Joyce misquoted on collector coin

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April 18, 2013 – James Joyce really has had a rough ride with his epic novel ‘Ulysses.’ When it appeared in 1922 it was criticised for obscenity and immorality, censored and banned. Actually, after a serialised appearance in an Irish journal the first real book version was published not in Ireland – but in Paris.

James Joyce discussing with Sylvia Beach who published Ulysses first and Adrienne Monnier at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris in 1920. Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University / Wikipedia.

Today, however, Joyce is indisbutedly acknowledged as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century and as one of Ireland’s most famous artists in general. The Central Bank of Ireland decided hence to issue a 10-euro silver collector coin in honour of Joyce displaying a portrait of the author in a modernist style fitting his innovative way of writing and a quotation from the Ulysses.

But then things got the wrong turn, someone did not pay enough attention to the original text (which has – by the way, rather a difficult story although Joyce ‘filed’ every single word of it). In the second sentence a word was superfluously inserted, a ‘that’: ‘Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things THAT I am here to read.’ (The text is from the third chapter where Stephen Dedalus, one of the protagonists, reflects while walking along Sandymount Strand in Dublin.)

The coins (mintage: 10,000) were struck and distributed in Dublin when this error became known. Indeed the bank admitted the error and offered to refund buyers who wished to return the coin. But while informing about this error the official statement continues ‘While the error is regretted, it should be noted that the coin is an artistic representation of the author and text and not intended as a literal representation.’ This seems rather awkward when speaking of a – obviously – literal quotation from one of the masterpieces of literature.
Anyway, the coin was intended to honour the writer – may he himself have felt honoured by this coin or not after all he had to go through in his lifetime regarding ‘Ulysses’ – and the collectors did not bother. Or they may even have a soft spot for this kind of ‘flaw’. On April 11, 2013 the coin was sold to the public and the next day the Bank of Ireland thanked its customers for their ‘unprecedented interest in the coin’ which was already sold out.

You can find the coin on the website of the Central Bank of Ireland.

This mistake troubled also the online community as on the Twitter feed #james joyce.

If you want to check the text, you can find various versions of the Ulysses on this site.

More information on Joyce offers the James Joyce Centre Dublin.