an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 10, February 2013, ISSN 1552-5112



Joycean Eucharistics: Something to Chew On


Rodney X Sharkey





Well, I never saw anything like it in all me born puff! There I was walking up Grafton Street and who should walk down only a Pope, a Cardinal and a Bishop, as long as I live and breathe, at eight in the morning, on a Monday, in June! And they stop outside that newsagents across from Brown Thomas, to get a pack of fags it transpires, so I asks the one of them – the Bishop – ‘is it for the Eucharistic Congress that you’re here?’ wondering will he understand me at all, and me not knowing any Italian, and it turns out – Begob! – they’re only Dubs – well, two Dubs and a Yank –  and it’s not for the Eucharist Congress they’re down, but for James bleedin’ Joyce, who apparently – so they tell me – was well up on transformation himself.  And wasn’t it a lecture they were giving in Trinity at nine – ‘Bread and Circuses’ it was called – and invited me and all if I wanted to go, which is fair dues to them, but what the blazes would I be doin’ goin’ to a James Joyce lecture when I’m supposed to be on me way to the Oireachtas for work?



Now let us speak of that fellowship that was there to the intent to give good paper and they might. There was a sort of scholars along either side the street, that is to wit Robert yclept D’Alonzo of Little Rock College Chicago with other his fellows Gary Keleghan, representing the spirit of John Wall, and Rodney Sharkey, scholars of literature all. All too had once rode out together in Cyprus.  Of this morning they had intent to deliver unto the people three papers on Joycean Eucharistics, try as they might to poke fun at the Holy Congress, and they might.



Bearing what shape did the panel commence on the Morning of June 11th 2012?


For it was shaped as a horizontal triad as part of which D’Alonzo spoke first followed by a paper from Wall, who was very well up beneath (meaning he was to be found in good spirits in New Zealand, so that his paper as delivered in Dublin was read by Gary Keleghan, poet).  Finally, to complete the triumvirate and speaking shortly thereafter, Sharkey. That is to say, first the Pope then the Cardinal and then the Bishop.


Of what did all three speak?


Of and around the following comment from Joyce to his brother Stanislaus:


Don't you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do?  To give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own. (My Brother’s Keeper, 116)


So it was to be that each of the three there gathered spoke on Joycean approaches to the Eucharist, and how it transformed his artistic strategy.


And what had the Pope to say on the subject?



D’Alonzo argued that towards the end of Ulysses, Bloom and Stephen are figured at the crossroads of Hellenistic Cynicism and early Christianity. Punning on the role of ‘dog-ma’ in the refiguring of a Cynic/Christian relationship, D’Alonzo argued that the body of Christ and the body of Diogenes have more than just a passing resemblance, with the result that Ulysses can offer a liberation/awakening from the nightmare of (ecclesiastical) history. From Joyce’s observations about a “decrepit street cur” in the early essay “Ecce Homo,” to Foucault’s assessments of the early Christian body in Cynically-influenced sects such as the Domini canes, to Buck Mulligan’s characterization of Stephen as “dogsbody” just after the mock consecration at the shaving bowl, to the dog Garryowen’s recovery of Bloom’s parental caring nature in the Circe episode, the culmination of a pre – and post – Christian Cynical “care of the body” comes to pass in the gentle encounter between Bloom and Stephen at the cabman’s shelter. As Bloom assists Stephen to his feet, Stephen felt “a strange kind of flesh of a different man” (Ulysses, 660); a physical, historical and social transformation.


Having established how Joyce plays on the Cynic/Christian interstice, D’Alonzo drew attention to how – in one of his final seminars at the Collège de France – Michel Foucault spoke of the early Christians beginning to adopt some of the motifs of Hellenistic cynicism. For example, Christians elevated bread into the body of Christ.  D’Alonzo argued that Joyce’s Ulysses re-sets this moment, and it is crystalized in Bloom’s “internal satisfaction” with the smell of “our daily bread” from James Rourke’s bakery: 


…of all commodities of the public the primary and most indispensible. Bread, the staff of life. (Ulysses, 706)  


For D’Alonzo, Ulysses promotes a return to an early Christian/Cynic interstice, re-replacing the Eucharist with bread, and replacing “dog-ma” with a gentle aesthetic truth-telling (parrhêsia), in roaming patterns, never quite sure of a fixed home.


