Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Dismembering Joyce: Memory, Temporality, and Spatiality in Ulysses

Related topics:

Irish History Transformed
Language and Linguistics
Thought and Action

If we remember June 16th, 1904, the gig that is James Joyce's Ulysses is up. The historians among us will remind us that Leopold Bloom's day cannot possibly be an accurate depiction of the real Bloomsday, and they will not be mistaken. And yet, a list of such mismatches—of errata, of anachronisms and mottled histories, of superimposed events and determinedly fictional people, has a strange sort of unplaceable cache in the living body of Joyce scholarship. So how do we explain this phenomenon? What allows Ulysses a privileged relationship to both past and present? For many Joyce critics it is that Ulysses solves the dilemma of a posteriori representation through temporal intercourse. The novel is the raw sensory occasion of "time-obsessed flux" (Lewis)1 and the reeling ecstasy of the cinematic (Goodwin). It is the peculiarly fluid reification of the visual and historical (Jameson), as well as the unusually textual "mimesis of loss" (Boheemen). Lastly, it is all of these permutations at once, isomorphic (Staten) and temporally monistic (Beplate), Derrida's undecidable question of the time of invention.

Rather than counter any or all of these frameworks through a of meta-critical analysis of Joycean time-scholars—a discursive interruption that Fredric Jameson anticipated in his early discussions of history and materiality in Joyce—I would instead like to contribute my own voice to this somewhat amorphous subfield, albeit through a strangely esoteric channel whose attachments to the iconic names of Joyce criticism, such as Derrida and Jameson, may not be immediately apparent. This essay, therefore, will examine the function of memory in Ulysses through the allegory of dismemberment. Of particular import here is the intersection of spatiality and temporality this term evokes, an intersection which all of the previously mentioned scholars examine in one oblique way or another. In order to explain the relation between re-membering and dismemberment in Ulysses, it is necessary first to revisit the speculative turns that have inspired this endeavor in the first place.

Anyone familiar with Surrealism and the work of George Bataille will immediately recognize dismemberment, and André Masson's "acephalic man," as the basis for some of the movement's most controversial aesthetic transmutations and searing ruminations on freedom and Western law. Not immediately apparent, however, is the expansive theoretical appendage of these aesthetic and conjectural processes and their relation to contemporary temporal and spatial discussions of Ulysses. In what follows I will briefly examine the theoretical platform of Joycean temporal and spatial theory, and mark the profound interconnection between the aesthetics of dismemberment and Joycean critical thought.

To begin with an anecdotal confluence, the threads of remembering and dismemberment entangle with the Jamesonian discourse of reification and de-reification in the peculiar context of Surrealist aesthetics in post-World War I, France. During this time, wax reconstructions of the heads of dismembered soldiers were stationed in museums around France as part of a nationalist campaign to re-embody concepts of social progress that had been symbolically obliterated in the corporeal destruction of the First World War (Lyford). In response to this grisly and a-temporal mechanism for textually 2 revitalizing and simultaneously monumentalizing the dead, Surrealists envisaged their own counter-aesthetic of dismemberment. This incendiary response to the contraction and reification of nationalist discourse around the bodies of state subjects parallels the way in which gossip in Fredric Jameson's understanding of Ulysses functions to maintain the human face and "familiar reality" of Dublin amidst the increasingly commodified visual and spatial practices taking place in the city (146). Much as the Surrealist aesthetic recreated the dismemberment of masculine bodies as a method for countering the invasive textual reification of nationalist discourse on the body politic, gossip in Joyce's Dublin allows the city to "dissolve back into the underlying reality of human relations and human praxis," usurping the reified "picture-postcard vision of a tourist Dublin" (146). In other words, in both cases, memory is maintained through the de-reifying of visual practice.

Before we move on to our discussion of the text itself, this seems as good a place as any to refine the distinction between reification, which may also be provisionally referred to as spatiality, and de-reification, which we may hesitantly equate with temporality, as theoretical constructs within the Joycean paradigm. In Jameson's essay "Ulysses in History," reification and spatiality are linked through a spatially metaphoric definition of de-reification: "The analogous recurrence of events and characters throughout Ulysses can equally be understood as a process whereby the text itself is unsettled and undermined, a process whereby the universal tendency of its terms, narrative tokens, representations, to solidify into an achieved and codified symbolic order as well as a massive narrative surface, is perpetually suspended. I will call this process 'dereificaiton'" (143).

If de-reification is the process by which the text's contraction into a "massive narrative surface" is suspended, we may therefore conversely define reification as the spatialization of textual, formal, and narrative elements, in other words, as the condensation of the novel's semantic processes into a symbolic and abstractable whole. As Ann Daghistany Ransdell and Jeffrey R. Smitten note, this spatializing tendency may be linked to particular narrative techniques, such as romantic irony and frame narratives, which detach the novel's form from its contextual substance, encouraging the reader "to identify not as a particular human being with particular characters but as a human mind experiencing a form, such as a square or labyrinth, created by the interaction of fictional beings with one another and with their environment" (53). The Aristotelian resonance of this description is unmistakable. For instance, remarking upon Stephen's repetition of Aristotle's phrase "soul is the form of forms," Henry Staten notes "whenever there is knowledge of a thing, according to Aristotle, what is known is the eidos 'form' of the thing, which is detachable from the matter in which it is embodied" (382). In terms of reification and spatialization, therefore, eidos can be thought of as the system of knowledge wherein representation has a divine spatial congruence with mental perception. Staten indicates onomatopoeia as an attempt to realize such a system, although he also marks Joyce's use of the technique as "nostalgic" and "deconstructive" of this "ancient fantasy of the direct impress of the real on the psyche" (382). Here, Staten makes an important distinction between "imitative" and "mimetic" practice, which reveals our point of transition into a discussion of temporality and de-reification.

According to Staten, "imitative form [such as onomatopoeia] attempts to embody or mime what is represented—to carry something of the phenomenal form of the referent directly into the sensual substance of the linguistic medium" (382). In this light, reification can be considered the process by which this imitative "attempt" at embodiment is, to use Jameson's words, "achieved and codified" through the spatial construction of a symbolic order that disguises the impossibility of direct material transmission. Insofar as it seeks the instantaneous (a-temporal) imprinting of eidos onto perception, then, onomatopoeic expression must be considered "imitative" rather than "mimetic." Mimetic expression, conversely, "exploits the semantic and referential functions of language" by acknowledging the impossibility of instantaneous transmission and instead devoting attention to the mediation of perception through language. In this sense we may connect mimetic expression to the concept of de-reification, which Jameson significantly defines as a function of "suspension" and therefore of lapsed time. In the discourses of Henri Bergson and Jacques Derrida, temporality likewise becomes a question of interruption. For Derrida it is "delay, a timeliness without calculation" (Grosz 68). And for Bergson it is a form of "hesitation" and "indetermination," known as endured time or duration (Grosz 98). Returning to mimetic expression, then, in its most rigorous application this technique may be defined as the de-reifying manifestation of pure language or linguistic doubt, in other words, the moment in which one re-members the temporal mediation of language and finds oneself thrown into the "experience of individually endured time" (Jay 197). Jameson indicates several instances of this mimetic technique in Ulysses, referring to them as "autistic textualization" or, less problematically, as the "production of sentences in a void, moments in which the book begins to elaborate on its own text, under its own momentum" (148).

Very briefly, before returning to the idea of dismemberment, and finally to the text itself, it is important to elaborate on the relation between temporality and the spatial realm of sense perception. In Bergsonian phraseology, this relation is interposed with the concept of memory. Not precisely equivalent to the temporal interval mentioned above, memory is instead what fills these "zones of indetermination" or duration, allowing sensory perception "to become 'enlivened,' and capable of being linked to nascent actions" (Grosz 100). In other words, memory, that which "takes us to where the past is," while having "no special link or proximity to my body," nonetheless allows perception, that which takes us "to where objects are," to become future action (Grosz 103). In Bergson's framework, therefore, memory and the past have no relation to action, save through perception. Instead, memory, or at least pure recollection (as opposed to body-memories), is "purely virtual," comprised of ideas in someway disconnected from the present. In Ulysses, we may use "Circe" (U 15) as an analogue for this virtuality, and ultimately as the impetus for a return to the concept of dismemberment.

As perhaps the apotheosis of Jameson's vision of de-reification on the narrative level, "Circe" typifies representation of duration interposed with pure recollection. According to Elizabeth Grosz, "if the cerebral delay [duration] could be indefinitely postponed [...] memory images, precise, concrete images from the past, would serve to fill the breach. This, of course, is precisely what occurs in the case of sleep, which severs the impetus of the perception from the requirement of action, and can thus more readily tolerate the interposition of memory images" (Grosz 101). This description takes to "Circe" remarkably well. For a start, the episode's interruption of the novel is easily categorized as an "indefinite postponement" of the narrative timeline, drawing out an hour's worth of (spatial) time into an expansive intermission of indeterminate duration. Furthermore, "Circe" is brimming with hallucinations from Bloom's past that acquire the form of graphically concrete images. These images are indeed astounding in their perceptual complexity, "an armless pair of them flop wrestling, growling, in maimed sodden playfight" (U 15.581-82). And yet, for all his corporeal inclinations in the previous episodes, "Circe"'s Bloom is inexplicably detached from his body (in a public house no less!), his sexual and gastronomic appetites completely dissipated: "My spine's a bit limp. Go or turn? And this food? Eat it and get all pigsticky. Absurd I am. Waste of money" (U 15.656-57). Moreover, Bloom appears downright cerebral at points in his almost Stephen-like mental peregrinations: "If I hadn't head about Mrs Beaufoy Purefoy I wouldn't have gone and wouldn't have met. Kismet. He'll lose that cash. Relieving office here. Good biz for cheapjacks, organs. What do ye lack? Soon got, soon gone. Might have lost my life too with that mangong-wheeltracktrolleyglarejuggernaut only for presence of mind. Can't always save you, though. If had passed Truelock's window that day two minutes later would have been shot. Absence of body. Still if bullet only went through my coat get damages for shock, five hundred pounds. What was he? Kildare street club toff. God help his gamekeeper. (He gazes ahead, reading on the wall a scrawled chalk legend Wet Dream and a phallic design) Odd! Molly drawing on the frosted carriagepane at Kingstown. What's that like?" (U 15.640-51). This passage cleverly draws to attention to Bloom's "presence of mind" and "absence of body" in the episode, a configuration that mirrors Stephen's cerebral isolation in the first portions of the novel (yet also opposes young Dedalus' trajectory towards bodily confrontation in "Circe" itself). So how do we explain Bloom's bodily dis-attachment in an episode devoted to narrative de-reification, temporal disruption, and bodily memories? What is the function of memory in other forms of dismemberment in the text and how does this relate to the oscillation between reification and de-reification Jameson describes? At this point I would like to turn to two other moments of dismemberment in the text, limiting my focus to occasions in which dismemberment is distinctly joined to mechanisms of memory.

To begin with, there are of course the infamous "ambulatory letters" of "Wisdom Hely's" sandwich men, a moment of textual reification that Jameson, along with many other critics, has already taken to task, and one which may easily be figured as a moment of dismemberment (Jameson 146). For Jameson, as "spatially visible," commodified images, the sandwichboard men represent the "ultimate terminus of reification" (146). And yet, as the very "emblem of textuality itself," the ad is in a number of ways simultaneously de-reified (146). For one, the advertisement is mimetic rather than imitative, insofar as it uses textual rather than pictorial signs (and a proper name at that) and therefore exists purely in the realm of language. Moreover, if we abide by the Bergsonian formula that "perception is the measure of our virtual action upon things," the advertisement can only translate from perception through memory (virtuality) into action if one already has previous knowledge of Wisdom Hely's (Grosz 102). Despite these obstacles to reification, however, when the ad makes its second textual appearance, it is recognized (and therefore reified), not only by Father Conmee—"He should have read that before lunch" (U 10.192)—but also by the reader, who with the very bare minimum of textual referentiality, even by the standards of Ulysses, may pick up on the rouse. On the one hand, we may consider this Joyce's exceptionally clever way of affirming that language and memory may serve as their own reifying agents—this is the interpretation which Jameson seems to chose in claiming that we must ultimately "come to terms with Joyce's modernism," the bound art for art's sake "unity of the process" whereby at the end "only a form of material unity is left, namely the printed book itself, and its material unity as a bound set of pages" (146). And yet, on the other hand, it seems there is another movement beyond this remembering of the essentially spatial event of the novel, a separate movement, which can be left dismembered without recourse to a material whole.

The textual dismembering of the initial H.E.L.Y.S. sequence occurs rather obviously: "He read the scarlet letters on their five tall white hats: H.E.L.Y.S. Wisdom Hely's. Y lagging behind drew a chunk of bread from under his foreboard, crammed it into his mouth and munched as he walked" (U 8.26-27). In Jameson's terms, this dismembering, the lagging behind of one the group's members, could again signify the de-reification of the ad, the further subdividing of its contingent and meaningless parts into ever smaller units, which are "recuperable for literature only at the price of being transformed into symbols" (150). Yet does Joyce pay this price? Remarkably, it is witnessing the advertisement's dismembering rather than taking part in its remembering processes, through which Bloom arrives at the ad's intended purpose: "Wisdom Hely's. Y lagging behind drew a chunk of bread from under his foreboard, crammed it into his mouth and munched as he walked. Our staple food. Three bob a day, walking along the gutters, street after street. Just keep skin and bone together, bread and skilly" (U 8.28-30). Although Bloom accesses the sign's ultimate meaning, i.e. lunch, the channel through which he arrives there, i.e. lagging, can hardly be construed as reifying. Rather, Bloom's arrival occurs in a moment of "lagging," virtual duration, whose processes cannot be calculated in relation to spatial reification. It is instead a matter of timeliness and dismemberment, of the "division, bifurcation, [and] dissociation" through which duration proceeds (Grosz 111).

