In a battle against the titans of international James Joyce studies, a brash, young scholar here will deliver a paper in New York later this month repudiating what only last year was heralded as the resolution of more than 60 years of debate over Joyce's most important novel, "Ulysses."

In that paper, John Kidd, a 32-year-old fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia, will stake his reputation on his belief that last year's new edition of Joyce's "Ulysses," edited by West German scholar Hans Walter Gabler, is not the definitive work that most scholars believe it to be. Instead, says Kidd, it is "a mess" that should not be published as the standard commercial edition.

Gabler claimed to have corrected 5,000 errors in previous editions.

"I'd say 4,000 of Gabler's changes are unnecessary," Kidd said the other day at his spare, one-bedroom apartment near the medical school. "They do nothing to restore Joyce's intentions for the work.

"I think what I have to say is going to blow the whole Joyce establishment wide open. I have no desire to hurt [Gabler] or to impugn his honesty, but it was a project that got out of hand and was rushed. They rushed like mad to get it ready for the Frankfurt conference on Joyce last June ."

Joyce, master-puzzler, "fabulous artificer," would have delighted in the situation. Just before he published "Ulysses" in 1922, he told a friend, "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of ensuring one's immortality."

Because "Ulysses" was published under bizarre and hurried circumstances and was never fully corrected by Joyce, every comma, period and spelling remains a potential source of dispute. Like biblical scholars who continue to haggle over versions of the New Testament, Joyceans see nothing arcane or funny about wars waged over punctuation and other linguistic nits.

Last spring, the wars finally seemed at an end. When Gabler's "Ulysses" first came out on June 16, officials from the James Joyce Estate in London agreed that Random House in the United States and Bodley Head in Britain would make the new edition their official commercial edition in 1986. The Joyce "establishment," including Joyce biographer Richard Ellmann and Johns Hopkins Prof. Hugh Kenner, hailed Gabler's "Ulysses." Ellmann called it a "stunning scholarly achievement" and Kenner praised it as "the pot of gold at the end of a 20th-century scholar's adventure."

Gabler, with the help of a computer and scholars from Europe and the United States, claimed to have eliminated an average of seven mistakes per page made in previous editions. He had spent seven years working on his edition of "Ulysses," the same number of years it took Joyce to finish his.

Now, in tones that range from patience to petulance, Kidd claims that Gabler ignored traditional bibliographical standards, overlooked various archival sources and made unnecessary changes. At the risk of infuriating older colleagues, Kidd says Gabler's "Ulysses" has "more mistakes than the original 1922 edition."

He says Gabler suppressed or was ignorant of textual evidence and "willfully" corrected "so-called mistakes" that may have been intentional. Kidd notes that Gabler writes in the afterword that he corrects only "unquestionable errors" but, in fact, corrects spellings in English and seven foreign languages and various dates, monetary sums, punctuation and compound words. Gabler, Kidd said, "does what he does without any evidence that Joyce would have wanted it that way."

Kidd says he was "ignored" by major Joyce scholars at the Frankfurt conference but that he has garnered varying degrees of support from some prominent Joyceans and bibliographers including G. Thomas Tanselle, president of the Bibliographical Society of America, Jerome McGann, a bibliographer at the California Institute of Technology, Decherd Turner, director of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas and Bernard Benstock, past president of the International James Joyce Foundation. None of these scholars dismisses Gabler's work, but they insist that Kidd's scholarship be considered by the Joyce establishment.

"I've been intrigued by Mr. Kidd's analysis and he deserves a hearing," Turner said. "The questions he raises are quite intriguing . . . Within the Joyce community, the devotion to words is essential, and so correcting those words is tremendously important."

Some scholars seem bothered by Kidd's tenacious personality, but Tanselle said Kidd "is approaching this as a responsible scholar. When more of his results and arguments are available, we should weigh them" and McGann said "Kidd has some trenchant criticisms of the Gabler approach."

Speaking from his home in Munich, Gabler expressed dismay at Kidd's crusade. "I suppose I'm astonished but not surprised," Gabler said. "I've tried to introduce John Kidd to the problems and solutions for our editorial project, but I don't think he's appreciated the methods and the new approach . . . The various details he's given me are either misconceived or trivial.

"In the nine months that our edition has been out it has had an astonishing response from the general public. What I'm watching with some sadness is that John Kidd is fascinated with the popular appeal of the edition and has tried to catch some of the limelight for himself."

The controversy began the moment Joyce completed his difficult, labyrinthine novel about the wanderings of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus through the streets of Dublin on "Bloomsday," June 16, 1904.

