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Finnegans Flotsam: What is a Modernist Text? A Special Collections Exhibition

The following text is from an exhibit curated by Dr. J. Matthew Huculak in Special Collections at the University of Victoria. You can view the exhibit during these hours:

8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (September-April)
10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (May-August)


Finnegans Wake, Faber and Faber, 1939. Special Collections, The University of Victoria.
Finnegans Wake, Faber and Faber, 1939. Special Collections, The University of Victoria.

Did you know that Special Collections at the University of Victoria has a rich collection of James Joyce material?

What makes this collection particularly unique is its gathering of facsimile “avant-textes,” which comprise the manuscript material of a given work (not shown), as well as its near-complete compilation of periodical and special-edition versions of Joyce’s work.This exhibit highlights some of Special Collection’s material pertaining to Finnegans Wake (1923-1939). By the time Joyce started writing Finnegans Wake 1923, he was already famous internationally for the “Scandal of Ulysses,” when his magnum opus was banned and declared obscene in the United States and Great Britain.[1]

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Moore in the Poetry Machine

I put Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” into modVers: I mashed enjambed lines into XML to render an elegant visualization. Daniel Carter’s current version of modVers arranges the variant parts of the poem into a tidy and navigable display as JavaScript and CSS proffer a pleasing aesthetic, encasing the text in neatly segmented and colour-coded witnesses for comparison and manipulation. The tool exhibits the poem with its iterations fanning out all at once. Selection of a single line bolds all comparable lines across texts, prompting a landscape-oriented reading of the versioned poem. The display accommodates simultaneously the 1919, 1924 and 1967 versions of “Poetry.” Viewing the three versions in tandem prompts a consideration of how this particular expression of the mutable text informs readings of the poem. With modVers, one can view and engage the poem as it diverges and dissolves across witnesses.

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Returning to the Periodical Context

Periodicals have been on my mind quite a bit in the last few months. Not only have I continued to work with Nostromo in both its serial and volume witnesses, but I also took a fantastic UVic English seminar taught by Dr. Lisa Surridge. During the seminar, we explored the relationship between text and image in Victorian literature. Quite often, we considered what Mark Turner calls the “periodical context” of the texts, looking at the other articles, images, and even ads that ran alongside our primary texts of study.

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Bloomsday Ahoy! Pirated Ulysses Found by MVP Post-doc

Image by Robert Amos
Image by Robert Amos

This Bloomsday (June 16), UVic celebrates a rare Ulysses library discovery.

Matt Huculak, a University of Victoria post-doctoral fellow, just realized every literary scholar’s dream. Poring through the University of Victoria’s Special Collections catalogues earlier this year, Huculak discovered a rare pirated edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses in the pages of an obscure literary journal.

Huculak made the discovery earlier this spring in the university’s Special Collections library while working for the SSHRC-funded Modernist Versions Project, an international digital humanities venture headed by UVic researchers that will allow readers to compare the different versions and editions of modernist fiction and poetry online.

Huculak was scanning old library catalogues dating back to the early days of Victoria College–the University of Victoria’s precursor–when he spotted an entry for a rare magazine called Two Worlds. “I recognized the magazine title in the catalogue,” says Huculak, “but I couldn’t believe the University of Victoria had a copy.” The call number was so old even the librarians didn’t recognize it at first.

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Theory of Versioning

The aim of the project is to collate and edit modernist texts that exist in multiple versions so that we can achieve new critical insights. The task here is much more than simply to allow comparison of texts to identify where variations occur. Instead, it is to facilitate new interpretive possibilities. That is, out of the collation of text A and text B we will generate a set of variants, that can stand as text C. We want to read text C to see what it can tell us about the evolution of a given novel, say, and then to link those changes into the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts that produce them. The theoretical issues that arise concern what counts as a text and how we can read the third possible text — the C text — that emerges out of the incompatibility between text A and text B. The aim is to read the gap between one version and the next, following Derrida’s imperative to attend to difference itself as the source of meaning rather than presuming that it is a merely negative product of the non-coincidence of two entities: text A and text B. Given modernism’s own fascination with radical breaks, discontinuities, and making things new, the theory behind our approach to textual variation is in many ways deeply modernist itself. Following the lead of such writers as Conrad, Forster, and Joyce, and the ways in which their innovations in narrative informed much of later twentieth-century theory, the Modernist Versions Project concerns itself with what gaps, silences, and difference itself can tell us. It does not pursue the holistic text of the genetic edition, nor the definitive edition of the “corrected text,” but rather the trace of what has been erased, of erasure itself, as the most productive point of meaning. In doing so, we hope to be able to restore to our understanding of modernism a key element of its production, an aspect which modernism itself elided, but which remains central to understanding it as fully as possible.

Michael Groden’s “Ulysses: The Necessary Fiction”

The MVP is thrilled to present the next instalment of the YoU Lecture Series: Michael Groden’s “Ulysses: The Necessary Fiction”

Speaker: Dr. Michael Groden, Distinguished University Professor, Department of English, University of Western Ontario

Talk Title: “Ulysses: The Necessary Fiction”

Venue: University of Toronto

Date: 19 April 2013