I say somewhere between the two? I don't feel comfortable calling myself a true "Joyce scholar", but I did my undergraduate degree in literature where one of my classes was a full semester seminar on Ulysses; its publication history - and the various editors who've had a crack at the text - were discussed.

That aside, I'm an avid casual Joyce fan - I've read the book several times outside of that class, both before and after.

Those qualifications aren't exactly impressive, but I think they're enough for me to entreat the prospective Ulysses reader - tolle lege! Pick it up and read!


> Fair enough - can I say somewhere between the two?

Yes, absolutely. I didn't mean it as a challenge, just (as another eternally on the verge of reading Ulysses) was curious how definitively I could take your recommendation.


Thanks for your thoughts. It's been on the list for a while, but it's a really long list. :)


That the differences are minor is argued by scholar Craig Raine in his preface to the Everyman edition. He is specifically speaking against readers being worried by Gabler's claims, and he uses, for example, the metaphor that Gabler paints a picture of the traditional editions as if they were a shabby suit, but in fact the "suit" is fine and just has a little lint on it.

I fondly remember that preface years after I read it because Raine points to some of Gabler's completely minor amendations and says "I don't give a fupenny tuck", a delightful expression I wish was more current in English.


Sounds like a pun from the Wake. I would be surprised if it wasn't. I loved the Wake. Only read it once all the way through but I dip into it from time to time.

It's a fantastic place to find memorable phrases that make good passwords.


I haven't read the work in question, but I think it's a spoonerism of 'tupenny fuck.'


I have never claimed that I was on a quest to perfect Ulysses, or to edit a "definitive Ulysses," or to concoct any "perfect edition".

New York Times Magazine author Jack Hitt simply made that up, as he seems to have done with several other things attributed to me by him. Or maybe he has an uncredited source that inspired him to romanticize my mundane drudgery as a tropical textologist and translator.

The term I prefer is "authoritative," which is not a claim of "error-free input," something Hans Walter Gabler wrote that had attained in his 1984 "Ulysses : A Critical and Synoptic Edition."

In 1986 the claim of non-erroneousness was repeated twice in a gushing review of Gabler written by Geert Lernout in the _Revue Belge de Philologie_, which ends with these words : << It seems that Joyce finally got the error-free text he waited for in vain during his life-time. >>

One nice symmetry of Then and Now is that Lernout became the first academic in Europe to assail me as having weird ideas about Joyce. Gabler's work is, we are told twice, "error-free," and Kidd, we are assured, is an eccentric crank who "has a whole series of pet theories . . ."

1986, 2018, Nothing new under the sun, Gabler-Kidd-wise and Kidd-Gabler-wise. Lernout literally declares, "Kidd is the kind of person who . . ." It does not get more ad hominem than that.

I would be interested to learn if anyone can find online any pre-2018 claim that I sought to produce the impossible "perfect edition" of any book. That false claim seems to have appeared first on the web on June 12, 2018. The online version of Jack Hitt's New York Times Magazine profile of me is called "The Strange Case of the Missing Joyce Scholar," but the paper publication with a cover date of June 17 is titled “In Search of the Perfect Ulysses.”

What is stranger or more eccentric than I myself supposedly am, is a journalist of such high intelligence as Jack Hitt attributing to me beliefs that he does not sustain by a single quotation from my published work, whether it be Joycean or Jungian, or a even poem out of my youth.

Come to think of it, Jack Hitt's beautifully written essay fails to give the title of any of my works. Those curious about what Hitt skimmed over without dipping his beak into the salt green sea, may consult an old CV of mine by Googling this phrase, enclosing it within quotation marks : "Curriculum Vitae of John Kidd"


Sounds like he tried to build an academic career on pathological grammar Nazism. The size of a dot? Come on, that's at most a minor typographical error.

A text the size of "Ulysses" cannot, by definition, ever be "perfect". There will always be an opportunity for a vacuous hack to assemble a "catastrophic" collection of minor mistakes that allegedly compromise the edition. This is usually much easier than actually producing a new edition, by orders of magnitude so, and this is why we hate grammar Nazis: they derail the conversation and in the end contribute nothing of substance.

I know it's probably harsh, but every field has these guys, they should not be celebrated but marginalized. I find his ouster from academia not surprising. Kidd is obviously very competent but he chose to invest his vast knowledge and intellect into an ego match instead of contributing and expanding his field.


There seems to be an important difference between everyday "Grammar nazism" and an effort to generate an accurate proof copy of a -- maybe THE - defining English language modernist novel.....Textual criticism, in general, is very important for the transmission of culture, and a different kind of thing than people who go around feeling superior because they still use "whom" in the "right" place.


Of course, it was a metaphor that fit nicely. That is to say, academia has vacuous researchers that are to science what grammarians are to casual online discussions.




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