80. (James Joyce)

A third and final try at the puzzle of variations of style in Ulysses, starting once more with the stopped watch. Why does it stop at 4:30? Because no watch is needed after that point. The chapters of the novel till Boylan sleeps with Molly are geared to Bloom’s needing to coordinate his timing with the timing of others, his wife and Blazes. Watch-time and clock-time are the means of (the source of) temporal coordination. Once Leopold does not need to follow Boylan’s movements, Joyce is free to imagine time in other ways.

And Joyce’s initial reporting of Bloom’s thoughts is similarly a response to, and representation of, that most common, lived, individual experience of time: the time of the private citizen in the city.

The innovations that follow are not, I’ll say, chiefly spurred by a desire to expand and experiment with perspective or realism, or with the opacity of language—instead, they are brought on by Joyce wanting to represent other experiences of time, historical, mythic, reverie, nightmare, musical, shared and individual, often but not always in conflict with one another.

The catechism in the penultimate chapter represents a stepping beyond human time; an approach to a temporal experience beyond, but intersecting with, the world. And then an individual experience of time, gendered but perhaps not stylistically gendered, rips through the final section: the nearest Joyce comes to the time of thought and reflection past, present and future simultaneous.  Punctuation is all but absent because of its temporal character, which would represent an unwonted intrusion.

This is all to say that Ulysses, as many have said, is a time-novel, as are many modernist works (Proust, Woolf), the culmination of a Romantic challenge.

But it’s also to say that Joyce charges style and perspective and voice with a responsibility to represent not just the diversity of mental states, judgments, objects in the world, sprawl, and space, but also the diversity of time, as something that can get into language of narration by way of stylistic alterations, pastiche, imitation, lampoon and the rest.


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