A way to follow in Bloom's steps

June 18, 2004

Scholars have devised a virtual environment that can help make sense of one of the most complicated episodes of James Joyce's Ulysses .

Details of the Bloomsday Machine were revealed in Dublin on the eve of the 100th Bloomsday, the date on which the novel was set. It creates an immersive, computer-mediated virtual environment within a 2.5m dome using a fish-eye projector.

Its six creators from Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art hope their innovative approach will illuminate an episode known as "The Wandering Rocks", which is one of the more testing in a book notorious for baffling as well as intriguing its readers.

The Bloomsday Machine does this by tracking the interweaving paths of a host of characters as they move around the streets of Dublin on the afternoon of June 16 1904. At its present early stage, it plots each individual's independent movements dynamically on a map of the city centre based on clues gleaned from the text.

The scholars have also put together a three-dimensional representation of 7 Eccles Street, the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom, two of the principal characters of Ulysses.

Joyce, who worked on Ulysses in Zurich, Trieste and Paris, used a directory, map and stopwatch to plot the progress of his characters as they crisscrossed Dublin. The Bloomsday Machine helps unravel that layer of complexity.

Ian Gunn, co-author with Clive Hart of James Joyce's Dublin: A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses and head of computing at Edinburgh University's architecture department, described it as a visualisation tool.

"The Bloomsday Machine offers a unique insight into the complexities of the text and an almost limitless supply of novel perspectives on it," he said.

Mark Wright, research fellow at Edinburgh University's Virtual Environment Centre and Edinburgh College of Art, said Joyce's efforts had inspired the project, but he wanted to go further.

"We start off with James Joyce because it's the centenary of Bloomsday, but we want to create a new, truly postmodern narrative medium," he said.

He said the machine could help authors create the framework for works that are bound to a particular geographical location. This could even involve weaving together a narrative from footage shot by actors equipped with global positioning system packs who are scattered across a city.

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