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Joyce à la Braudel: The Long-Temporality of Ulysses

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Abstract Although James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) covers only eighteen hours of a single day, the characters’ reflections and the symbolic networks of the text stretch the temporal reach of Ulysses to incredibly remote events of personal, historical, and mythical pasts. This essay focuses on a peculiar temporal dynamic in the text: by self-consciously basing itself upon the inconspicuous routine occurrences of everyday life rather than upon plot-making ‘events,’ the book hypostasizes what the Annales School of historians considers a long-temporal historical process into diurnal images. This temporal analysis of Joyce’s text draws upon Fernand Braudel, for whom history operates at multiple levels and is subject to various temporalities. Braudel’s interest lies in the imperceptibly slow-moving geographical time (longe durée), which characterizes the deep-lying “structures” of day-to-day life. Under such a micro-historical exegetical paradigm, the everyday objects and material practices of Ulysses, simultaneously synchronic and diachronic in signification, become the residual fragments of an evolving material civilization. Here Joyce’s modernist practice with regard to time provides an alibi for creating parallel narratives and histories. The long-temporality implied in the everyday furnishes Joyce with a perspectival basis on which history and its politics can be reconceived. It enables Joyce to present the claims, priorities, and challenges of the everyday lives of ordinary people, the real makers of a lasting history, as an experiential contrast to the ruptures and discontinuities of a nightmarish ‘grand history.’

Affiliations: 1: Department of American and Caribbean Literatures School of English Literary Studies The English and Foreign Languages University Tarnaka, Hyderabad 500 605 India


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