on Ulysses & omnitemporality

Rebecca is considering the meaning of the word omnitemporal. She is wondering if omnitemporal means “in all times at the same time” and “time [is] a succession of moments, how can something be in all of a succession at one point in the succession?” It is a good question. I think perhaps Ulysses has the answer. Actually, I don’t think it does at all but it reminded me of an essay I wrote a couple of years back on aesthetics and the transcendence of time through art and it made me think, since, as Rebecca Writes, everything’s coming up Irish, I guess omnitemporality must come up Irish this month too. So, by way of killing two birds with one stone, here is an excerpt from an essay I wrote which I am now using to express my take on omnitemporality in Irish literature. It’s a longbow, I know.


“The Homeric parallels, and in fact all mythic parallels in Ulysses, contribute to the aesthetics of the text in which a continuum is created enabling the past, present and future to continually influence each other. The effect adheres to the aesthetic theory T.S.Eliot deems essential to the creation of an immortal work which is not static but constantly changing in relation to past, present and future works of art.[1] In this way, Ulysses has relevance to society at all times in history: it is universal and immortal: it is art…

“…Homeric parallels and symbolism in the Cyclops episode enable Joyce to depict the action occurring in Barney Kiernan’s pub on 16th June, 1904, while simultaneously transcending this temporality to make references to future events in Ireland, namely the Easter Uprising of 1916. The action is simultaneously reflective of the past, present and the future; however, the representation and achievement of such is anything but simple. Consider the Homeric parallels within this episode: The characterisation reveals the first, perhaps most obvious, parallel, for on entering Kiernan’s pub, the reader is confronted with the grotesque gargantuan form of the citizen.[1] The citizen parallels the giant one-eyed Cyclops of the Odyssey; yet he is also representative of a Nationalist Irish consciousness and the historical figure of Michael Cusack, founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association.[2] Into the cave of the one-eyed giant walks Bloom, Joyce’s Odysseus, and without delay he finds himself in conflict with violent one-eyed nationalism as embodied by the citizen. The image is powerful and the complexity profound; for in such a seemingly simple allusion Joyce represents ancient, contemporary, and recent historical eras in simultaneity. We must observe that the parallels between the Odyssey and Ulysses are not literal. Bloom is not heroic in the same manner as Odysseus: he does not slay his aggressor; he is not even proficient with a red hot poker;[3] yet Bloom, like Odysseus, escapes the savagery of the Cyclops. The futility and barbarity of the Nationalist ethos is revealed as the grotesque citizen espouses violence as a remedy and defence against English imperialism.

While the mythic parallels are part of Joyce’s aesthetic technique, they also serve to further meaning through allusions to ancient and contemporary myths. Time and space are transcended as the ancient and the modern converge in moments located within the experience of the characters on June 16, 1904. In these moments, the mythic and the modern reciprocally comment upon and interrogate each other through allusion, symbolism, paradox and parody. For example, the Jacob’s biscuit tin in the Cyclops episode, is a symbol, which when placed in the hands of the citizen – who is simultaneously Irish Nationalist consciousness, Michael Cusack, a plethora of Irish heroes,[4] and the Cyclops – gains greater significance than is first evident; for it symbolises the Jacob’s biscuit factory in which insurgents in the Easter Uprising of 1916 barricaded themselves in rebellion against the English and their occupation of Ireland. The climax of the episode in which the citizen hurls the biscuit tin at Bloom contains many references drawn from myth which shape and bring significance to past, present and future events. Firstly, the action mirrors that of the Cyclops in the Odyssey who throws a rock at Odysseus as he escapes the island. Secondly, the action reflects Michael Cusack’s skill as a hurler,[5] his desire to revive hurling as a national sport,[6] and the association of sport with warfare[7] which is also addressed earlier in the episode.[8] Cusack also drew upon mythology and mysticism in the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association when he sought to re-establish hurling as a notional sport.[9] Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the action reflects the association between the Jacob’s biscuit factory, the Gaelic Athletic Association’s Fenian ties,[10] and the violence of the Easter Uprising. It is all three of these allusions together which contribute to the meaning derived from the Cyclops episode. Further, the meaning is derived from many myths – ancient Homeric myth in the Odyssey; contemporary cultural myth surrounding national figures such as Cusack; and ancient Irish myths – which though spanning many eras, blend in a contemporary moment situated on the 16th June, 1904. When we are aware of these multiple allusions, it is impossible to read the episode as being representative of one particular moment in time. The representation clearly scrutinises the events of the Easter Uprising of 1916 by associating them with the barbaric brutality of the Cyclops in the Odyssey. As the events of the Easter Uprising have not yet occurred in the Dublin of Ulysses in 1904, Joyce’s representation of Bloom’s interaction with the citizen is at once prophetic and reflective. Joyce has effectively used myth to transcend time and space and manipulates “a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity”[11] in which the meaning derived from allusions to myth in Ulysses transcend the time of the events represented and produce a relevance to the past, present and the future.”

