Ulysses is often described as being a difficult work and not for the casual reader yet all experienced citizens of Ulysses envy new readers their first encounters with the text. In fact, 'first visit' would be a better description here because Ulysses is a place, a place built with words and one that requires repeated visitation. It is often said that you cannot read Ulysses, only reread it, and certainly the book is populated with numerous allusions and connections that only make sense after repeated encounters. Just like arriving in Venice, Ulysses takes time to orientate, to explore the side-streets and nuances and become familiar with its terrain. Although the narrative is fundamentally linear the writing and context is spatial and diverse. As Samuel Beckett stated '[Joyce's] writing is not about something it is that something itself' (Beckett 14) and this is echoed by Alain Robbe-Grillet writing on the New Novel when he states 'Once again, the work is not a description of an external reality, but it is its own reality' (Robbe Grillet 150). However the cloth of Ulysses is woven not just with language and dialogue but is strewn with factual detail. Ulysses is a place and that place bears a strong relationship to the actual Dublin of June 1904. Joyce went to extraordinary lengths to ground his novel in a realistic time and space framework and also to furnish it with real people and objects. Joyce told Frank Budgen that he wanted to create a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city disappeared it could be rebuilt from his book (Budgen 67–8). Jeri Johnson picks up on this in her stimulating essay on James Joyce and Virginia Woolf:
Is the city in literature an imaginary space created by a temporal sequential trajectory or, rather, a representation of material realities? In James Joyce's Ulysses we appear to have a work that embodies both qualities. Like a tent in the wind Ulysses seems to be pegged to a Newtonian space/time framework but distorted and skewed by subjective quantum and narrative forces.
This desire for verisimilitude is highlighted by Frank Budgen when he describes Joyce working on the 'Wandering Rocks' chapter of Ulysses.
The Dublin of Ulysses is populated by numerous characters and objects who go about their own personal odysseys with Bloom and Stephen. The central chapter with its short passages and numerous interpolations depicts the swirling flotsam and jetsam of the Dublin metropolis and challenges the novice reader to accommodate the myriad simultaneous actions. Frank Budgen goes on to say that
Joyce's use of narrative style was diverse and, along with his use of interior monologue, both time and space were applied in a constructive and determined manner. Time and space in the novel are rarely depicted in a continuous flowing narrative framework and we have become very familiar with the differences between the time of the action and the time of the narration in modern media.1 The action of Ulysses takes place between 8.00am 16th June 1904 through to 2.17am on 17th June. Ulysses therefore takes place over a period of 18 hours and contains just short of 265,000 words. This matches the average reading speed of 250 words a minute meaning that Ulysses can be read in its entirety within the timeframe of the action of the novel. However, this is misleading as the first three hours are duplicated as we follow first Stephen and then Bloom about their morning activities. There is also no direct narrated action for a number of periods including from 5.45pm–8.00pm and 9.00pm to 10.00pm. The distribution of text in Ulysses in relation to the passage of time of each episode shows how the narrative weight of the text is disconnected from the passage of time.
|02.00pm||03.00pm||Scylla & Charybdis||11753|
|10.00pm||11.00pm||Oxen of the Sun||20332|
Table 1: Word count of Ulysses episodes. (numbers are approximate)
This is particularly evident in the 'Circe' episode where large passages take place in zero 'real' time. Table 1 also shows how the weighting of the text reflects the novel's progressive movement away from direct description towards multiple narrative voices and displays of linguistic virtuosity. Joyce increasingly diverges further and further away from providing a simple linear character narrative and expands into wider physical and psychological topographies. Edwin Muir saw the use of time and space in the novel as indicating two separate types of novel:
Although both qualities of time and space can be seen strongly in Ulysses, it is clear, if we accept Muir's model, that Ulysses is social and concerned with space. Time in Ulysses is a given framework to the social space. It would be hard to describe Ulysses as a dramatic novel when the characters often appear to be doing not very much and where the power comes from the symbolic and heroic symbolism of their actions and relationships. The city of Dublin acts as a major character in Ulysses. This city is not a static stage but an active participant in the novel shaping, interacting and bonding its citizens. This can be seen to fit in with the ideas of George Simmel where the interaction of the modern metropolis on the inner life of its citizens is one of his major themes.2 As Alexandra Anyfanti states '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 creates.' (Anyfanti)
Joyce was acutely aware of the new ideas in art that were responding to the pace and technology of modern life in the new century.3 He had even ventured to open the first cinema in Dublin and the interpolations in the 'Wandering Rocks' episode reflect Sergi Eisenstein remark on montage 'that two film pieces of any kind, placed together, inevitably combine into a new concept, a new quality, arising out of that juxtaposition' (Eisenstein 14).4 In a sense we can depict Joyce's narrative techniques in Ulysses as cinematic. Joyce uses what could be described as a narrative camera where interior monologue is a close-up; interpolations are montage and jump-cuts; and the Viceregal Cavalcade coda in 'Wandering Rocks' a slow pan. As with any storyboard the scenes are selective and chosen to carry the narrative and convey impressions rather than describe in detail all that occurs. Even though we spend the first three hours separately with both Stephen and Bloom, substantial parts of these periods are without narration and we have to build the details of their day from inference and asides. Throughout the book the narrative moves from place to place and character to character. The narrative focus is sometimes close-up with interior monologue or at others godlike over and above the action. Characters appear in the spotlight for a while and then drift off-stage into the shadows only to return later in another location.