Shakespeare & Co., a Parisian bookstore owned by one of Joyce's patrons, Sylvia Beach, published "Ulysses" in a first edition of 1,000 copies. Perfection was impossible. Joyce wrote his manuscript in a crabbed hand with a steel pen. The typists were often erratic, the printers in Dijon knew no English and the foreman, according to Hugh Kenner, "knew only enough English to cause trouble." Joyce pushed the printers to have the book ready by Feb. 2, 1922, his 40th birthday. What's more, he added more than 75,000 words -- nearly a quarter of the final book -- in the margins of the galley proofs, causing incredible confusion among the printers.

In a letter to his wife, Nora Barnacle, Joyce wrote, "The edition you have is full of printer's errors." The first Shakespeare & Co. edition carried an insert reading: "The publisher asks the reader's indulgence for typographical errors unavoidable in the exceptional circumstances."

Joyce did help compile errata lists for subsequent editions, but most scholars consider those lists incomplete.

The present Gabler edition is printed with a "clear" text on the right-hand page and a "synoptic" version on the left. The left-hand page accounts for the numerous versions and mistakes that have appeared in various manuscripts, galleys and editions. For now, the three-volume Gabler edition is available only from Garland Publishing of New York, which specializes in photographic reproductions of antiquarian manuscripts. The set costs $200.

As a young academic, the stakes for Kidd are high. Even his older supporters admit that Kidd risks alienating the Joycean establishment, such as Kenner and Ellmann.

After receiving his doctorate last year from the University of California, Santa Cruz, he was appointed Andrew W. Mellon Scholar at the Center for Advanced Studies and receives a stipend of $20,000. Kidd says he has gone $10,000 into debt in order to travel and buy old editions of Joyce. He sold his 800-volume personal library and furniture last year to finance trips to Europe and drives a 13-year-old car.

"All I've got left are my Joyce books," he said.

Kidd says he likes and admires Gabler and has little argument with some of Gabler's more celebrated work on the novel. Indeed, Gabler worked with Kidd for extended periods last year and tried unsuccessfully to help get Kidd a Fulbright fellowship to study in Germany. The two have continued a friendly, professional correspondence and Gabler has encouraged Kidd's work on numerological systems in "Ulysses." But now Kidd wonders if Gabler wants him to work on the numerological study only in order to dissuade him from his critique of the 1984 "Ulysses."

Gabler, for his part, said, "I've tried to be helpful to Mr. Kidd at all times and I respect his intelligence greatly. But I suppose it's all about the old motto: 'No good deed goes unpunished.

The coming weeks are crucial for Kidd, the time he has been anticipating for years.

Gabler arrives in the United States on April 8 and will give a talk on his "Ulysses" the next day at Columbia University. On April 20-21, Gabler will preside at a symposium in Charlottesville honoring the university's preeminent bibliographer Fredson Bowers. Gabler studied with Bowers. Kidd has not been invited to participate at the symposium.

"How could they not ask me?" he said.

Kidd will not have to wait long to confront Joyceans with his objections to Gabler. He will present a paper titled "Errors of Execution in the 1984 'Ulysses' " at a conference to be given April 25-27 at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Tanselle has arranged to have Kidd's paper published in the prestigious journal "The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America."

This could all lead up to a veritable war at a Joyce symposium to be held in April 1986 at U-Va. The conference is being held for the express purpose of examining the Gabler edition and considering all objections before it becomes the version of "Ulysses" available in paperback in many parts of the world.

"If that goes through," Kidd said, "the 'Ulysses' you buy in bookstores will be a mess."

Kidd contends that, despite some "obvious" mistakes, the original edition of "Ulysses," published in 1922 is closer "to the real book" than the Gabler edition. One of Kidd's main ambitions is to produce an edition of "Ulysses" that reproduces, with corrections, the original. Some scholars would like to see both Gabler's edition and Kidd's project become available.

At the center of Kidd's position is this question: "You've got to ask yourself: Would Joyce, who died in 1941, let all those supposed mistakes go through? Do you really think he was that sloppy? Come on!"

Kidd said he is still in the final preparation stages for his paper next month, but he was able to give a number of detailed differences he has with Gabler's work. To all but the most scholarly of readers, Kidd's contentions, indeed the entire issue, may seem to be an obsessive case of nitpicking, but, Kidd says, "We're talking about the most influential literary work of the century. When you read a book, you have a right to as good and accurate an edition of the book as possible and an honest statement from the publisher about what you're getting."

