Sensory Overload in James Joyce's Ulysses

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Sensory Overload in James Joyce's Ulysses

In writing about the experience of reading Ulysses, one critic has commented that "it's rather like wearing earphones plugged into someone's brain, and monitoring an endless tape-recording of the subject's impressions, reflections, questions, memories and fantasies, as they are triggered either by physical sensations or the association of ideas" (Lodge 47). Indeed, the aural sense plays a crucial role throughout much of the novel. But in the "Wandering Rocks" section especially, one experiences a sort of sensory overload as one is presented with nineteen vignettes of one hour in the life of Dublin's denizens which, while seemingly disparate, are skillfully connected events.

Parallax, a term chiefly found in photographic terminology, refers to "an apparent change in the direction of an object, caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition). It is as if Joyce uses 19 different "live" camera shots in this chapter, shuttling between wide angles, and zooms, dissolving from one extreme close-up to a long slow dolly shot. Visual acuity is often distorted from Joyce's simultaneous angles of narration. As one scene abruptly "flips" to the next by Joyce's literary remote control, the reader is bombarded with an accretion of visual stimuli--not unlike watching a multi-channel television screen. What results is a sort of parallax of prose, an interesting chapter in which Dublin society is presented as both connected and disjointed; as imprisoned and yet wandering aimlessly through turgid streets.

What seems to be of particular significance in the "Wandering Rocks" secti...

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