Mellifluous, M., (UNSW, ©2005)

Clearly Ulysses is omnitemporal.

If you have a clearer example of omnitemporality why not go and join the discussion at Rebecca’s blog. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.

[1] Eliot writes “ No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere is not onesided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent,’ in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Vincent B., Leitch (Gen. Ed.) New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 2001,p1093

[1]Joyce, Ulysses, p284

[2] Notes on Uysses in Ulysses, 281.33, p885

[3] Joyce, Ulysses, p318

[4] As signified by the images of the heroic, and not so heroic, Irish and not so Irish, characters on his belt. Joyce, Ulysses, p284-285

[5] Mandel, W.F., ‘To Test the Pulse of a Nation,’ The Gaelic Athletic Association & Irish Nationalist Politics 1884-1924, Dublin: Gill & MacMillian, 1987, p1

[6] Ibid

[7] Hurling “was an aristocratic, even royal, game, always associated with violence and death.” Ibid, p15

[8] Joyce, Ulysses, p305

[9] “’In my dreams,’[Cusack] later wrote, ‘I was living with the men of Erin of pre-Christian times. Inspirit I hunted and fished with Fionn’s invincible hosts from Antrim to Kerry. I hurled with Fenians of sixteen centuries ago from Tara to Killarney. Iresolved to bring back the hurling.’” Mandel, p2;

“The boy Setana became Cuchulain by driving a hurling ball into the mouth of Culann’s monstrous hound and killing it.” Mandel, p16;

“Many traditionalist argue that the origins of the [Irish] games stretch back into the depths of time, and sit in the long history of Ireland alongside such legendary figures as Cú Chulainn (who was reputed to have been a useful hurler).” Cronin, Mike., ‘Gaelic Games,’ Sport & Nationalism in Ireland: Gaelic Games, Soccer and Irish Identity Since 1884, Great Britain: Four Courts Press, 1999, p70

[10] “In time, and a very short time at that, the IRB was to take open control of the GAA,” Mandel, p10

[11] Eliot,Ulysses, Order, and Myth,’ p27





3 Responses to “on Ulysses & omnitemporality”

  1. Julana Says:

    I hated that book, and I never got through the whole thing. It was awful!!!!

  2. ish Says:

    My word, you delve some interesting ground. I found
    omnitemporality a new word but a now obvious elevation of writing that relates to ‘great’ and ‘classical’. I also liked the T. S. Elliot footnote and the slight rejigging of a landscape of ideas that occurs as each contribution is made. Just off the Irish map, do you like George Mackay Brown poetry/writing?

  3. missmellifluous Says:

    To be honest, I had not heard of omnitemporal before either but wanted to enter into Rebecca’s quest to search out the meaning of the word and in my musing was reminded of the contention that art transcends time. Thus the tangent began. It is a rehashed essay though. One I wrote for uni a couple of years ago.

    The T.S. Elliot quote is great. I love it too. I think he is right: each work does change those that have gone before and those that will come after in just some slight way. And I find it interesting that you refer to this change as happening in the ‘landscape of ideas’ for this is a very Irish way of thinking as well… but that’s a whole other set of essays.

    I have not heard of or read any of George Mackay Brown’s works but now that I know of him I will have to. What is it that you like of his?

    I read one of his poems ever so briefly before answering your comment and was captured by these lines:
    The stories, legends, poems
    Will be woven to make your sail

    from ‘New Child:ECL’. That alone is enough to make me want to go back and read more. I’ll let you know what I think as I read more of his writing. Thanks for pointing him out to me! I really love Irish literature!

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