What is the present value of Catholicism? Must it be defined in terms of a tried and trusted Roman model, with renewed insistence on doctrinal precision, firm assertion of hierarchical roles, rooting out of error, marshalling of all spiritual forces in a politique of global reach?
Unfortunately that model does not seem to be functioning as well as it did in other days. Doctrinal precision provides only an ersatz for conviction, mongering the fetishistic archaisms that cement a sectarian retrenchment; hierocratic militancy, in the spirit of Opus Dei, seems the last bastion of reaction against democracy and sexual equality; the revival of inquisitional and excommunicatory mentalities creates not a clarification of identity but a climate of mistrust.
If Catholicism is to take this course it can permit itself only one relation to the works of Joyce, namely, to burn them.
But there is an alternative way, dimly envisaged by Vatican II. This is the way of dialogue, which dares to expose the Gospel to the questions of contemporary culture. The literature of Modernism has marked out the space and defined the parameters of a spiritual quest that unites believers and unbelievers, yielding a lingua franca more comprehensible to literate adults than any sacred scripture. Kafka, Proust, Rilke, Woolf, Char and Celan are guides to the life of the spirit, and their works conceal the key to a contemporary unlocking of the Gospel.
Joyce, the modernist master who specifically challenges Irish Catholicism, has figured in its lore, unread, as the betrayer of religious and patriotic ideals sanctified by the suffering of generations and to which modern Ireland owes its survival. But his rejection of post-Famine nationalism and ultramontanism, now that Ulster’s woes have revealed (amid much else) the dark side of those narrowing creeds, can no longer be shrugged off as Bohemian petulance and escapism, sad quirks of a maimed and embittered renegade. Instead, one might claim that, as the one who identified the strangleholds that have cauterized and paralysed us, he took the painful first step of an Irish liberation theology, and moreover that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake make a major contribution to the formation of a contemporary Celtic spirituality. These works are not merely literary experiments; they are mighty apparatuses for the sounding of all the degrees of waking and sleeping consciousness.
Many Irish readers prefer the rich human fare of the earlier writing, though already uneasy with its hidden patterns and tantalizing hints of symbolic significance, and their reception reaches its cut-off point somewhere in the middle of Ulysses. Yet even in its remotest reaches, Joyce’s art retains some contact with its human starting-point, as John Bishop tries to show by taking seriously his claim that Finnegans Wake is a reconstruction of the life of a sleeping mind. Moreover, the labyrinthine abstraction and reflexivity of the mature Joyce resonates with much in ancient Celtic art and thought. The monistic, cyclic, pantheistic turn of mind that drew him to Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Vico and the Sabellian heresy can scarcely be dismissed as un-Irish if we recall the figure of John Scotus Eriugena.
One could also perhaps trace in Celtic literature or psychology anticipations of the freedom of mind that allowed Joyce to indulge, on the one hand, the anarchy and laughter which cracked open the Western logos through a liberation of all the possibilities of writing, and, on the other, the unrelenting cult of form which culminated in the polyphonic superimposition of so many layers of meaning in the palimpsest of Finnegans Wake. For Celts to embrace Joyce’s world is to embrace something of their own nature, the ‘uncreated conscience’ of the race (Portrait, 228).
He is as Irish, and perhaps as Catholic, as we allow him to be. To embrace him means to forsake our insistence on these identities, to share that disinterestedness which, as Beckett relates, ‘saw no difference between the fall of a bomb and the fall of a feather’, and which freed him to reach down beneath the feuds between Catholic and Protestant, Sassenach and Gael, which had straitened the mind of his compatriots, to a buried Ireland, older than and indifferent to these identities. This Ireland was of universal human stuff, as fit for orchestration in Hebrew and Hellenic terms or in the sixty languages of Finnegans Wake as in Celtic myths.
Setting his career in counterpoint with those of his contemporaries, some cut off in the years of upheaval (Tom Kettle, Frank Sheehy-Skeffington, George Clancy), some living on through the long twilight of the Free State  or in exile , one could say that he attained, in his airless world of words, that stranger freer Ireland envisioned in the heady talk of nationalist myth-making and the Celtic Revival, and that had failed to find adequate social or political embodiment. Working out the psychodrama of ‘Irrland’s split little pea’ in the logomachy between Shem and Shaun (himself and De Valera), he won through to an element in which Irish souls must be pickled if they would escape the ‘nightmare of history’ (U 28) that still weighs on the brains of the living.
Conquerors create establishment language, but eloquence on the lips of the defeated is either escapist or subversive. In the Irish case language fed on itself, for want of practical outlets, either burgeoning as infectious rhetoric or picking itself ironically to pieces, in either case making a plaything of the victorious tongue and asserting verbal freedoms amid political defeats. Both varieties of linguistic implosion feed Joyce’s prose.
