Representation: Mapping Ulysses
Michael Stevens discusses the re-presentation of narratological movement in James Joyce's Ulysses using Google Maps.
As Willard McCarty observes in “Modeling: A Study in Words and Meaning,” representation overlaps with a denotative model-of. Building a model is, according to McCarty, a “representation of something for the purposes of study, or a design for realizing something new.” My map of Ulysses is at heart a Geertzian “denotative model-of”—an imagined or fictionalized representation of the text designed to heighten the capacity to interpret Ulysses in a specific way; namely, the goal is to re-present Ulysses spatially in order to uncover the spatial and geopolitical relations in the novel. This representational model-of has distinct pedagogical aims, aligning with McCarty’s definition of a model-of. Implementing it, though even provisionally, has garnered more research questions (for me) not only concerning Ulysses, but also data visualization and the very practice of distant reading.
The model-of, according to McCarty, is a “consciously simplifying act of interpretation.” He proposes that “a model is by nature a simplified and therefore fictional or idealized [always-already deformed] representation, often taking a rough-and-ready form.” The model, then, is ineluctably a fictional representation of the object of inquiry. With “Mapping Ulysses,” my model seeks to isolate the toponyms from Ulysses to decode the spatial relationships between these points with as much geographical accuracy as possible on a Google Earth map. This first step opens up a line of inquiry regarding the significance of certain toponyms, unveiling the power-relations behind street naming, monument building, etc. Second, this act of isolation inaugurates an evaluation and interpretation of the characters’ psychogeographic relationships to the named locations. This is, in effect, a mimetic process.
Allow me to walk you through the data visualization: To simplify my project, I select the toponyms and pinning them to a map. In doing so the relations between the locations in Ulysses begin to unfold. Even provisional mappings of the text has opened myriad research questions and has elucidated much of Joyce’s aesthetic method. For example, I’ll walk you through a map of “Lotus Eaters,” the fifth episode of Ulysses.
- Isolating toponyms of each chapter into a separate spreadsheets so that the data is easily manipulated by collaborators. This also makes any errors simple to correct, and makes the process of correction and collaboration fundamentally heuristic.
- The spreadsheet model may also be quickly updated, so manipulations of the data are readily apparent.
- Here we can see the mapping of two chapters with a sort of panoramic temporality. "Lotus Eaters" takes place at 9 am, while "Lestrygonians" is set between 1 and 2 pm. More on this in minute.
- The isolated toponyms on the map begin to unfold here, and we get a quick sense of Joyce’s spatial method. The chapter begins with “By lorries along sir John Rogerson’s Quay Mr Bloom walked soberly, past Windmill lane, Leask’s the Lineseed crusher, the postal telegraph office.”
- When considering the chapter spatially, the insistence on Bloom’s sobriety takes on a new significance.
- Bloom is walking in a roundabout way here to the Westland Row postal office, trying to avoid being seen as he’s about to pick up a letter from his epistolary mistress.
- So Bloom takes a circuitous route, and ducks into an alley to read the letter. Here we see one a famous joke of Joyce’s. Bloom traces the form of a question mark, which foreshadows Bloom impenetrability to the other Dubliners.
- Dubliners always ask, "Who is he?" "What race is he?" "Where does he come from?" Rumours abound, but most Dubliners are always dissatisfied with any answers.
- Finally, presenting multiple itineraries and chapters at once, basically flattening out temporality, we begin to get a sense of what parts of Dublin are omitted, and which areas are circumscribed. This representation challenges the idea that Ulysses is a triumph of geospatial verisimilitude.
Critiques of this representational model-of abound. Johanna Drucker, for example, repudiates the map I’m proposing, indicting it as a “grotesque distortion” of the “imaginative spatial experience that infuses the text with images of an urban imaginary irreducible to its material counterpart” ("Humanistic Theory" 94). I would, in this instance, celebrate where she appalls; namely, the distortion she critiques has a specific productivity to it in that it abuts deformance—a subtle, but integral aspect of modelling and representation.
Deformance predicates the type of representation I’m proposing. Following McGann, my project commits one of the main types of deformance outlined in Radiant Textuality, namely isolation. On a basic level, building the map requires the removal of toponyms from the text. After this act of isolation, I have to interpret the relationships between these toponyms that are not always self-evident; the characters’ relation to locations in Ulysses is often difficult to decode. In “Hades” for example, the single line paragraph that reports only a toponym, “Nelson’s Pillar,” abruptly interrupts the flow of narration. Are the men in the funeral procession passing Nelson’s Pillar in Sackville street? Do they all regard it? Why does the toponym punctuate the narration so abrubtly? Finally, following the lines Alison’s project, isolating each character’s itinerary has open up some interesting questions about the gendering of the city: Ulysses has few female characters, but the itineraries they trace are wildly circumscribed compared to Ulysses’ men. The toponyms in “Penelope,” for example, relate mostly to concert halls and teashops, while Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy appear never to leave the Ormond Hotel, and even Josie Breen, who Bloom meets on Westmoreland street, never strays far from her husband.
While, according to Drucker in "Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display, “Google maps” may be “[s]o naturalized . . . that they pass as unquestioned representations of 'what is'”—something this project cannot hope to solve without attaining a much higher visual literacy—the isolation of 1904 toponyms on a contemporary map of Dublin to decode Ulysses exposes layers of Dublin’s spatial palimpsest. This subtle deformance approaches Ulysses as an historically situated document (which is itself already a deformed picture of Dublin that highlights the transformations between 1904 and 1922) and opens up a comparative model for other representations of Dublin.
Author: Michael Stevens
Word Count: 1010
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