How do we grasp or picture this myriad action including all the lacunae? As Joseph Frank stated in his pioneering essay Spatial Form in Modern Literature, 'Joyce composed his novel of a vast number of references and cross-references that relate to each other independently of the time sequence of the narrative. These references must be connected by the reader and viewed as a whole before the book fits together into any meaningful pattern.' (Frank 18)
It is this gestalt, this picture of the space and action of the book, that is difficult to grasp even for experienced readers. It could be argued that this difficulty is part of the gestalt of the book and the impression of the myriad action rather than its resolution and visualisation is actually the one of the goals. But to return to the earlier point, a novice reader is still required to unravel the narrative of the book, and as Clive Hart has put it it is difficult to know 'who is where when everyone is some otherwhere' (Gunn 9). Even when we are given a cascade of action with people and places such as the progress of the Viceregal Cavalcade in the final section of 'Wandering Rocks', it is hard, without external help, to glean more than an impression of movement and multiplicity. While these impressions can be sufficient for following the main narrative thread, an awareness of the spatial and temporal aspects of the text add further dimensions to the reader's experience.
So how do we visualise the space and action? How do we depict or present the spatial and temporal environment of the book? The traditional approach is where space is displayed by means of maps and time by the use of tables but this leaves the visualisation fragmented.5 There are other methods and to find them we need to adopt approaches from other disciplines. In the mid-1960s Torsten Hägerstrand and his researchers at Lund in Sweden started introducing time into their approaches to static spatial data. This has led to the study of what is known as Time-Geography and some of the tools used to visualise geographic data can be helpful in depicting the action of Ulysses.6 A number of projects were started to look at possible ways of using modeling and visualisation tools to depict aspects of the pace and action of Ulysses.7 Space-time aquariums are 3-dimensional models where space is depicted on the X–Y axis and time is plotted on the vertical plane. In the example in Figure 1 the paths of 3 characters in 'Wandering Rocks' are plotted vertically with transparent curtains tracing their paths onto a 6-inch map of Dublin.
Figure 1: Aquarium Model – Wandering Rocks
This example is essentially static in that it attempts to capture space and time in a single model. Whilst the current model can be rotated and zoomed in and out of it is possible to envisage an animated version where time would fill up the aquarium in a progressive manner. This spatial and temporal model can be used as a container to help the study of wider aspects such as the narrative styles at play throughout Ulysses. The paths can be colour-coded to indicate where their presence is part of direct narrated action, i.e. 'being there', or inferred or deduced locations.
Figure 2: Animated Map – Wandering Rocks
Another approach is to animate a static map as in Figure 2. Here the viewer can watch the paths of the characters move across a map of Dublin. They can pan and zoom the map in order to select specific views. The action can be speeded up and a running clock keeps track of the current time. The sense time could also be depicted by giving the paths fading comet tails that would give an indication of their speed even in a static frame.
