TIME, SPACE, AND CONSCIOUSNESS IN JAMES JOYCE'S ULYSSES
Wyndham Lewis in his book Time and Western Man ventures an attack on the "time-cult," the term he uses to refer to those philosophers who sustained a theory of relativity and flux as the underlying principle of the universe. The main target of his attack appears to be Henri Bergson and his theory of "duration." Bergson first formulated his theory in Time and Free Will, in an attempt to distinguish between the organisation of the material world and that of psychic states. He draws a distinction between the permeability and interpenetration of psychic states as opposed to the concreteness and distinctness of material objects. Objective or clock-time, the positions of the pendulum and spatial arrangements are all means of organising matter, and of cutting artificially the psychic continuum for practical reasons. "Withdraw the pendulum and its oscillations," remarks Bergson, and "there will no longer be anything but the heterogeneous duration of the ego without moments external to one another, without relation to number"(108). Further on he adds, "Below the self with well-defined states," there is a self "in which succeeding each other means melting into one another and forming an organic whole" (128).
Lewis, attempting as he claims to explore not whether such a philosophy is viable as a system of abstract truth, but whether its application helps or destroys our "human arts," opens his book with a study of novelists such as Steine, Proust, and Joyce, who use the Bergsonian duration in their works. Dealing with James Joyce in the chapter "An Analysis of the Mind of James Joyce," Lewis discerns in Ulysses an obsession with Bergsonian duration, which, he claims, renders the book a mechanistic world, full of "dead matter." He also sustains that its use is "the glorification of the life-of-the-moment with no reference beyond itself and no absolute or universal value" (Lewis 27).
In the rigidity and extremity of his arguments, Lewis fails to recognise the openness and the transformative quality that characterise Ulysses, a quality that challenges any absolute notion about reality, and the individual that lives and moves in it. He also fails to capture the duality that pervades the narrative, in which the temporal and spatial arrangements that characterise the world are both used and dissolved through the movement of a narrative consciousness that underlies the whole text and animates the Joycean world.
The text opens in Dublin, on July 16, 1904. These are the spatial and temporal frameworks in which the Joycean world unfolds. Everything takes place in Dublin in less than one day. In that sense, Ulysses adheres strictly to the time and space unities. On the other hand, if we consider the number of disparate and distant elements that are crammed into the narrative every instant, the space traversed--Paris, Gibraltar, Andalusia, India--and the time-span covered--Bloom's youth, Molly's girlhood, Stephen's days in college--we can still claim that Ulysses rigorously disrupts the unities. Both assumptions are valid because as Humphrey clarifies, "It all depends on how one considers the narrative: does it take place in the minds of the characters, or in the thin surface action, the external odyssey of Bloom?" (85). The former lacks the unities whereas the latter adheres strictly to them. This dialectic tension between action of the mind and action of the body lies at the core of Ulysses' narrative structure. The vacillation and interchangeability between external perception and internal processing of experience are continual, and the two entities overlap. The naturalistic documentation that constitutes the former, conforming to the external, objective architecture of time and space, functions as the foundation of the labyrinth of psychological association and symbolism, which transcends absolutes of either spatial or temporal form.
Joyce retains the temporal and spatial frameworks of his book only to dissolve them while the development is progressively relocated from external reality to the internal psychic states that this reality generates. Through this movement, the narrative consciousness assumes sometimes the costume and postures of Bloom, sometimes those of Stephen's, sometimes becomes the citizen, or simply remains a faceless and impersonal narrative "I," integrating at the same time all the characters into the narrative continuum. So, in the same way that the space and time unities are both used and dissolved, the individual characters are both asserted and disappear into the flow of life of Ulysses. Through the use of Bergsonian duration, Joyce "destroys" his own construction, namely an individual world which unfolds in one day and which involves distinct individual characters, immediately associated with the time and space within which they move and act. Joyce creates a mythopoeic art, which challenges the oneness of perspective, and his world, through its "destruction," expands beyond its boundaries to unite all times, all places, and all humanity.
As far as the surface action is concerned, Joyce makes sure that we know both the time of each episode and the position of the characters every instant. In the chronological chart he gave both elements are specified. For example, at eight o'clock both Stephen and Bloom get up, in the Martello Tower and Eccles Street respectively. At ten o'clock Stephen is giving a history lesson while Bloom is having a bath, and both characters meet shortly after midnight. The novel is supposed to cover eighteen hours, from eight o'clock in the morning until two o'clock after midnight when Molly's monologue fades out. Through the narrative, the wandering body covers a long distance in the streets of Dublin, its destination specified through names of streets and through the external perception of material objects and people around. If we strip the narrative from the internal monologue (which, however, covers the largest part of the novel), and leave only the bare incidents, we may see that the temporal and spatial frameworks which sustain them are very well constructed, and the small details that serve to specify them are carefully chosen to attain subtle relationships between the events and actions of the day.
