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Joyce Today by Kenneth Keating

Submitted by site_editor on Tue, 2017-03-28 21:00

On 1st January 2012 copyright on the works of James Joyce (1882-1941) expired, in line with Irish copyright laws which stipulate that original work be protected by an estate for seventy years after the death of the work’s creator. Prior to this date, any substantial engagement with Joyce’s work which would use any part of the original texts required the user to obtain permission from the Joyce estate. To proceed a not-unsubstantial fee was often required, allowing only those with structured private or public funding to pursue such projects, while permission could still be denied if the proposed project failed to meet the cultural expectations of the executors of the estate. Thus for seventy years after the death of Joyce his work, like that of any other Irish author in the equivalent period, was read, celebrated, but strictly controlled and rarely engaged with in any substantial way by those artists wishing to reproduce or adapt the original texts.


‘Joyce Today’, the second project to be produced by The Digital Platform for Contemporary Irish Writing,  maps the unparalleled explosion of creative works which were produced in the five-year period immediately after the expiration of this copyright. From 2012 to 2016 artists and academics from a wide range of disciplines were able to freely engage with, adapt, reconfigure, reconceptualise, recontextualise, and reproduce in part or in entirety some of the texts central to Irish letters and modernist art across Europe and North America. In each case these individuals display great respect for the work of Joyce, but act with artistic and intellectual freedom unhindered by concerns regarding copyright or the Joyce estate.


‘Joyce Today’ lists these adaptations in one place for the very first time to offer a full reflection of the breadth of responses to Joyce’s work in the context of the expiration of copyright. Included here are links to the work of writers, visual artists, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, composers, IT developers, and academics working in the field of digital humanities. These entries are populated with associated material: reviews, interviews, articles, and videos, to give the reader a clear sense of the impact and digital footprint of these adaptations.


The ‘Joyce Today’ project includes any adaptation of the works of Joyce published or performed between 1st January 2012 and 31st December 2016. These entries range from the more common understanding of what constitutes an adaptation in examples such as Jacob M. Appel’s novel The Biology of Luck or Dermot Bolger’s Ulysses, both based on Joyce’s Ulysses, to those more challenging and innovative reproductions of the text such as Eoghan Kidney and Barry Murphy’s Virtual Reality programme In Ulysses or Gerardine Meaney’s Digital Media Edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.


Due to the terms of reference for this project numerous interesting productions have been excluded, including but not limited to Pádraig Trehy’s Shem the Penman Sings Again (2015), a feature-length film depicting the friendship between Joyce and tenor John McCormack, and Dora García’s The Joycean Society (2013), a documentary on a reading group’s 30-year reading and re-reading of Finnegans Wake. While these and many others have great individual merit as engagements with Joyce-related material, they do not represent adaptations of Joyce’s original work and as such have been excluded. So too have the vast number of translations of Joyce’s work in various languages across the globe, for much the same reason. Analysis of such work is deserving of its own resource and study, something which may be produced in time. Meanwhile we welcome the ‘Joyce Smithy’ initiative recently introduced by the James Joyce Quarterly to provide an annual review of Joyce-inspired works, as well as the Joyce in Music resource produced by the Waywords and Meansigns project.


On the Digital Platform for Contemporary Irish Writing descriptions of each ‘Joyce Today’ entry are offered on individual pages, which have been extracted directly from the primary source of the production’s or publication’s website where possible, while primary materials relating to the adaptations have been embedded in relevant pages when feasible. This has led to some anomalies regarding consistency of style in these entries, but the goal for this project was to minimise any editorialising and to represent each production and publication as accurately as possible and on their own terms. The browser of ‘Joyce Today’ is offered an experience which reflects the breadth and depth of artistic and intellectual engagement with Joyce and the dynamic and diverse ways in which artists, creative practitioners, and academics continue to respond to his work.


Kenneth Keating is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Occasional Lecturer in the School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin.