Telling Time: Techniques of Narrative Time in Ulysses and the Odyssey

in Reading Joycean Temporalities
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This essay considers time and storytelling in Ulysses and the Odyssey by examining techniques used in the two texts to condense, distort and juxtapose periods of time. Ulysses’ many examples of playing with time (including, above all, the “Circe” episode) turn out to have parallels in the Odyssey, including the Odyssey’s use of sudden breaks between the divine and human levels of the poem. Similarly, Homer’s use of myth provides a parallel to the breaks in Ulysses between the psychological time of the characters’ internal monologue and the novel’s external narrative time – a distinction that also becomes progressively problematic as the novel’s stylistic experiments become more and more extreme. The essay explores how Joyce takes over and complicates a common interest of modernism, the contrast between psychological and “mechanical” time, and compares this to Homer’s use of the contrast between “historical” and “mythic” time. By layering these contrasts, Joyce brings out the complexity of the human experience of time, constantly influenced by the recreative forces of memory, hope and desire.

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