For example, the time of Dignam's funeral appears several times in "Calypso" and "Lotus-Eaters" in casual conversations, so that when the "Hades" episode opens up we know that it is eleven o'clock. Considering also that "Proteus" takes place at the same time (while Bloom is heading for the cemetery, he glimpses Stephen passing by), we immediately associate the two episodes in terms of their thematic content, such as death, transformation, renewal, movement. Furthermore, "Wandering Rocks" appears as the best example of subtle manipulation of the temporal and spatial threads. As specified by the opening sentence, the episode takes place at three o'clock in the afternoon: "The superior, the very Reverend John Conmee S.J. reset his smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps. Five to three" (U 180). Through tiny details and indirect references, Joyce manages to suggest that all eighteen incidents of the episode take place simultaneously, and even in close proximity the one to the other. Father Conmee steps into the tram and at that moment Corny Kelleher (in the second incident) perceives him while coming out of his office. Blazes Boylan, in the end of the fifth incident, asks permission to use the telephone at the grocer's shop, and at the seventh incident we are transferred to the other end of the wire.
Bell chimes, calendar references and route descriptions, indicate the time and space coordinates according to which the material world can be arranged, and where events follow a linear and causal succession. Joyce seems to give some consideration on these coordinates but the chart he devised, although it cannot be neglected, allowed him to be free. While the narrative regresses from the external action of the body to the internal action, these unities are expanded or simply disrupted. Specifications of spatial or temporal form function ultimately only as reference points, and they are retained only to be subverted. In terms of the surface action, very little happens; the body wanders in the streets of Dublin, meets certain acquaintances, has short dull conversations, attends a funeral, or has lunch at the pub. The dialogue is suspended and the plot is slow or often static. Under the surface, however, a frenzied movement takes place. As if breaking the outer crust that withholds the energy beneath, Joyce reveals the multidimensionality that lurks behind the flatness and singularity of clock time and of physical appearance. The narrative techniques utilised, without the author's intervention but with direct transference to the inner thoughts of the characters, help to relocate the point of interest from the flat surface action to the plethoric reality of the human psyche, and to render the book a psychological rather than an action novel.
Joyce clearly indicated his intention about the making of Ulysses: "I try to give the un-spoken, un-acted thoughts of people in the way they occur" (quoted in Budgen 94). And the way they occur, the accent in which they fall is completely different from what we perceive in the external reality. An account of the psychic energy and activity cannot but follow its very rhythm and movement, far removed from regularity, consistency, linearity or causality. Virginia Woolf considers Joyce a "spiritual" writer because
[H]e is concerned at all costs to reveal the flickering of the innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain, and in order to preserve it he disregards with complete courage whatever seems to him adventitious, whether it be probability, or coherence or any other of these signposts which for generations have served to support the imagination of the reader, when called upon to imagine what he can neither touch nor see (Woolf 107).
A novel trying to represent the psychic world must conform to the incoherence and irregularity that characterises the consciousness' whimsical and unpredictable "wanderings," which necessitate different narrative techniques and probe to an abandonment of the traditional plot arrangements. In Ulysses there is no plot in the conventional sense of a linear and causal arrangement of events in either time or space. The episodes do not follow a temporal succession, at least not until "Aeolus" when finally the time moves forward, and the reader is given a series of everyday occurrences, which serve as the framework upon which Joyce weaves the psychic fabric. In the Joycean world, where the externalities are tightly interwoven with the psychic states resulting in a thick and almost impenetrable narrative texture, there is little experience sufficient to human needs, except in memory, fantasy, or dream life.
The trinity of sensation, motive, and conduct is broken down, and the action is so slight and inconsecutive that it hardly counts. Ulysses is a novel of non-events; action is speculated, planned, dreamt of, imagined, but fails to take form. While walking along Sandymount beach, Stephen decides to visit his aunt Sara. He immediately projects in his mind the scene of the visit, which however never takes place; two pages later, he changes direction, and it is only a while later that we understand why: "The aunt thinks that you killed your mother" (U 35). Likewise, Bloom and Gerty's flirtation remains rigidly in their personal fantasies and imaginary self-projections, to which the readers have immediate access. What dominates the landscape is sensation--actual and imaginary. Also, the much debatable, and frustrating for Bloom meeting between Molly and Boylan is never actually depicted in the novel; it is, however, always present activating Bloom's suspicion and jealousy, and generating in his mind images of temptation, flirtation, and sexual allure.
The main narrative technique that reinforces the internalisation of action is stream of consciousness. In Ulysses, the intensity and the importance of the external events and objects is measured in terms of the heterogeneity and the multiplicity of the psychic flow they generate when perceived by the human consciousness. The unities of time and space, reduced like all reality to the timeless and space less content of consciousness, acquire their own qualities, which cannot be measured in the language of the mind. The odyssey in Ulysses is transferred to an odyssey of the mind, the odyssey of a wandering consciousness, which can defy the limitations that hinder the body, and thus expand multi-directionally in both time and space. Such transference explains the paradox of stillness and flow that characterises the narrative.
In terms of bodily action and position there may be fixity and stasis, but on a deeper level lie a continual movement and a rapid interchangeability between here-there, you-me, past-present, fantasy-reality. In the beginning of "Lotus-Eaters," Bloom encounters McCoy and they begin a dull and short conversation, which Bloom is eager to end. At the same time, his voyeuristic gaze perceives a female figure opposite, and he starts speculating about her status, while we are given involuted strips of his ongoing conversation with Mc Coy as if reported later. The narrative follows a movement from subject to object of perception, from Bloom to the woman, and then to his thoughts and words, all these given in a mode suggesting simultaneity and overlapping. On the surface level, such rapidity of thought remains unperceived. In terms of objective time and external space, matter succeeds matter in a more or less logical formation, in a priority style. In the mind, however, such neatness cannot hold. A step made in the outer space equals great strides in the mind's ground, where a clock-measured minute becomes so elastic as to encompass years of past experience and future possibility. In "Oxen of the Sun," by asking "What is the age of the soul?" Bloom manages to encompass in only one paragraph an account of all his life: childhood, adolescence, manhood, and fatherhood (U 337-338). The phenomenally single and self-sufficient entity bursts into myriad particles as soon as it enters the psychic world, the same way Stephen perceives in "Proteus" a plenitude of forms, hues, shapes, and small details. The mind, immaterial and flexible, no more susceptible to external boundaries and limitations, can travel thousands of miles in the split of a second, using as a vehicle a momentary and seemingly minute detail of everyday life. In "Laestrygonians," the smell of wine is enough to send Bloom's stream of consciousness as far as France or China, and to generate innumerable associations of food, taste, smell, even sex, that have nothing to do with the present moment but which unite on the other hand all times and all places (143).
The contours of the stream of consciousness novels such as Ulysses are summarised in the following way: "they have as time the time of the characters' memories and fancies in time; . . . and as action whatever remembered, perceived, or imaginary event the characters happen to focus on" (Humphrey 85). Consciousness in this context refers to the whole range of awareness and mental-emotive responses of the individual, from the lowest pre-speech level to the highest fully articulated level of rational thought. The assumption is that in the mind of the individual at a given moment, his stream of consciousness is a mixture of all the levels of awareness: an unending flow of sensations, thoughts, memories, associations, and reflections. The stream of consciousness technique and the way it is utilised in Ulysses, transcending the unities of space and time, owe a great deal to the theory of "pure duration." Bergson defined it as
the form which the succession of our conscious states assume when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states. For this purpose, it need not be entirely absorbed in the passing sensation or idea; for then, on the contrary, it would no longer endure. Nor need it forget its former states: it is enough that, in recalling these states it does not let them alongside one another, but forms both the past and the present states into an organic whole, as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting into one another (Bergson 108).
Furthermore, Bergson distinguishes between body movement and mental motion. Real motion can exist only in duration and in the deeper level of consciousness, through which all levels of human experience are in continual interaction. "The syntheses carried out by consciousness," specifies Bergson, "between the actual position and what our memory calls the former positions, causes these images to permeate, complete and so to speak continue one another" (124).
In addition, Wyndham Lewis, who in Time and Western Man is strongly critical of the use of Bergsonian dureé, gives a very accurate description of it, a description that can successfully be applied to the stream of consciousness used in Ulysses:
Duration is what occurs when we completely telescope the past into the present, and make our life a fiery point 'eating' like acetylene flame into the future. 'Duration' is inside us not outside us. Duration is the succession of our conscious states, but all felt at once and somehow caught in the act of generating the 'new' as 'free'... Duration is all the past of an individual crammed into the present; and yet this past is not the bare present that forgets its past and is unconscious of its future (Lewis 437).
The most plethoric stream of inner life in the novel, and the best application of Bergsonian duration is Molly's interior monologue in the "Penelope" chapter. In this chapter, the fixity and stasis of the body as well as the rhythmical regularity of Molly's breath are overcome by a frenzied mental kinesis and a fluxive consciousness, which synthesises and relates elements so diverse and distant in both space and time that they cover a whole lifetime. It seems as if the gates of her mind are set decisively open so that it can expand multi-directionally, allowing in that way an unprecedented torrent of matter and memory. The technique, used throughout the novel in a smaller scale, finds a colossal culmination in Molly's inner stream. The irregularity of syntax, the lack of punctuation, and the constant shifting of the verbal tenses, reinforce and facilitate the breaking up of the space and time unities, and contribute to the impression of a psychic stream.
The watch Bloom gave to Molly "never seems to go properly," therefore her consciousness can disregard objective or clock time and follow its own rhythm. As Blodgett remarks, "While the fifteen clock-time minutes he allows Molly's stream of consciousness suit the quick pace of the mind's operations, such rapidity does not necessarily suit other bodily activities" (28). Molly's reverie is the shortest episode of the book in terms of temporal indication (for each of the other episodes Joyce allows one hour), but because as Bloom reflects "Time is the time movement takes," and since in Molly's case the movement is not bodily but mental, the clock-measured time, chronology and space delineations count but little. When Bloom finally retires to bed after two o'clock in the morning, Molly remains awake and an odyssey of memory, sensation and imagination springs up: an odyssey through past, present, and future; through events, fears, fantasies, impressions, and material objects, all of which become fused and confused. Her mind streams unhindered, and the present moment becomes the convergent point where all times meet and where all levels of human awareness become dynamically interconnected.
Molly gives an account of her experiences both of the recent or remote past, relives the sensations that the perception of objects generated, relates them to present states, comments, criticises, speculates about future possibilities, and expresses a desire. She describes vividly her sexual experiences, but it is not always clear whether they are parts of reality or pure imagination. Her girlhood in Gibraltar is fused with her daily tasks, her life with Bloom, or her flirtations, and her memory of new white shoes and hat slides into places and people she had seen when she wore them. All these are intermingled, the one melting into another without clear-cut distinctions, "like the crystals of a snow-flake when touched for some time with the finger" (Bergson 138). Consider the following example:
I first noticed him at dessert when I was cracking the nuts with my teeth I wished I could have picked every morsel of that chicken out f my fingers it was so tasty an browned and as tender as anything only for I didn't want to eat everything on my plate those forks and fishslicers were hallmarked silver too I wish I had some I could easily have slipped a sample into my muff when I was playing with them then always hanging out of them for money in a restaurant for the bit you put down your throat we have to be thankful for our mangy cups of tea itself as a great compliment to be noticed the way the world is divided in any case of its going to go on I want at least two other good chemises for one thing and but I don't know what kind of drawers he likes none at all I think didn't say yes and half the girls in Gibraltar never wore them either naked as God made them..." (617-618)
Her mind follows a wide and expansive circuit of flashback, anticipation, and repetition. The flow of matter and memory is not, however, smooth and harmonious. There are gaps, discontinuities and insertions, revealing that the boundaries between one's past self and one's present self-- between the self that experiences and perceives and the self that remembers-- are so imprecise that they merge into one another.
Moreover, the interpenetration and intermixture of levels and times, is not simply a mental travel through infinite time and infinite space; re-evaluation and reconsideration are also parts of this flow, and an ever-shifting quality marks the stream of consciousness. As Meyenhoff points out, "Wishes and fantasies may not only remembered as facts, but the facts remembered are constantly modified, reinterpreted, and relived in the light of present exigencies, past facts and future hopes" (21). Stephen, with the general disillusionment that pervades his attitude and existence, turns into bitterness towards his school years and he rejects all that he then held dear ("Proteus" 32-34). According to the notion of duration, whatever enters its expansive time-space system, will continue evolving and changing. Evolution in that case does not imply replacement of the old by the new, but an organic whole that mutates and ever-shifts whenever new elements are introduced. At the same time, as soon as these new elements enter, they are immediately influenced by the pre-existing ones. So, in duration Bergson specifies, "the same does not here remain the same, but is reinforced and swollen by the whole of the past" (153).
The same evolutionary quality pervades not only the psychic world of Ulysses but the material world as well, a quality resulting from their interaction. Wyndham Lewis, attacking Joyce's use of the Bergsonian duration, claims that through its constant use in Ulysses, which results in "a telling from the inside technique," the book becomes "a dense mass of dead stuff," and thus confines the reader in "a psychological space into which several encyclopaedias have been emptied" (104). Yet, even if we accept that Ulysses becomes, in Lewis' words "an Alladin's cave of incredible bric-a-brac," still this "dead stuff" by being invoked, remembered, visualised, and called forth into the conscious level, is revitalised. Since past merges with the present in order to activate our memory and awareness, then objects and events from the past assume new dimensions, and if they have a place in the present they are not dead any more. As Bergson would explain, "It seems that these objects, continually perceived by me and constantly impressing themselves on my mind, have ended by borrowing from me something of my conscious existence; like myself they have lived and like myself they have grown old...for if today's impressions were absolutely identical with that of yesterday, what difference would there be between perceiving and recognising? Between learning and remembering" (138).
A person's stream of consciousness is always related to some object, either immediately observable or further distanced in memory or imagination. Molly's stream of consciousness, for example, encompasses objects that are not perceptible at the time of her reverie, but are always visible in her mind, and thus susceptible to its change. In consequence, the material world of Ulysses is transformed into a world of ideas and psychic states. Objects or events, either of the past or the present, become activating mechanisms for the psychic stream to flow, and by entering themselves this very stream they create new combinations and associations. In "Calypso," the noise coming from the bed's brass quoits is enough to bring about an interrelation of present perception (Molly turning over) with future potentiality (Bloom fixing the springs), as well as a number of memories related to it, that the bed had been bought by Molly's father, etc. Furthermore, objects in Ulysses, by appearing and reappearing in the narrative in various places, are detached from their initial space or time position and become emblematic. For example, the title of the book that Bloom borrowed for Molly, Sweets of Sin, recurs many times throughout the novel, and Bloom's suspicions that he is being cuckolded give it a deeply personal and, for Bloom, rather poignant undertone, especially when it echoes in the "Sirens" episode, with its undertones of sexual temptation and flirtation. The same suspicion of Bloom's, which haunts his subconscious no matter how much he attempts to escape it, transforms the bell chimes at the end of "Nausicaa" into a cuckoo song, as if affirming Molly's infidelity. Likewise, the same title of the book and the-less-than subtle name of its author--Paul de Kock--are interwoven with Molly's sexual preoccupations in "Penelope," and become associative with male sexual domination and cocksureness (629).
The clear-cut delineations of the external world disappear even more rigorously as the narrative delves into the deeper crevices of the consciousness, in order to depict what lies beneath rational thought and association, in the level of dream or fantasy. Dreams and fantasies are particularly suitable for conveying the quality of duration and the quality of dynamic disorder and association, because these aspects are farther removed from the data relevant to the construction of an objective theory of time and the practical pursuits of life. The stream of consciousness technique in Ulysses undertakes to reveal how repressed agonies and anxieties, or neglected and forgotten memories are always active in influencing and determining external behaviour.
In "Nausicaa," a very pictorial but at the same time intensely imaginative and dream-like episode, the readers have access not only to the thoughts of the characters, but mainly to their most secret imaginings and superstitions, which determine their perception of each other. Bloom and Gerty construct an image of each other that corresponds to their secret expectations and fetishisms, and to their conceptions of femininity or masculinity, but which is probably in discord with their actual identity. Gerty's romantic reveries and the cheap romance stories that feed her intellect make her see Bloom as the man of her dreams: "the image of the photo she had of Martin Harvey, the matinee idol." On the other hand, Gerty feeds Bloom's voyeuristic tendencies and activates his sexual fantasies both of the recent or remote past. At the very end of the episode, in a dream-like sequence, Bloom exclaims,
O sweety all your little girlwhite up I saw dirty bracegirdle made me do love sticky we two naughty Grace darling she him half past the bed met him pike hoses frillies for Raoul de perfume your wife black hair heave under embon senorita young eyes Mulvey plump bubs me breadvan Winkle red slippers she rusty sleep wander years of dreams return tail end Agendath swoony lovey showed me next year in drawers return next in her next her next (312).
Recent past has led into a more remote past, and Bloom's consciousness becomes more compressed and repetitive; here we have jumbled phrases and single words, the result of mixing past and present, memory and imagination. Through his voyeurism over Gerty, Bloom intermixes his obsession with drawers and underwear, his fantastical affair with Martha, and his first meeting with Molly, in a more or less fragmentary, incoherent and unstable manner.
The most overpowering scene of inner life, as well as a depiction of its irregularity and absurdity is "Circe." In that episode, which opens up at Nighttown after midnight, the unities of time and space are violently shattered, and as if the external shell of the self explodes, readers are positioned in the stage of the human subconscious and on a level of hallucination. We enter the characters' minds in a moment when they are both very tired and very drunk, and there we observe the animation and activation of their most deep-hidden agonies, repressed fears, forgotten memories, or neglected realities. Stephen and Bloom have repressed elements of their past lives that trouble them--most centrally the death of Stephen's mother and the death of Bloom's son. Throughout the novel, these aspects haunt their minds, but both characters manage assiduously to silence them. In "Circe," however, memory and the power of consciousness to delve deeper and deeper, bring them to the confrontations they have so far avoided, signifying that nothing that enters the fertile ground of the human psyche is inert or lost. As Joyce remarks in "Oxen of the Sun,"
There are sins (or let us call them the way the world calls them) evil memories which are hidden away in the darkest places of the heart but they abide there and wait. He may suffer their memory to grow dim, let them be as though they had not and all but persuade himself that they were not or at least were otherwise. Yet a chance word will call them forth suddenly and they will rise up to confront him in the most various circumstances, a vision or a dream, or while timbrel and harp soothe his senses or amid the cool silver tranquillity of the evening or at the feast at midnight, when he is now filled with wine (344).
In "Circe," people that they met, thought about, remembered or imagined, either dead or alive, come on "stage" and disappear with the same rapidity. Bloom's father and mother, Stephen's mother, Paddy Dignam, Gerty, Molly, even the nameless one, or the citizen from the "Cyclops" episode. Objects that the characters perceived or carried are here animated and assume the significance of psychic states, such as the soap that Bloom carried throughout, the bell chimes and the "Jigjag. Jigajiga. Jigjag" of Molly's bed, which becomes emblematic of Bloom's cuckolding. Small details and minor characters that were hardly noticed in the dense narrative of Ulysses seem to have left their trace on the characters' subconscious. Thoughts, impressions, sensations and dreams, assume three-dimensional shape and appear alongside the personalities that encompass them. Even the "Sins of the Past" assume a voice (or rather a medley of voices) and confront them. The boundaries of time and space explode, and the whole microcosm of Ulysses bursts forth. We are confronted with the whole phantasmagoria of the mental world of Ulysses, in which neither linearity nor causality can be sustained.
"Circe" is the climactic scene of what happens in the text little by little. By representing internal states as well as their rapid interchangeability, the transformative quality of the episode reveals the lack of resolution that characterises the novel. The inwardness of the narrative creates openness with no final closure. The final "yes" that Molly utters before falling asleep links the end of her monologue with its onset, but it opens rather than closes the narrative; her "yes" anticipates further development and expansion. As Bergson defined, "states of consciousness are processes and not things...they are alive and therefore constantly changing" (196).
Ulysses traces the internal processes that do not always find an actualisation or material representation, and because it is a world that does not conform to spatial or temporal delineations, it is endless and infinite. The metaphor of "stream" and flowing are integral aspects of the Joycean world. The abolition of time and space unities in both the narrative structure and in the structure of the characters' reveries creates the impression of a continual becoming, a continual process, very sea like and stream like. As Bloom perceives it, "It's always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream" (U 137).
Consequently, Ulysses becomes a fluid, ever moving and ever shifting world, since it transcends the limiting visibility of concrete forms and the flat materiality, as well as space or time arrangements that signify stasis and fixity. Likewise, Stephen in "Proteus" while walking along Sandymount beach attempts to transcend the "limits of the diaphane," to overcome the "ineluctable modality of the visible," and by exceeding the limits of his senses to reach the perception of what lies behind appearances, what is and "ever shall be, world without end" (U 31). Through his senses, but mainly by transcending and testing their "ineluctable modality" and the so-called safe perception of concrete forms, perceives a world that is always transforming and changing, a world that is under a process of formation. He attempts, much like Joyce, to pierce through the veils of external reality and prove that empirical reality is not secure or finite: it falls in the fascination of time-space evolution and continuity. The basis of time-space evolution according to Bergson is abstraction; no absolute truth, no concreteness, but instead fluidity and flexibility. Even if we accept that the external world is objective and the same for everybody, yet our very action of perceiving it changes it. Outside us, nothing lives; reality is not after all only what stands out in discrete concreteness, but whatever enters the diversity of consciousness and participates in the interplay of its dynamic structure.
According to that notion, a singular fact in Ulysses does not simply have a meaning and significance of its own; it becomes the pivotal point of a whole substratum of human experience, of past, present, and future, of all aspects of human life and psychology, including and being motivated or signified by all the constituent elements of experience. Paddy Dignam's funeral serves on one hand as a reminder to Bloom and Stephen of the deaths of son and mother respectively, but on the other hand it serves as the framework for the themes of death, the cycle of life, fatality, and mortality. These elements are recognisable and distinguishable, yet intrinsically interrelated and reciprocally charged with significance. In each episode, the momentary incident is magnified as an underlying principle of the life of mankind. The same way that "Hades" deals with death, "Oxen of the Sun" deals with birth and creation, while "Cyclops" touches upon issues of nationalism, national identity, and race.
The very abolition of time and space unities transforms the novel into a microcosm of reality, and Joyce, as if magnifying a drop of water under the microscope, manages to capture the heterogeneity hidden behind its diaphanous uniformity, and to initiate in his art the mythic and the universal. By extension, the characters of the novel are not mere flat types; they are not "walking clichés" as Lewis claims (112) <1>. They escape their time and position and become facets of the central narrative consciousness that wanders throughout, and which is "Assumed by any or known to none," in other words is "Everyman or Noman" (U 598). As Bloom smilingly reflects,
[E]ach one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity (601).
Such an argument can be sustained by the rapid interchangeability of voices and the continual vacillation between object and subject of perception, so that we constantly miss the source from which the narrated impressions spring forth; also, the fact that the characters deal with the same issues and problems but from different perspectives and using different "lenses" or viewpoints render them "possibilities of the possible as possible" (U 159), signifying that because the external reality is funnelled and acquires importance through our consciousness, then much depends on perspective. For example, Bloom appears as the scientific mind whereas Stephen is the artistic, the former deeply materialistic and strongly attached to his bodily functions, whereas the latter appears as a mind without a body. Yet, "though they didn't see eye to eye in everything a certain analogy there somehow was as if both their minds were travelling, so as to speak, in the same train of thought" (536).
"Colours depend on the light you see"(309), affirms Bloom, and likewise the book resembles a pack of cards which are shuffled and reshuffled in every episode, revealing a new perspective, a new view of reality, of life, death, humanity. The instability of syntax, the plurality of voices and the plethora of discourses that appear throughout the narrative (philosophy, science, theology, etc.), reveal the movement of the central consciousness of the novel in an attempt to attain a prismatic view of reality; in dealing with a multiple and ever-shifting world, a parallactic vision becomes a prerequisite. Even though Joyce depicts individual characters, like Bloom, Molly, Stephen, or the plethora of minor characters, which we may recognise through some mannerism and attitude, yet he finally manages to integrate them into the narrative continuum that detaches them from their actual position. Ultimately, he attempts to construct a consciousness that is both pluralistic and flexible, despite and beyond labels. Joyce reveals a sense of selfhood that lies not in singularity but in plurality, as a better safeguard for sanity. In the protean world he depicts, the self cannot but be protean as well.
The characters, through the stream of inner life--a constant application and representation of the Bergsonian duration--are scattered through past experiences and future possibilities, and they continually change presenting each time a different side of themselves according to the circumstances they encounter. They often feel poignantly the change: "Me and me now"; "I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I?"; "I am different me now." Considering the constant multiplication of every moment through the insertion of infinite moments, the permeability of psychic states, and the plethora of converging elements, the one "me" of yesterday becomes a crowd of "me"s. The "me" of yesterday is undoubtedly different from the "me" of today due to the passing of time. Yet the "me" of today does not place a period mark, a completion to the "me" of yesterday, but rather a comma, which implies multiplication and enrichment, just like the slow opening of a fan revealing each time a further facet. Such becomes the case in "Circe" where Bloom's new facet is animated and confronts him inquiring, "Is me her was you dreamed before? Was then she him you us since knew?"(U 439), and symbolising somehow the unification of all his different selves. Lewis' words describe that condition fittingly: "we are the intersection of a multitude of paths" (360).
Like an actual stream, which runs and encompasses diverse and different elements without however totally assimilating them into a deceptive homogeneity, selfhood in Ulysses is presented as an "inexhaustible plethora," fluxive, dynamic, metamorphic, and conflicting. Bloom is father, son, husband, lover (even if only in fantasy), cynical or sentimental, physicist, philosopher, physiologist, and even though strongly materialistic, he indulges in daydreaming. The novel challenges the traditional construction of characters through their actions and participation in events; man is not only what he does, he is also what he does not do, what lies beneath, what is speculated, planned or imagined. The point of interest in Ulysses falls on the characters' stream of consciousness, and there as we have seen the change is constant.
The "Circe" episode where all minor and major characters make their appearances in a phantasmagoric interlude reveals the multiplicity of experience, the plenitude of selves that wander through the text and the kaleidoscopic quality of the central consciousness. The themes of "metempsychosis," "metamorphosis," and "parallax" that pervade the text find their best expression in that episode. For Joyce it was meant to be a "costume episode" (Budgen 234), and the figures that appear can be seen as "self possibilities, which have gotten out of hand" (Brown 139). In a world that is continually changing, the self cannot remain static and one sided. As Hume pointed out in an analogy reminiscent of Shakespeare, "The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations"(quoted in Meyenhoff 32). In Modernist literature, the self is rather heterogeneous and relative.
For Wyndham Lewis such understanding of the self is very dangerous. He claims that our self is our "terra firma" in such a world of locomotive ataxia, and he perceives in the Bergsonian notion of duration a violation of the sense of self as the stable ground upon which experience is based. In his own words, "By this proposed transfer from the beautiful objective, material world of common sense, over to the 'organic' world of chronological mentalism, you lose not only the clearness of outline, the static beauty of the things you commonly apprehended; you lose also the clearness of outline of your own individuality which apprehends them" (Lewis 174).
It is indeed difficult to accept that in the middle of so much disparity and the constant bombardment of innumerable atoms, the self can still retain its unity and its centre.
It is also uncertain whether Joyce attempts a critique on self-fragmentation due to the material deluge that modern civilisation imposes on the individual. For if we suppose that in dealing with the modern conglomeration, the individual must be flexible and plethoric, then self-fragmentation appears as a prerequisite for "Reduplication of personality" (U 423). For Joyce the dissolving self may not be necessarily a surrender of sanity but an expansion of possibility. Having as a model Odysseus, an "all-round" man, able to change and thus to cope efficiently with all unexpected novelties, he challenges the idea of a strongly monistic self, by depicting a multiple selfhood, which perceives things from all perspectives and lives in everything. In "Circe," each side or posture of Bloom's sets loose from the others and demands possession of his body and soul; demands exclusivity; and as Brown successfully remarks, each tries "to destroy the liberal democracy of his selfhood and set up the dictatorship of a single unitary ego" (139). Bloom, however, manages to oppose the attempted violation of his selfhood, and finally gathers again all these loosened postures, and continues his course. He manages to escape by being Odysseus, a "nobody," that is in a sense by being everybody, by being elusive, a wil o' the wisp, and in this way avoiding one-sidedness.
It has also been suggested that if Bloom represents the materialistic, scientific view of life and Stephen a more abstract, artistic and spiritual one, and since one seeks the other on a symbolic level (Stephen seeking for a spiritual father and Bloom for a son through whom he may be reflected), then their final meeting and parallel course thereafter can be interpreted as the unity of body and mind, of matter and spirit. The question is why they part again and what this parting might signify. Probably that the self is not a closed circle and that unity does not necessarily entail closure and finality, but rather expandability and renewal.
Ultimately, it is this multiplicity and mutability that safeguards the integrity of the self, that saves from dogmatism and narrow-mindedness. Even Lewis himself asserts that identity should not mean persistence on one posture, and he accepts the self's flexibility (6-7) <2>, but fails to discern that idea in Joyce's Ulysses. Self-fragmentation can then be reassessed as self-diversification and self-plenitude. The scattering of the self through past, present and future, through a continual modification of environment that the Begsonian theory assumes, does not imply dissolution of the self. In contrast, expansiveness of our consciousness implies a unifying tendency. As Bloom remarks, the water constitutes the ninety percent of the human body. Them we may add, the self can share some of the water's "universality," "its democratic quality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level," "its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances," as well as its "metamorphoses...its variety of forms" (U 549), and thus be "form of forms."
As Stephen experiences, "I am another now and yet the same," and as he later adds, "In the intense instant of imagination, when the mind Shelley says, is a fading coal, that which I was is that which I am and that which in possibility I may come to be. So in the future, the sister of the past, I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which then I shall be"(U 160). Therefore, I change yet I endure. If through all this change there is an "I" I can still call "mine", an "I" that remembers and thinks and hopes, an "I" that can still encompass all that I was and all that I may become, then I can still claim possession of myself. Stephen faces the dilemma of whether he still owes George Russell the pound he borrowed from him five months ago since "Molecules all change. I am other I now." If the "I" changes then the "I" that borrowed is different from the "I" that owes, so in that sense the commitments of the past cannot be valid in the present. But Stephen can still remember the debt and if we can know ourselves by memory as he claims, then it is exactly this overlapping of the past into the present that saves the self from dissolution. Stephen prefers to be indebted rather than selfless.
What Ulysses may very well suggest is that the unity of the self can be attained through diversity: "We walk through ourselves, meeting ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers in love, but always meeting ourselves"(Joyce175). The self can still retain its unity through a balance of opposites, if he is like Shakespeare "all in all," a "myriad-minded man," "a prism" flexible and reduplicating, if he "doubles itself in the middle of his life, repeats itself, protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe"(174). The sense we are given in Ulysses is that the characters escape their individuality and their singularity, and they join together into a more expansive self; through the abolition of time and space they become instances of humanity. As Hollingstone points out, "The novel provides us with one of the most important perspectives on the events of the day, an oceanic feeling in which the vastness of time and space dwarf any human whatsoever" (438).
Even in a single stream of consciousness we should not concentrate on oneness and uniqueness, but see it as a heterogeneous flow of human experience. Molly is a characteristic example of a pluralistic self, represented in a single stream of consciousness. Her consciousness, spreading through boundless time and space, changes costume a thousand times and manages to encompass all the aspects and differing facets of femininity that appear in the novel. She appears both virginal and promiscuous, hypocritical and deeply sincere; she is mother, wife, and mistress. She combines the naivety and superstition of Gerty, with the lasciviousness and vulgarity of the females in the "Sirens" episode. She is both a pious Penelope and a provocative Salome. In a sense she mutates all the time, her molecules changing with unprecedented rapidity, rejecting nothing and affirming everything, so that she finally transcends her position as Molly, the wife of Bloom, and becomes symbolic, a prismatic view of the "woman" in all her glory. The timeless and space less aspect of these sensations and reflections that constitute her monologue, liberates them from individual experience and extend them to enduring aspects of the life of the human kind.
After recording and commenting on her personal experiences, Molly expands them to a generalisation, and she attains universality by expressing issues such as man-woman relationship, sexuality, and spirituality vs. carnality. It is a self, who partakes of a larger whole, and its fragmentation through infinite time and infinite space ensures enrichment and flexibility. As Kennedy points out, "The paradoxical truth attested by the modern novelist is that each man is--and must be--an island, but to be fully himself he must also discover how to be a piece of the main (to put it in Bloomian language, each man is a unique drop which must recognise its position as part of the ocean)" (79).
In the end, this depiction of reality and of the self that moves and perceives this reality, by transcending the boundaries of "now" and "here," detaches from the secular moment and positions them on a timeless and space less scale where they partake of the mythical and the universal. The instability of time and space links the individual and the momentary with the universal and the eternal. The elimination of plot and of the spatio-temporal determinations in Ulysses, is complementary to the disintegration of the traditional character. They are all ways of transcending matter, whether the material nature which petrifies their qualities, or that of our bodies which limits the infinite potentialities of human beings for expansion and participation.
In the centre of the universe--we may say too, at the beginning and at the end, so as not to lay more stress on the spatial rather than on the temporal, both moreover being symbolic and conventional--at its heart and always, there is what we call "I" without being able to state its nature more precisely. It is the sole and ultimate sum of everything, and it is itself the whole world reflected in itself.
Notes + Bibliography
© Alexandra Anyfanti, 2004
|volume 4, issue 2, 2003-4|