James Joyce
Ian Gunn and Mark Wright

O, Rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.
(U 4:343)

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:

On the one hand, cities as found in literature are imaginative constructions; on the other, at least one literary city aims to reflect the material reality of its original so accurately that from it Dublin could be rebuilt (much as legend has it Warsaw was from the faithfully rendered paintings of Canaletto minor). (Johnson 199)

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.

"Are there trees in Leahy's terrace at the side or near, if so, what, are there steps leading down to the beach?" Aunt Josephine appears to have replied for Joyce changed the trees in Leahy's terrace from the elms they were in manuscript to the laurel hedges that appear in the final version. (Johnson 201)

This desire for verisimilitude is highlighted by Frank Budgen when he describes Joyce working on the 'Wandering Rocks' chapter of Ulysses.

To see Joyce at work on the 'Wandering Rocks' was to see an engineer at work with compass and slide-rule, a surveyor with theodolite and measuring chain or, more Ulyssean perhaps, a ship's officer taking the sun, reading the log and calculating current drift and leeway. (Budgen 123)

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 wrote the 'Wandering Rocks' with a map of Dublin before him on which were traced in red ink the paths of the Earl of Dudley and father Conmee. He calculated to the minute the time necessary for his characters to cover a given distance of the city. (Budgen 124–5)

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.

Start End Episode Words
08.00am 08.45am Telemachus 7165
09.30am 10.00am Nestor 4407
11.05am 11.45am Proteus 5686
08.00am 08.45am Calypso 5882
09.30am 10.30am Lotuseaters 6387
11.05am 12.00am Hades 10889
12.00am 01.00pm Aeolus 9903
01.00pm 02.05pm Lestrygonians 12576
02.00pm 03.00pm Scylla & Charybdis 11753
02.55pm 04.00pm Wandering Rocks 12469
03.38pm 04.40pm Sirens 12142
04.45pm 05.45pm Cyclops 21235
08.00pm 09.00pm Nausicaa 16733
10.00pm 11.00pm Oxen of the Sun 20332
11.10pm 12.40am Circe 38055
12.40am 01.00am Eumaeus 22750
01.00am 02.00am Ithaca 22480
02.00am 02.17am Penelope 24204

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:

I can now go on to my next generalisation, which is that the imaginative world of the dramatic novel is in Time, the imaginative world of the character novel in Space. In the one, this roughly is the argument, Space is more or less given, and the action is built up in Time; in the other, Time is assumed, and the action is a static pattern, continuously redistributed and reshuffled, in Space. It is the fixity and the circumference of the character plot that gives the parts their meaning; in the dramatic novel it is the progression and resolution of the action. The values of the character novel are social, in other words; the values of the dramatic novel individual or universal, as we choose to regard them. On the one hand we see characters living in a society, on the other figures moving from a beginning to and end. These two types of the novel are neither opposites, then, nor in any important sense complements of each other; they are rather two distinct modes of seeing life: in Time, personally, and in Space, socially. (Muir 62–63)

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

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

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

Figure 3: 3D Model – No 7 Eccles Street

Figure 4

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)


Anyfanti, Alexandra. "Time, Space, and Consciousness in James Joyce's Ulysses", Hypermedia Joyce Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2 December 2003 – January 2004. 30 Nov. 2004 <>.

Beckett, Samuel. (1929) "Dante ... Bruno . Vico .. Joyce". In Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. Second edition, London: Faber, 1972.

Beja, Morris. "Symposium: An Informal History of the International James Joyce Symposia", JJQ, 22.2 (Winter 1985), 113–135.

Benstock, Bernard. "Ulysses without Dublin", JJQ 10.1 (Fall 1972) 90–117.

Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses and other writings (1934). Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Carlstein, Tommy, Parkes, Don, Thrift, Nigel, eds, Timing Space and Spacing Time, Volume 1: Making Sense of Time. London: Edward Arnold, 1978.

Carlstein, Tommy, Parkes, Don, Thrift, Nigel, eds, Timing Space and Spacing Time, Volume 2: Human Activity and Time Geography. London: Edward Arnold, 1978.

Eisenstein, Sergi. The Film Sense. Trans. Jay Leyda, London: Faber and Faber, 1943, 1968.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Second edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Falk, Jennica. 'Interfacing the Narrative Experience' in Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment. Ed. Mark A. Blythe, Andrew F. Monk, Kees Overbeeke and Peter C. Wright, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003.

Frank, Joseph. "Spatial Form in Modern Literature"(1945), The Idea of Spatial Form. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991, 5–66.

Gunn, Ian and Clive Hart with Harald Beck. James Joyce's Dublin, A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of 'Ulysses'. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004.

Hart, Clive. "Wandering Rocks" in James Joyce's Ulysses, Critical Essays. Ed. Clive Hart and David Hayman, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974, 181–216.

Johnson, Jeri. "Literary Geography: Joyce, Woolf and the City", City 4.2 (2000), 199–214.

Kelly, Heather. Time and Space Modelling of James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. Project Report, Division of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, 2004. (unpublished)

Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space 1880–1918. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983.

McGann, Jerome. Radiant Textuality, Literature after the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Merotti, Franco. Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900. London: Verso, 1999.

Muir, Edwin. The Structure of the Novel. London: The Hogarth Press, 1928, 1967.

Ricardou, Jean. "Time of the Narration, Time of the Fiction". Trans. Joseph Kestner, JJQ16.1/2 (Fall 1978/Winter 1979), 7–15.

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.

Thom, Alexander. Thom's Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Dublin: Alexander Thom & Co. Ltd, published annually.

Thrift, Nigel. An Introduction to Time-Geography. Norwich: Geo Abstracts (Institute of British Geographers), 1977.

Vasset, Philippe. ScriptGenerator©®™. Trans Jane Metter, London: Serpent's Tail, 2004.

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

1 Ricardou (1978) explores in detail the contrasts between the speed of the narration and the speed of the action in the novel.
2 See Georg Simmel — 'The Metropolis and Mental Life', in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 409–424. Also in this collection is an essay entitled 'The Stranger', the first paragraph of which reads:
"If Wandering is liberation from every given point in space, and thus the conceptional opposite to fixation at such a point, the sociological form of the 'stranger' presents the unity, as it were, of these two characteristics. This phenomenon too, however, reveals that spatial relations are only the condition, on the one hand, and the symbol, on the other, of human relations. (more...)
(back...)The stranger is thus being discussed here, not in the sense often touched upon in the past, as the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow, but rather as the person who comes today and stays to-morrow. He is, so to speak, the potential wanderer: although he has not moved on, he has not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going. He is fixed within a particular spatial group, or within a group whose boundaries are similar to spatial boundaries. But his position in this group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it, which do not and cannot stem from the group itself." (Simmel, Georg 'The Stranger', 402)
This opening passage echoes Bloom in Ulysses and Simmel goes on to identify the stranger with the trader and the history of European Jews.
3 At the turn of the last century, developments in telecommunications and transport and the growth of the modern metropolis introduced a new awareness of time and space which had a great impact on the creative arts of the time. (See Kern 1983).
4 Although it failed as a business venture Joyce was instrumental in setting up Dublin's first cinema the Volta (Ellmann 300–04).
5 In the revised guide to the topography of Ulysses (Gunn), maps and diagrams with paths of the characters drawn on them were the major means of depicting the action of Ulysses. Time therefore was reduced to mainly a supporting role and it was only when dealing with 'Wandering Rocks' that a real focus on time and place could be displayed. It is difficult to depict time without using time itself which is part of what this investigation is setting out to explore.
6 See Thrift 1977 and Carlstein 1978 for the background and development of Time-Geography. The work of Mei-Po Kwan at Ohio State University gives excellent examples of the contemporary use of Time-Geography approaches (Kwan 2000, 2002).
7 The aquarium model Figure 1 and the animated map Figure 2 were created by Heather Kelly under supervision of John Lee at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. The model depicted in Figure 1 was produced using VTK Visualization Toolkit and the model in Figure 2 was build using the Java programming language (Kelly 2004).
8 The story of No7 Eccles Street is one of neglect and missed opportunities. The grand Georgian dwellings degenerated into slums and Clive Hart recalls 7 families living there in the late fifties. In 1965 the property was put up for auction but such was the still prevalent attitude to Joyce and the cavalier approach of the Dublin Corporation to urban planning the property was purchased and reduced to a single story façade. The plot of land including the neighboring properties was sold on again a few years later before finally being build over as a hospital.
9 The basic 3D model of No7 was drawn up in AutoCAD by Stephen Paterson of the School of the Built Environment, Napier University, Edinburgh. This was then ported into FormZ for modelling and animation by Dermott McMeel of the School of Arts, Culture and Environment, University of Edinburgh. This model is part of an on-going project to rebuild and furnish No7 Eccles Street which will recreate the lower end of Eccles Street as of 1904 (
10 The Grand Theft Auto series of computer games from Rockstar Games create interactive urban environments whose streets and façades are mapped to real locations. The Sims™ is a highly successful computer simulation game that allows the player to create and oversee whole virtual communities.
11 (Hart 181–216). Clive Hart's analysis of the 'Wandering Rocks' episode resulted in a table depicting minute by minute the action of the central chapter (Gunn 58–59). This table formed the basis of a reenactment of the episode on the streets of Dublin in 1982. The event was coordinated by Danis Rose and titled "O Rocks!" (Beja 127).