By way of a miniscule and oblique turn away from H.E.L.Y.S. one can arrive at another moment of dismemberment that further reveals Ulysses' affinity for temporal lapse. The moment in question is the dismembering of Stewart Parnell's coffin through the rumored removal of Parnell's body and its replacement with stones. Already a relation to Jameson's processes of reification and de-reification is evident. In particular, the recycling of Parnell's life and death as grist for the rumor mill functions as a de-reifying device: "That discourse is called gossip: and from the upper limits of city life—the world of patronage, machine politics, and the rise and fall of ward leaders—all the way down to the most minute aberrations of private life, it is by means of gossip and through the form of the anecdote that the dimensions of the city are maintained within human limits and that the unity of city life is affirmed and celebrated" (144). The myth of Parnell, therefore, is constantly contracted and expanded through the mimetic exploitation of anecdote. Due to the fact that Dublin is "still distantly akin to the village" or "under-developed enough to be representable," however, Jameson deems the city's gossip ultimately subject to the unifying forces of reification (146). Here, Jameson's language of affirmation and celebration is highly reminiscent of Walter Benjamin, for whom "the monument is a manifestation of, and focus for, the celebration of those who have triumphed in the past" (Gilloch 72). For Jameson, Ulysses acts as a similar sort of monument, a "time capsule" for the "symbolic practices[...]of precapitalist society" and essentially an accidental nationalist tract: "whatever [Joyce's] hostility to Irish cultural nationalism, Joyce's is the epic of the metropolis under imperialism" (145). As Christine van Boheemen points out, however, presenting Irish national history as straightforwardly "representable" runs into trouble when considering how often Ireland's "cultural memory of destitution, starvation, and slavery has been suppressed" (14). In the text itself, Parnell indeed receives the anecdotal boilerplate from Mr. Power's "blank voice": "Some say he is not in that grave at all. That the coffin was filled with stones. That one day he will come again" (U 6.23-24). Yet this "reified" gossip is soon after dissolved into the image of Parnell's un-constructed monument (U 6.320) and the wandering rocks of his dismembered coffin. In fact, Molly's phrase 'O rocks!' initially a response to Bloom's inability to describe the transmigration of souls "in plain words" (U 4.343), becomes another figure of ambulatory textuality, lagging behind the death of Parnell, yet deriving meaning from his anecdotal dismemberment—the persistent mingling of adulterous rumors great and small—rather than his monumental stature.

Returning to the question with which I prefaced this essay, Ulysses' cache in critical practices both past and present, historical and material, temporal and spatial, modern and postmodern, belongs at least in part to the way it is staunchly none (or no one) of these categories. Ulysses is indeed the "time-obsessed flux" it has been antagonistically labeled, yet it is also deeply engaged with the material processes of writing. It circumvents nationalist discourse, only to dissolve this discourse's figures in the de-reifying processes of petty gossip. However, rather than amounting to the vacillation between poles, or the accumulation of referentiality until the point of rupture, these bifurcating and dismembering practices represent the power of division to create innovation beyond recursive control, and ultimately of the power of an interval of indeterminacy to create the new.

1. This is an intentional mis-reading of Wyndham Lewis' vision of Joyce. In fact, Lewis, because of his own misreading of Henri Bergson, has been nearly wiped from the face of Joyce criticism (see Beplate), a problematic happening given the fragmentary utility of Lewis' argument.

2. According to Amy Lyford we may view this campaign as the textual imprinting of national discourse onto the body politic in that "the fragments of soldier's bodies displayed at the museum operated like parts of speech, with each body part conforming to the rules that bound the collection's discourse about social reconstruction" (50).

Citations and Related Sources

Beplate, Justin. "Joyce, Bergson, and the Memory of Words." The Modern Language Review. 100, no. 2 (2005): 298.
Bergson, Henri, Nancy Margaret Paul, and William Scott Palmer. Matter and memory. New York: Zone Books, 1988.
Boheemen, Christine van. Joyce, Derrida, Lacan, and the Trauma of History Reading, Narrative and Postcolonialism. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Gilloch, Graeme, and Walter Benjamin. Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, in association with Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Goodwin, James. "Eisenstein, Ecstasy, Joyce, and Hebraism." CRIT INQUIRY Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (2000).
Grosz, Elizabeth. "Deleuze, Bergson, and the Virtual." In Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power, 93–111. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005.
Jameson, Fredric. "Ulysses in History." In The Modernist Papers, 137–51. London, UK: Verso, 2007.
Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes the Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Lewis, Wyndham. Time and Western Man. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1928.
Lyford, Amy. "The Aesthetics of Dismemberment: Surrealism and the Mus&eacutre;e Du Val-de-Grâce in 1917." Cultural Critique, no. 46 (2000): 45–79.
Smitten, Jeffrey R, and Ann Daghistany Ransdell. Spatial Form in Narrative. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Staten, Henry. "The Decomposing Form of Joyce’s Ulysses." PMLA 112, no. 3 (May 1, 1997): 380–92

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