October 21, 2019

Dublin wants to repatriate James Joyce’s bones


The Guardian reports that Dublin’s city council has put in a bid to bring James Joyce’s remains back to Ireland.

What this means, essentially, is that a bunch of people are putting forth arguments under the shared assumption that human remains have wishes, and that foundations and city councils are here to adjudicate on them.

Dublin city councilor, Paddy McCartan (yep, that’s an Irish name), noted that exile may have been a “key element in his writing.” But he doesn’t think it was “part of the plan” to have exile “follow him into eternity.”

Point taken. Time to pull out the ole’ dog-eared copy of Finnegan’s Wake and figure out if it included any plans re: exile and/or eternity … I mean, maybe?

Founder of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, Dr Fritz took the less literary tack in his argument. “[T]here seems to be no evidence that Joyce wanted to return to Ireland or even be buried there,” he noted. But he did go ahead and dub the controversy, “the Battle of the Bones,” which is nice and helpful for people writing this up, although it also has us wondering how exactly he inserted that into his interview with the Guardian’s reporter.

Senn: He never took Irish citizenship when he could have done it. Most Joyce experts would agree. [pause] And, I think we can also agree that it would be pretty cool if we called this episode “the Battle of the Bones.”

[dramatization, not a real quote]

Joyce was buried in Zurich along with his wife Nora Barnacle, his son Giogio, and Giorgo’s second wife, Asta Osterwalder. Stern notes that Osterwalder has “no relation to Ireland at all,” another argument to leave the grave alone.

While nationality might seem like a potent fiction while we’re alive, isn’t it an absurd one after we’re dead? It goes ashes to ashes, dust to dust, not Irish ashes to Irish ashes, Irish dust to Irish dust, right? We can’t for the life of us figure out where these controversies come from. Are there really Dubliners out there thinking, “Hey … wait a second, where are James Joyce’s bones…?” Are the Swiss periodically telling themselves, “We may have only invented the cuckoo clock after five hundred years of democracy, but at least we also have Joyce’s bones, and those of his wife and son (although the daughter-in-laws’ are by rights, ours).”

Anyhow, this was a case of a buried lede. The centenary of Ulysses will be upon us in 2022. They’ll need the bones present in Dublin for the rites of Backlist Classics Marketing.

As you were.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.