Just a few of Kidd's arguments:

* In the famous "Penelope" chapter that concludes the novel, Joyce reconstructs the interior monologue of Leopold's wife, Molly. The chapter consists of eight long unbroken paragraphs. Joyce originally concluded each of the eight sections with periods but then, according to Kidd, struck out six of those, keeping periods only after the fourth and the final sentence. Gabler believes that Joyce forgot to strike out the period after the fourth and includes only the final punctuation.

* Joyce used dashes to precede dialogue. In his manuscript, Joyce had the dashes in the margin and the printers indented the dashes. Gabler was widely praised for putting those dashes flush to the left margin of the page. Kidd, as he often does, takes Joyce's silence on the issue as endorsement. Kidd contends the indentations properly set the dialogue off from the rest of the text "which is the way Joyce seemed to have liked it."

* Joyce often made what appear to be mistakes in his use of Greek, Latin, French, German, Irish, Italian and Scottish. Gabler tends to correct those mistakes, while Kidd often finds literary reasons for those errors, contending, for example, that Joyce intended Stephen Dedalus to speak "bad French."

Kenner said, "Kidd is a man who obviously has a bee in his bonnet. I'll wait to see what he has to say."

Princeton University's A. Walton Litz, one of the country's foremost Joyceans, supports Gabler's method.

"There is little reason to assume that Joyce corrected all he would have wanted to," Litz said. "Family difficulties and bad eyesight kept him from doing much with the 1922 edition. There's no evidence that he went much beyond his general complaints about printers and his own rudimentary corrections."

Litz said that while Joyce knew of errors in editions of "Dubliners," "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses," he customarily depended on friends and others to work on revisions while he proceeded to the next work. By March 11, 1923, Joyce was absorbed in the composition of his last book, "Finnegans Wake."

Modern literature is rife with examples of disputed editions. Just recently, a war was waged in the quarterlies over editions of W.B. Yeats' poems. Herman Melville's novella "Billy Budd" sparked a number of bibliographical brouhahas after the manuscript was discovered following the author's death. The sheer immensity of Joyce's work, however, dwarfs other disputes.

The Gabler edition grew out of a massive bibliographical project led by the University of Western Ontario's Michael Groden. The "James Joyce Archive" is a photographic compilation of surviving manuscripts, typescripts and galley proofs of Joyce's work. Garland sells the archive for $4,500.

The "Ulysses" materials occupy 16 of the archive's 63 volumes and became the source of Gabler's progress. With a $300,000 grant from the West German equivalent of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Gabler and his assistants Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior used computers to collate the manuscripts, galley proofs, editions and other source documents for "Ulysses."

Kidd's work on "Ulysses" does not stop with his objections to Gabler's edition. He is convinced that for 63 years scholars have somehow missed seeing an intricate series of numerological patterns in Joyce, some of which, Kidd claims, were inserted after the book was already in galleys. He believes that when Joyce was working on the galley proofs he was inserting numerological material into the text. Kidd says that Gabler's edition of the book throws off many of the numerological patterns that can be found in the 1922 edition.

Numerological readings are not uncommon in literary criticism. Critics have long discussed such patterns, for example, in Edmund Spenser's "Faerie Queene," Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Dante's "Divine Comedy." Scholars have even tried to assert that Francis Bacon was the author of some of Shakespeare's plays on the basis of such cryptic clues.

"Here you have this great modernist poem, supposedly so crazy and disordered, but underneath it is so much order, perfect order," Kidd said. He argues that in order to achieve various effects, Joyce counted the number of letters in names, the number of words in sentences and selected literary allusions on the basis of numerological clues.

In a draft of one paper, Kidd points to Leopold Bloom's thoughts in the "Lotus Eaters" chapter. While walking the streets of Dublin, Bloom remembers the rate of acceleration of objects falling to earth: "thirtytwo feet per second, per second. Law of falling bodies: per second, per second."

"Were Bloom reading Joyce's book," writes Kidd, "he might muse to himself . . . 'Thirtytwo. Curious. Thirtysecond sentence of the paragraph, too.' "

"You get that kind of stuff all over the book!" Kidd said. Kidd contends that Joyce achieved this effect by adding sentences in the galley proofs but that in Gabler's edition the sentence comes too early.

Kidd is convinced that his work on numerology is of major importance to Joyce scholarship, but his bibliographical objections to the Gabler edition of "Ulysses" are what is likely to cause an uproar in this odd industry. It is, perhaps, just one more bit of Joycean joy that "Ulysses" remains, in so many ways, an open book.

As Bernard Benstock, past president of the International James Joyce Foundation, said, "We'd all love to see a perfect edition of Joyce, but I think the question has to stay open forever."

Or, as the French poet Paul Vale'ry remarked to Edgar Degas, the work of art is never finished, "only abandoned."