Postscript to my article "Joyce in Vorarlberg. Some supplementary biographical data",
Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 20/1 (1995), 223-227

Intellectual vampirism, or a "fakesimilar in the foreign" (FW 484.34) unmasked

In June 1994 a local Joyce festival took place at Feldkirch (Austria), where Joyce had spent a holiday from August 15 to September 8 of 1932. His stay there partly coincided with that of his friend Eugène Jolas, who described their common activities in his memoir "My Friend James Joyce", first published in 1941 and often reprinted thereafter. Among other things we are told therein that they undertook, as a sort of daily ritual, evening-walks to the town's railway-station, and that on one of these occasions Joyce had remarked to him: "Over on these tracks there the fate of Ulysses was decided in 1915".(1)

xxxxx On the basis of these data (well-known since 1959 thanks to Richard Ellmann's Joyce biography) the Feldkirch-born bohemian, painter, and author Max Riccabona (1915-1997) published, in 1977, his essay "Epiphanien in der Löwenschwemme: Joyce in Vorarlberg" in the Vienna periodical of art, literature, and music, Protokolle 77 (p. 133-141). Although the trustworthiness of this memoir, wherein Riccabona vividly recalls several personal meetings with Joyce, had been called into doubt by Kurt Bracharz already in 1989 (2), a growing circle of culturally interested citizens demanded a visible sign of appreciating Joyce's Feldkirch connections. These efforts, initiated in 1992 by Andreas Weigel, resulted in the 1994 Feldkirch Joyce events, which started on the first of June with the opening of the exhibition Joyce in Feldkirch accompanied by a series of lectures, readings, and performances (organized by the town's Kulturkreis in collaboration with the Zürich Joyce Foundation and supported by the Landeskulturreferat) and were crowned, on Bloomsday, by an act of permanent homage to Joyce: Commemorative plaques were fixed near the Hotel Löwen (where Joyce had stayed during his holiday) and in the hall of the railway-station; ten years later the Löwen-Passage (which Joyce must often have passed on his way to the station) was officially renamed Joyce-Passage.

xxxxx Since Riccabona's memoir contained a number of interesting biographical data unpublished in English prior to 1995, I felt that the passing on of this apparently useful information to a wider international public might perhaps be welcome. Therefore my above-mentioned article included two long excerpts from Riccabona's text (3), though I was aware (and explicitly stated) that his report was "not in every regard equally reliable" (p. 223) and that it more than once "mixed up authentic memories with pieces of information obtained later on" (p. 225). Nevertheless, I did not see then - like many other readers and biographers of Riccabona - any cogent reason to doubt his basic affirmation that at any rate he had actually met Joyce at Feldkirch. This rash assumption, however, has meanwhile turned out to be untenable.

xxxxx Conclusive evidence for this insight was lately proffered by Andreas Weigel, a well-known expert on Joyceana Austriaca, whose growing misgivings about the reliability of Riccabona's report eventually found expression in two recent contributions to the debate over this issue. A revised version of his article "Max Riccabonas erfundene Begegnung mit James Joyce", published in September 2011 in the Vorarlberg periodical Miromente 25 (p. 34-44), will appear in 2012 in the Schriftenreihe der Rheticus-Gesellschaft under the title "Max Riccabonas ‚James Joyce'-Münchhauseniaden. Berichtigung einer zweifelhaften Augen- und Zeitzeugenschaft" (e-text available via The result of Weigel's detailed and convincing expositions can briefly be summarized thus: By now we cannot help regarding Riccabona as a charlatan, all the more so because he used similar procedures of confabulating non-events in connection with his wrong or at least strangely distorted statements about his meetings with Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, and Ezra Pound.

