Bobsday, Temporal Resonance, and Building Your Own Portapew
That’s what Joyce was trying to do in Ulysses. For those of you who don’t know, Ulysses, although it is some six or seven hundred pages long, takes place in a single 24 hour day, mostly in the life of a single person wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904 (for Joyce lovers, this day is celebrated each year as Bloomsday, in reference to one of the lead characters, Leopold Bloom).
Ironically, the book is an “epic,” but obviously not in the usual way. Instead of a sweeping panorama of history with larger-than-life heroes, we are given minute details of the thoughts and actions of the three main characters as they go through a rather typical day. To make his point, the chapters of the book are structured so that the one day pilgrimage of Bloom resonates with the 19 years of wandering by Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey. Seemingly random occurrences throughout the day resonate on a deep, archetypal level with the myths of antiquity. Thus, Joyce is also saying something quite novel about the structure of time itself--that it is not mere empty duration, but full of rich archetypal resonance if only we learn how to see it.
Joyce was a loose proponent of the philosopher Giambattista Vico’s cyclical structure of history, which begins with the age of chaos, followed by the age of gods, then the age of kings, and finally, our present age: the age of mere men. But even in the secular, unheroic age of the Last Men, we still have access to everything that preceded us and lies beneath the surface flow of temporal events--again, if we know how to appreciate it. It’s as if time has its own unconscious.
That is, we now understand that our waking ego is surrounded on all sides by a huge reservoir of unconscious energies, both high and low. It is the same with time. If you cut across it vertically, it is hyperdense with multiple meanings. It is like a fractal, in the sense that any point of it contains the whole of it.
Here again, at the risk of belaboring a metaphor, this is what it means to live vertically. One of the purposes of any spiritual practice is to “dilate” time in order to enter its vertical dimension--to leave secular time and to enter sacred time. For Jews, this is what the sabbath is all about: exiting chronological time and entering a different space that is resonating with every previous sabbath, which are somehow all copresent. In reality, there is only the one eternal sabbath to participate in and partake of, where we may get off the endless merribundity-go-round, relux and rejewvenate.
Likewise, what is the Christian mass but an entrance into deep time, where you are sitting by the Lord and participating in the Last Supper? Isn’t this what it means to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood? This is where God is located, where we apprehend more than the cold hand of mechanical reason ever could.
So back to my day. I actually do, in so far as it is possible, try to live my life in this manner. I don’t imagine that there is some other, better life located somewhere else, either in the past, or in the future, or happening to someone else. There is only this life, which, like a machine, drags us along ceaselessly in the horizontal. We don’t have much control over that.
Where we do have control is in the vertical, but only if we work at creating a little space or “slack” from which to operate. We must learn to be the spacious and tranquil I of the hurrycon--the sinister conspiracy to make you hurry up and lose your center--and reverse figure and ground, so that time is seen as a sort of overflow, or “boiling over” from eternity into time, a dancing and ever-changing revelation of the eternal mind in the things of time.
To put it another way, we must build a sort of portable “internal monastery” that we carry with us. Regarding the world from this monastery, we see it not just as mere information to be processed, but as a marvelous gift capable of stimulating a sense of wonder and gratitude.