And so it was that on a day of Catholic celebration it was fitting that the cynics – and Foucault – were also acknowledged for their role in proposing a brotherhood of humanity, and a promotion of genuine forms of love. 


Of what then did the Cardinal – through the medium of Kelleghan – speak?



Wall, through the Kelleghan whole, spoke of how transubstantiation is of immense interest from a literary theoretical point of view. He noted that according to Catholic theology it is not a metaphor. It is not “as if” the body and blood of Christ have become infused in the bread and wine. Rather, the two radically different sets have become identical.  Wall suggested that theology displays an insistence on identity when there is only mimetic similarity accompanied by radical, irreconcilable difference.  In this way, he proposed that Ulysses produces and reproduces itself as a virtual space in which intensive quantities come together in encounters with configurations in extended space to produce new meaning. Thus transubstantiation in Joyce is not a single truth. To demonstrate this he focused on the psychologically pressing figure of Stephen’s mother:


Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the wellfed voice beside him. The ring bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting. (Ulysses, 4)


Wall argued that there is a powerful mimetic drive that interweaves the lines of Dublin bay and the green sea it contains with the bilious contents of the mother’s body and the receptacle into which she vomits it. As Stephen’s meditation on his Mother’s death deepens into “agenbite of inwit”, the sea to the East of the Martello tower becomes a “bowl of bitter waters” (Ulysses, 9).


This mimetic series traces out something like a geo-human space in the novel. Illness, the human body, the maritime surroundings of the city, artefacts and human psychology combine to form a habitus, one where the constitutive elements are linked by nature, economics and systems of communication and also by tone, texture and rhythm. There takes place in the flows set up between body, sea, psychology and artefact a new kind of space, one that cannot be characterized primarily in terms of measurement.  It is a virtual space — a real virtual space, elemental and heterogeneous — and if it is transubstantiation then it is transubstantiation in the service of producing differential identity, and therefore new meaning.  In this way, Wall argued that Joyce proposes a pluralistic, productive and profound understanding of transubstantiation. And with this the Wall hath spoken.  


And of what then – by way of conclusion – did the Bishop bubble and squeak?




He spoke of how on Sunday 29th March 1925 the Legion of the Virgin Mary marched on Monto – Dublin’s brothel area − and on each door nailed a picture of the sacred heart.  Once the legion felt it had reclaimed the place, its Director, Frank Duff, hung a crucifix in the centre of the flats. He recalled in a 1979 RTE interview:


I climbed up on top of the chair, and, reaching up as far as I could on this lofty wall, I drove a heavy spike into the wall and we put that crucifix on it as a formal taking possession of the place. (Fagan, 101)  


In the mind of Duff and the Catholic hierarchy this moment symbolically represented the taking possession of and slow transformation of Monto; indeed, so completely changed was the place by the occasion of Dublin hosting its first Eucharistic Congress in 1932 that the inhabitants built a giant altar to celebrate the occasion.   


Responding to this historical moment, Sharkey argued that Duff’s use of the word ‘possession’ is very appropriate; so too might be the word ‘occupation.’ Sharkey argued that Duff’s actions amounted to a religious occupation, which in turn was synecdoche for what was taking place in Ireland in general, namely the suffocation of the new nation by a deeply conservative form of Catholic faith.


