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Pirates and Poldy: Telemachiad + 1, Part 1

Let us not begin at the beginning, nor even at the archive. -J.D.

So we begin at a computer screen in the Electronic Texts and Cultures Lab, where I sit in a small room looking out into a conifer-filled courtyard. My colleague sits across from me attempting to prototype Jonathan Safran Foer’s The Tree of Codes for the digital environment.  I envy him his project. I am a scholar in search of an idea, and there is an anxiety that accompanies an untenured scholar who needs to perform in terms of research and publication.  The fear of failure accompanies each uneventful search in WorldCat and Google. But in DH we are beginning to embrace failure. As we adapt lab-models of research in the humanities, we must record each experiment so that we know a “thousand ways not to build a lightbulb,” until, that is, the lightbulb goes off over our head.

And then it happened.

For all the electricity that surrounds me, it was the nudge of human instinct that made me look. My current project is to create a prototype and archive for the first four episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses (The Telemachiad + 1). My postdoctoral research at the Modernist Versions Project has been generously supported by Stephen Ross, Ray Siemens in the ETCL, as well as my colleagues and friends in the library’s Special Collections. My goal is to bring together each published version of Ulysses in one system. For my prototype, I am using the first two periodical versions published in the Little Review and the Egoist. 

That is, until I found the rare, pirated edition of Ulysses by Samuel Roth hidden in the archives at the University of Victoria. I can’t tell you how I found it, or why I had looked in the first place. All I can tell you is that it took the magic of collaboration between librarians and researchers to make it happen. I was following a string of thought in the UViC cataloguing system when  I came across  the following result: 

This is a confusing entry for a scholar. It’s missing notes and it doesn’t have much in terms of description. But my curiosity was piqued, so I texted the call number to my phone, got up, and headed across the quad to Special Collections. When I presented the call number to the librarian she didn’t recognize it, so she typed it in herself.

She shook her head and said, “I’m not really sure if there is anything there. The entry is from our old system, and I’ve never seen this before.”

A little adrenaline started pumping through my veins. “Interesting,” I said, “Would you mind taking a look for me?”

“Absolutely,” she said, “but I can’t promise anything.”

I noticed Katie Tanigawa sitting in the corner doing her own research on Conrad. I stepped over and sat down at her table. She tells me that she wished she had recorded what happened next.

As we were discussing our work, the librarian emerged with a stack of periodicals in her hands. She said, “I’m sorry, but there was so much material at that call number, I decided to just bring it out to you.”

The first thing I saw was this:


I was looking at the pirated edition of Ulysses published by Samuel Roth in New York.  Here it was at the University of Victoria, “lost” since its purchase from a book dealer in 1966.

I am told that not everyone shares the same excitement I feel when something is found again in the archive. The frisson is real to me, especially when it comes to periodicals, which tended to be published on cheap (high acid) paper and consequently are disintegrating rapidly on our shelves.

Part 2: The project.


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