An Irishman's Diary
FRITZ SENN’S voice choked with emotion. The 84-year-old director of the Zürich James Joyce Foundation stood at the podium, trembling, inarticulate but thereby voicing more of his distress than any spoken words could do. The last audible word he uttered, before recovering himself somewhat, was “trust”. And only feet away, sitting impassively, was Danis Rose, a director of the publishing company that had been the source of this pain. As Senn left the platform, the hall resounded to prolonged applause.
The biennial International James Joyce Symposium has known plenty of dramatic moments over the years. But for sheer raw emotion, nothing quite equalled the scene at the Dublin symposium this June as the panel, which I chaired, discussing the publication of “The Cats of Copenhagen”, the letter by Joyce to his grandson that is held by the Zürich Foundation and was published without the Foundation’s knowledge by the Dublin-based Ithys Press earlier this year. (The question of whether the foundation’s consent was needed is a matter of contention between the parties.)
Rose’s reaction to Senn was muted indeed. He indicated that the “Cats” issue was a matter for another person and when it was pointed out that he was himself a director of Ithys Press he made no comment. A meeting of the members of the International James Joyce Foundation later unanimously endorsed the statement by the Zürich institution condemning the “Cats of Copenhagen” publication at the time of its appearance last February.
Copyright issues inevitably dominated the Dublin event, the first to be held here since 2004. This was not surprising, given that this is the year when the Joyce estate’s grip on copyright was finally released. This may sound like the arrival of the chosen people at the Promised Land; however, as Joyce’s own works teach us, the Promised Land is, in this world, always an illusory state. And indeed, the new situation has been marked by a number of interventions which have certainly caused considerable distress and dismay (and not only to the Zürich foundation), whatever their exact legal status.
Some of these questions were addressed in a plenary lecture by Robert Spoo, a US specialist in copyright law who is also a member of the board of the National Library of Ireland. Spoo’s lecture discussed some of the confusions and difficulties caused by differing copyright regimes in different countries, even within the EU, where the transfer of an overall EU directive into national laws led to widely differing interpretations.
He showed, for instance, how the apparent intentions of legislators can in fact be completely contradicted by the actual working of the law as drafted. All this may seem rather dry and abstract; the pain etched on the face and heard in the voiceless voice of Senn reminds one of the human cost of these developments.