Conversely, Sharkey proposed that Joyce is a suitable figurehead for an alternative ‘Occupy Movement.’ Utilizing Leo Knuth’s brilliant reading of the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode of Ulysses (Chapter X), Sharkey argued that Joyce’s novel works as an aesthetic foil to Duff’s symbolic gesture.  Bloom, who appears in the central section of the ‘Wandering Rocks’ – with 9 sections on each side – is also placed by Joyce at the topological centre of the city, under Merchant’s arch. As Father Conmee and the Viceroy, representative of the Church and the State (the two institutions to which Stephen feels enslaved) move in opposite directions away from the centre, “we can make the two routes form an X on the map of Dublin, with Bloom practically at the intersection of the two lines,” crucified by thoughts of the Molly and Boylan affair (Knuth, 406). Thus, although the twin lines of Joyce’s X are representative of Church and State, they also constitute a topological metaphor for Joyce’s own creative occupation of Dublin as host; a creative refashioning that ushers out dogmatism (both the Church and State are seen to be departing the city) while reinstating the earthy and sensual as Bloom buys The Sweets of Sin, a cheap erotic novel, for Molly.  If Frank Duff felt his crucifix was a symbolic act of possession and occupation, Joyce creates a fictional heterocosm that seeks to transform the material realm, if not in substance then certainly in thought.  Thus, James Joyce’s X is like an intellectual occupation, which is what proper appreciation of the Eucharist is, apprehension of and intellectual meditation on the meaning of being a Host.


Furthermore, by capturing Monto in the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses, Sharkey proposed that Joyce’s work perpetually sensualises the Dublin landscape, resisting conservative territorialisations with the regenerative desires of the subaltern.  So as opposed to Frank Duff’s desire to possess Monto, Joyce’s work provides for an irruptive literary eXorcism signaling the ongoing development of an Irish secular egalitarian, plural and yet spiritual imagination.  Sharkey concluded by arguing that this imagination produces Finnegans Wake, a text the meaning of which is balanced between the writer’s imagination and the readers’ irruptive desire. It is “that host that hast one on the hoose when backturns when he facefronts none none in the house his geust has guest” (Finnegans Wake, 369). And speaking of unacknowledged guests, Sharkey quoted Jean Michel Rabaté who notes that:


The Wake endlessly recounts stories revolving around a constant immixture of otherness into the [Irish] nation with the successive waves of assimilation turning Picts, Vikings, Norsemen, Norman invaders, British settlers, Jewish merchants, Chinese traders and so on into a restless but predominantly Irish mass that would seethe and irrupt at times. (Rabaté, 177)


So it is that Joyce brings to literary discourse a new understanding of creativity and sensualism, and to the relationship between notions of indigenous culture and the Other he brings the need for an imminent and constant transformation in which we hear a ‘collideorscape (FW 143.28) in all ‘flores of speech ’ (FW 143.04). Thus Sharkey concluded that Joycean Eucharistics have much to say to a modern, plural Ireland and its denizens.


And with this he did cease to speak, which is probably just as well.





And lo then did we perceive them, ever them, old school critical heretics surrounded on all sides by a great brightness, and lo, a bell did ring and they were changed, all changed, for they had come, and saw, and were transformed, so that the raiments of the mortal priests did disappear and fall away, and they were transformed into He – the great James Joyce – as boy and man and creator, so that the three parts of a trinity did materialize in Trinity, and corresponded to the three stages of Elvis as had been foretold by the venerable theologians Crilly and McGuire. And so it was that the Trinity trinity were changed, changed utterly, and so did head off to Kehoes for an early morning pint, and a glass of Jameson and milk, for without their shovel they could not go to work. 



an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 10, February 2013, ISSN 1552-5112



Fagan. Terry and the North Inner City Folklore Project, Monto, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Dublin: Printwell, 2009.


Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. London: Faber and Faber, 1939.

Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1984.


Joyce. Stanislaus, My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years. London: Faber & Faber, 1982.


Knuth, Leo. “A Bathymetric Reading of Joyce's Ulysses, Chapter X,” James Joyce Quarterly 9.4 (Summer, 1972): 405-422.


Rabaté, Jean-Michel, James Joyce and the Politics of Egoism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.