Who owns James Joyce?
Sir, – Dublin City Council’s recent motion in favour of “repatriating” the remains of James Joyce and other individuals interred in Zurich treats these distant bodies as if they were somehow the property of an ideal Ireland, with the Government asked to take “all appropriate steps” to bring them to Dublin (“Return writer’s remains to Ireland, say Dublin councillors”, News, October 15th).
By way of response, a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stressed that any reinterment would be a matter in the first place for family members and trustees of the Joyce estate, thus acknowledging the primacy of family wishes over a potentially insensitive political vote.
The motion is only the latest is a long series of Irish requests to move the Joyce remains. The persistent clamour has been such that in 1977, one of the Irish Times’s most distinguished satirists caustically noted the implications of the rolling calls for a Joyce reburial.
Donal Foley, in his Man Bites Dog column, declared that the “Joyce funeral” would be an ideal way to introduce visitors to a newly established Irish “Festival of Funerals”. Other repatriations might include Thomas Moore, John F Kennedy, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and Che Guevara. A spokesman for Bord Fáilte (Great Funerals Festival Department) said that when they ran out of “Great Irish Bodies”, they would dig up figures such as Brian Boru, and transfer them to their “rightful place in the republican plot at Glasnevin”.
In the run-up to the centenary of Ulysses, Dublin City Council might do better to encourage its literary citizens to engage with the undoubted quality of the novel rather than to lead a campaign to rattle the bones that lie in Zurich.
In Ulysses, the narrator in the Hades episode refers to a pauper “nobody owns”.
Who owns Joyce? – Yours, etc,