xxxxx On re-reading Riccabona's text in the light of these new insights one is inevitably confronted with the self-critical question: How, first of all, did Riccabona succeed in luring so many of his early readers into this trap? A closer inspection of his narrative strategy reveals his typical manner of exploiting and manipulating his materials. His major trick of winning the readers' trust can best be exemplified on the basis of his attempt to evoke the milieu of the Löwen-taproom "at that time", where, as he "thinks", he was introduced to Joyce by his "cousin" Hermann v[on] V[ilas]. In order to make this supposition more plausible he adds, a few lines later: "Now, after I have become rather familiar with the work of James Joyce, I can very well imagine that [it was indeed his cousin who introduced him to Joyce]". In fact, however, this ambivalent statement weakens rather than strengthens his argument. This ambivalence becomes more obvious in my English version of this paragraph, where Riccabona's original kann ich mir sehr gut vorstellen, dass… can hardly be translated otherwise than by I can very well imagine that … . Since, on account of its etymological root, the English verb to imagine almost automatically (and more directly than its German equivalent) evokes the notion of conjuring up impressive images (in German: Bilder) in our mind, "especially mistakenly or without proof" (4), we implicitly become aware that Riccabona's mir vorstellen, dass … can also be understood as a camouflaged mir einbilden, dass…. In short: We cannot be sure whether or not the situations he describes are more than mere figments of his imagination. But even (and in particular) those details by which Riccabona endeavours to underscore his trustworthiness by formulations such as I very well remember, for instance, that … , or: All this happened more than forty years ago, and yet he [Joyce] is distinctly present in my mind's eye have meanwhile - as Weigel's observations clearly show - been disclosed as pure fiction. (5) Accordingly, the spurious self-characterization ascribed to Joyce in the same paragraph (an "intellectual vampire" - as he enjoyed calling himself - ) can and should rather be understood as an apt characterization of its inventor, who drew the blood for his fake experiences from a body of heterogeneous information of more or less dubious provenance. If he had really been familiar with Joyce's works at the time of writing his pseudo-memoir, he might have been warned against the risk of underrating the collective wisdom of the growing number of his readers, who eventually could and would recognize that this web of lies does not bear closer examination. From Finnegans Wake Riccabona could have learned that "a plan to fake a shine" (206.07) may well result in a "loss of fame from Wimmegame's fake" (375.17 f).

xxxxx In finishing these considerations it is perhaps not inappropriate to mention an odd minor detail. On re-reading my article of 1995 I discovered, with surprise and a mixture of anger and amusement, that I had overlooked a serious misprint in its final paragraph: In the published text commemorative plaque had inconspicuously, yet drastically changed into commemorative plague. In retrospect, one may be inclined to regard this curious mistake as a telltale Freudian slip. But I must, of course, resist the temptation of reinterpreting something that basically resulted from my inadvertence in correcting the proofsheets as a quasi-prophetic subconscious anticipation of the fact that by now Riccabona's inglorious role in this affair can no longer be ignored.
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xxxxx(1) Eugène Jolas, "My Friend James Joyce", Partisan Review 8 (March-April 1941), 82-93; reprinted in The Partisan Reader, New York: Dial 1946, p. 457-468, and in
xxxxxxx Seon Givens, ed., James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, New York: Vanguard Press 1948, p. 3-18

xxxxx(2) Kurt Bracharz, "metasuperMAXimal", Kultur. Zeitschrift für Kultur und Gesellschaft Nr. 7 (1989), p. 7 [in his review of the Riccabona-Exhibition that, from June 21
xxxxxxxxto September 3 of 1989, took place at Bregenz in the Vorarlberger Landesmuseum]

xxxxx(3) To be found on p. 138 f of the original German version of Riccabona's memoir.

xxxxx(4) Cf. entry on this verb in the Langenscheidt-Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

xxxxx(5) Moreover, Weigel draws our attention to another instance of Riccabona's shilly-shallying in his attempts to shield himself from the suspicion of trying to heighten his
xxxxxxxxreputation by pretending that he had been in close contact with important contemporary artists. Typically enough, he embeds his affirmation that he had heard
xxxxxxx Giorgo Joyce [who was not present in Feldkirch at the time of his father's stay there] sing "something from the Orfeo" (p. 189) in a rather confusingly formulated
xxxxxxx reservation about the correctness of his report on this pseudo-event: wenn ich mich richtig glaube erinnern zu können; literally translated this would sound in
xxxxxxx English approximately like if I correctly believe to be able to recall [this event].