Clever, Very: Jonathan Goldman

For the latest installment in our “Clever, Very” series, we interviewed Dr. Jonathan Goldman, Associate Professor at the New York Institute of Technology and the editor of Joyce and the Law. Recently, Dr. Goldman was appointed Vice President of the James Joyce Society. The JJS has a rich history as one of the earliest Joyce societies in the world and was fundamental in the initial construction of Joyce studies.

James Joyce Quarterly: We were delighted to learn about your appointment at the New York James Joyce Society and our readers would love to know more about you. Could you tell us more about yourself—about your background and what brought you to the New York James Joyce Society?

Jonathan Goldman: Careful, now! It’s just called the James Joyce Society; New York has never been part of its name, presumably because it was the first organization of its kind. To your question: now that I’ve assumed some responsibility for the JJS and been tapped as next president, it seems like it was inevitable. I may not be the most Joycean New Yorker, but I feel like I am the most New York Joycean, having grown up in the city and returned after years away to teach here, and as I am actively engaged with much local, non-academic NYC culture.

As far as Joyce goes, I got hooked on Ulysses in particular while carrying it around on a three-week European train trip at the age of 20, reading it as best as I could without any guides or notes. Next, I took a Joyce seminar with John Bishop and subsequently joined the Berkeley Wake group. These sealed the deal. Professionally, I moved away from Joyce quite a bit during graduate school. I felt like I wasn’t focused enough for the field. Also, it was the 90’s and single-author scholarship was supposed to be a dead end. I saw myself as a historian/analyst of modernist culture who would occasionally delve into Joyce as a rich example. I still do. But every time I tried to get out… After I published my monograph, ideas and invitations for Joyce projects starting popping up. It’s a robust industry, after all so I took advantage of the opportunities. Drifting back into the field, I came to terms with finding a place within Joyce studies despite not possessing the kind of totalizing mastery of it that I perceived in others.

JJQ: My apologies, for misstating the organization’s name, none the less, the James Joyce association has quite the storied history, could you tell us a bit about it?

Goldman: The history is chronicled best by the late Zack Bowen, and everyone should read his essay. The skinny: The JJS was founded in 1947 at the Gotham Book Mart in midtown Manhattan, “the American version of Shakespeare and Company,” because of its importance to modernist studies in the U.S., says Bowen (76). Its first official member was T.S. Eliot and its past presidents include John J. Slocum (no relation to the boat, or the General), Padraic Colum, William York Tindall, Bowen, and Sidney Feshbach. The current president, Nick Fargnoli, has held the reins for over 25 years, and knows this history better than I. There are scattered archives relating to the Society; Nick tells me he has the original print flier for every event it has ever hosted.

JJQ: What kind of plans do you have for future events and projects at the Society?

Goldman: My main charges are to continue the Society’s tradition of offering compelling speakers/panels and to conduct outreach in order to expand, renew, and diversify membership. These tasks may dovetail, as I hope to recruit both academic and non-academic presenters. I have already performed the necessity of nudging the JJS  into the 21st-century world of social media, creating pages for TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Other than that,  I have ideas that have yet to bake all the way through. One is an informal  mentorship program that would pair NYC-area graduate students (or undergraduates with long-term interest in Joyce) with a local Joyce scholar who might be able to, over coffee or email, advise about the field, its currents and contours. That would fulfill one of the initial purposes of the JJS; Bowen writes that members such as Tindall, “agreed readily to receive students referred to them on a casual basis” (76).

JJQ: Societies such as the JJS often occupy multiple spaces simultaneously. Part of their responsibility is to facilitate the work and research of experts, while also functioning as a resource for education, and a means to facilitate a growing interest among the public. How do you see the JJS fulfilling this dual role of serving both a public audience as well as experts in the field?

Goldman: I am keen to mobilize the public role of the Society by solidifying or creating partnerships with local cultural institutions–such as Symphony Space, which is an obvious example, as I work for its annual “Bloomsday on Broadway” event. There are many NYC organizations and communities that have a demonstrated investment in Joyce, including Irish writer salons and theater companies, at least two Wake reading groups, the local Irish culture radio show, bars that stage Bloomsday events, rare book societies, etc.; the Museum of Modern Art currently includes footage of Joyce and his family in an exhibit of home movies. Rich potential for cross-pollination thus exists. At the same time, I plan to look for ways to connect Joyce to less obvious projects/populations, to find ways to connect Joyce to the diversity of New York’s complicated cultural and linguistic tapestry. Joyce may be (well, is) a dead white male author, but his work echoes with a spirit of generosity and curiosity regarding race, cultural traditions, sexuality, gender identity. It matches up with a New York ethos of inclusiveness.

JJQ: What was the original purpose behind the JJS’s formation? Do you think that purpose is still relevant to what the society still/should do?

Goldman: The founders intended to support Joycean scholarship, academic and otherwise–which obviously is still the mission–and to promote the production of Exiles in New York theaters, which obviously… not so much. But the latter goal still resonates as an example of urging, and facilitating, the use of Joyce’s work in the NYC public sphere. I would like to pick up that tradition.