The final example makes a partial attempt to take up Joyce's challenge to rebuild Dublin from his book. In order to try and understand the fictional furnishings of No 7 Eccles Street described in Ulysses for the revised Topographical Guide it became necessary to research the actual structure of the now lost building.8 To this end we constructed a 3-dimensional model of the house. Figure 3 shows a single view of the model. This example has transparent walls and is part of a fly-through that follows Bloom's path in 'Ithaca' over the railings into the front area, through the door, along the passage, up the stairs and back to the front door.9
Figure 3: 3D Model – No 7 Eccles Street
Figure 4: 3D Model – No 7 Eccles Street (detail)
The intention here is research into the details of Joyce's Ulysses yet it is possible to imagine a Grand Theft Auto meets The Sims virtual reality Ulysses where the Dublin of 1904 is rebuilt with Lawrence Collection street scenes pasted onto the façades.10 A world where you could loiter on O'Connell Bridge and wait for Bloom to arrive and toss his throwaway into the Liffey. All this is already technically possible but is it desirable? While a virtual reality can offer more than a film by turning the viewer into a participant and freeing them from the directors singular vision it still suffers the same seductive and distractive qualities that films of novels have. They lead you away from the text; and Ulysses is ultimately about language. Bernard Benstock has stated that "Ulysses is no more about Dublin than Moby Dick is about a whale—although no less." (Benstock 100–101) Lacking a knowledge of Dublin in 1904 does not make Ulysses incomprehensible. However, such knowledge undoubtedly adds extra dimensions to our experience of the novel. Ulysses expects us to engage with its environment whether we connect this to an actual city in 1904 or not, Joyce intended the reader to experience his city as fully fleshed-out character. The new visualisation techniques can offer insights into the text but not replacements of it; the models and their goals are finite as they are aids to the reading and analysis not substitutes for it.
Frank Budgen's description of Joyce using a map and stopwatch to plan the action of 'Wandering Rocks' gives the image of the writer walking the streets in his mind. Would it have been easier for Joyce if he was living in Dublin when he was writing Ulysses? Certainly Joyce quizzed family and friends about details of Dublin topography which he would have been able to check himself had he been living there. However, the Dublin of Ulysses was already in the past, a past that Joyce had a strong grip on. With the aid of maps and Thom's Directory he was able to furnish his vision sitting at his desk in Zurich.
The accuracy of the action in the 'Wandering Rocks' chapter was confirmed by Clive Hart's calculations and their physical re-enactment on the streets of Dublin during the Joyce Centenary in 1982.11 Perhaps today's writers would resort to GPS systems to calculate their action when writing another Ulysses. But maybe things have moved on even further and while we might look, in the case of Ulysses, to use visualisation tools to project the narrative into space—for the new storytellers the ability to turn space into narrative might be more beneficial. The impoverished nature of the narrative in most modern computer games indicates that there is a long way to go before they are able to engage with the depth and range attained by the novel. To use Edwin Muir's earlier distinction the computer games are focused on the 'dramatic' sequential aspect rather than 'character' spatial one. There is less emphasis on the social aspect and they are usually about action and the sequential drive to a final goal. If we consider that the world is already full of characters in search of an author, then this does lead towards a world of creating live and on-the-fly narratives from the real world. In Live Role Playing (LRP), the 'player is a person going through a transformation into a character.' (Falk 3) Joyce encourages us to cross this boundary to exist in a real space with a nowness and totality. Joyce enthusiasts still visit Dublin both physically and via photographs, maps and guide books in order to enhance their visualisation of Ulysses. Virtual Reality therefore can act as an aid for the visualisations of aspects of Ulysses but is no substitute or competitor for the novel itself. While there is scope for 'augmented reality' tools such as GPS location and talking plaques in today's Dublin, we are still a long way from Philippe Vasset's Borgesian conceit in ScriptGenerator©® where the remnants of a manual for a computer program for the creation of narratives on an industrial scale is unearthed. (Vasset) Ulysses already is a virtual reality. A virtual reality created with words.
Opening a literary studies book to find pictures, maps and diagrams is a delight. Lewis Carroll and Laurence Sterne knew well the value of breaking up the incessant charge of black riders with images and typographical flourishes. Works such as Franco Moretti's Atlas of the European Novel have shown how geographical methods can be applied to literary study. The new technologies open up new terrains for literary study and analysis. Once the novel is perceived as a space or a machine it is possible to apply a range of visualization and analysis techniques. It is like the discovery of a new country where the literary critic has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be creative.
Paper-based forms like this book can now, I think, only come to assist in a process of exploration and study that will henceforth be determined by digital forms. The next generation of literary and aesthetic theorists who will most matter are people who will be at least as involved with making things as with writing text. (McGann 19)
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Robbe-Grillet, Alain Snapshots and Towards a New Novel. Trans. Barbara Wright, London: Calder and Boyars, 1965.
Simmel, Georg. "The Metropolis and Mental Life". Trans. Kurt Wolff, The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: Freedom Press, 1950, 409–424.
"The Stranger". Trans. Kurt Wolff, The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: Freedom Press, 1950, 402–408.
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Kwan, Mei-Po. 'Interactive Geovisualisation of activity-travel patterns using three-dimensional geographical information systems: a methodological exploration with a large data set', Transportation Research C, 8:185–203, 2000.
'Time, Information Technologies and the Geographies of Everyday Life', Urban Geography, 23(5):471–482, 2002.
© Ian Gunn & Mark Wright, 2005