Buried Dublin: Redeeming Urban History and Collective Memory in James Joyce’s Ulysses


  • Maxwell Woods University of Wisconsin - Madison


Collective memory, history, Joyce, Dublin, decolonization.


In Ulysses, Joyce represents modern Dublin as an urban space composed of the sedimentation of its pasts upon one another. Indeed, Dublin’s landscape is represented in Ulysses as a cemetery of past events, buildings, and monuments. Although the apparent significance of this representation of Dublin for the concept of buried cities is rather banal—the past of an urban area participates in the formation of the present cultural, social, and material landscape of that area—Ulysses reframes and expands upon this representation of urban spatio-temporality through its appeal to the concept of redemption. Although Joyce makes visible the history of Dublin’s buried city, it will be noted that this history is represented throughout Ulysses as a nightmare: the buried events, buildings, and monuments of the novel testify to an urban history of defeats, dispossession, and missed opportunities combined with the need for redemption. Yet while Joyce illuminates this need for the redemption of Dublin’s buried city, the novel concludes that the city’s history is irreparable: the resurrection and ‘fixing’ of the catastrophes of the past is never accomplished and, in the end, is represented as impossible. Joyce’s Ulysses therefore presents a foundational problem for the logic of the buried city, even if it does not have an answer for this problem: if the examination of buried cities allows for the revelation of past failures, ruins, catastrophes, and horrors in urban history, is it possible to redeem them in the present?


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