Professor Kathleen O’Gorman’s most recent project, “Ulysses: The Exam (Word and Image),” has been accepted for presentation at the symposium of the International James Joyce Foundation in Utrecht, in The Netherlands. The Joyce Foundation holds its symposium every 2 years over “Bloomsday,” June 16, the day on which the events of Ulysses take place. This year’s symposium will run from June 15 – 21.
Dr. O. describes how her “exam” came about:
The project was inspired by my practice of wearing earrings coordinated with the texts I teach—a long-time practice that’s entertained me and many years’ worth of students in all of my classes. Occasionally over the years, I’d offer a few extra credit points at the end of an exam if students could come up with a viable explanation for why the earrings I was wearing on exam day would be appropriate for a particular text covered on the exam. It occurred to me this past semester when I was teaching Ulysses—a text with which I always have a lot of fun—that I ought to come up with a whole quiz asking that same question about multiple pairs of earrings, since there were so many I hadn’t had a chance to wear. (For Ulysses, I have several pairs per chapter, and I can never quite wear all of them, given the limits of the semester and considering that I keep buying more, as they cross my path.) The quiz would just be for fun, not for an actual grade. I mentioned it to the students, and they loved the idea, as long as it was just for fun.
We took the exam as a collective activity in class at the end of the semester, and we had a great time with it, with one person’s textual references often prompting someone else’s additional response. In other words, the exam—which, let me be clear, I would never really give for a grade to a class—relies on and reinforces the associative capacity of language and the literary use of leitmotif as a narrative strategy as it asks readers of Ulysses why a particular visual image (a particular pair of earrings) would be pertinent to the text. The responses are clusters of textual associations centered on the individual images. I think the students were quite surprised at how well they knew the text; they were really quite impressive, especially considering how obscure some of the references are. While the exam is playful, it is also deeply, rigorously tied to a knowledge of the text.
The department’s office coordinator, Kathie Bradley, has helped formatting it and making it accessible in a variety of media so that Dr. O. can also submit it for possible publication in addition to presenting it at the symposium.