In contrast to this conquest in language of a wider Irish freedom, it might seem that his dealings with religion petered out in stalemate. Louis Gillet reports such remarks as: ‘Of all of us who are seated this evening at this table, in a little time nothing will remain... I am unable to believe... We are all destined to be eaten by worms...’  Catholicism took the form in his bitter imagination of an uncanny array of ghostly authorities clutching it his soul from the depths of the ages. There is hardly a chapter in his works not troubled by the apparition of some sinister dehumanizing ecclesiastic.
His style absorbs phrases from Scripture, creed or liturgy which echo emptily, bereft, or deliberately stripped, of their original significance. He could not reshape Ireland’s imported religion as he transformed her imported tongue, yet his argument with it catalyzed an original spiritual sensitivity, alert to hints of inscrutable mystery in the least of incidents and the commonest utterance. Dedalus’s ambition to be a ‘priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life’ (Portrait, 200) is reported ironically, as the diction shows, yet it reveals the degree to which Joyce’s practice of sacralizing the commonplace by the magic of words derives from his immersion in Catholic sacramentalism.
Even his agnostic gropings serve, as Beckett’s do more bleakly, to light up the difficulties a contemporary adult Catholic is likely to encounter in his or her spiritual quest. Agnosticism is serene in Bloom, and almost sapiental, offering release from the fixated anticlericalism of Dedalus and Mulligan and also from the frozen priesthood of art that cuts Dedalus off from the human environment to which he vainly beckons. Agnosticism is eventually sublated in a will to celebration, which, as the obituarist in L’Osservatore Romano perhaps recognized, does not shut out faith but keeps the door open for a Catholicism commensurate with all the riddles and resources of consciousness and language.
The simple passions behind Joyce’s attitudes to religion emerge in remarks recorded by Arthur Power: ‘When we are living a normal life we are living a conventional one, following a pattern which has been laid out by other people in another generation, an objective pattern imposed on us by the church and state. But a writer must maintain a continual struggle against the objective: that is his function. The eternal qualities are the imagination and the sexual instinct, and the formal life tries to suppress both’. The key to a Joycean transformation of Christian faith is given if for ‘the writer’ here, one substitutes ‘the believer’ or ‘the theologian’.
THE ASSAULT ON CONVENTIONS
Spirituality in our time has to take a paradoxical, Eckhartian turn – ‘I pray God to deliver me from God’ – for the conventional idioms of prayer, in addition to suffering the inbuilt obsolescence of all verbal constructs, have been poisoned by long abuse. ‘I pray writing to deliver me from language’ might be the equivalent Joycean twist. He could write well only by over-writing, for he had not the natural eloquence, the continuus motus animi that keeps Henry James going for forty volumes of magnificence. His first drafts are flat (Stephen Hero, Giacomo Joyce) and as long as he remains within the bourne of conventional English a pall of dullness lies on his spirit: ‘My soul frets in the shadow of his language’ (Portrait, 172). His awareness of the limits any convention imposed kept him from trying to build a style which would be the ripe expression of his personality and in which he could be at home, for each of these concepts – ‘style’, ‘personality’, ‘home’, ‘expression’ – represented institutional foreclosures of the project first formulated as ‘to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can’ (Portrait, 222) but later developed beyond this individualistic focus. An ironic attention to each element of speech and an elaborate process of condensation, allusion, superimposition is necessary to release from the bonds of language the liberating word. The finished Joycean sentence casts a withering light on the facilities it renounces.
By comic parody, focussing primarily on linguistic phenomena, U is constantly undermining definitions, identities and conventions, microcosmically those of lower-middle-class Dublin, and macrocosmically, those of Western literature, history, ideology and religion. An upshot of this process for the theological reader is insight into the conventionality of all religious discourse and the need to surpass and sublate it in a free critical word, such as that of the Gospel represented over against the religious traditions to which it alluded. The forging of such a ‘skilful means’ (Buddhist upâya) for the communication of religious insight today can draw on the resources of Joycean parody. The conventionality of our speech may cease to be oppressive if we fully recognize its ludicrously makeshift texture and if we keep our use of religious words open-ended, aware that their validity has to be confirmed anew in every usage and that the play of their resonances varies with each new context.
Joyce’s style, or the strategy presiding over the various styles he deploys, aims to smash all conventions, showing their relativity as delusional constructs. All identities, those of character and theme for example, or even the identity of the meaning of a word, are revealed as flawed and feeble amalgams. That is why it is a mistake for the theological reader to focus primarily on the grand thematic structure of exile and homing, Father and Son (with Molly as Spirit), or on the potential of Bloom’s character as comic Messiah, for Joyce anticipates both Derrida’s demonstration that thematic unities are instable surface effects of the play of rhetoric and syntax that mounts them, and Lacan’s presentation of the self as a complex dialectic of heterogeneous factors, forever incomplete, conditioned and determined by the signifiers of the culture. Thus Bloom and the situations in which he figures are never allowed to attain the univocal sense they would have in a traditional narrative. The series of his meetings with Stephen constitutes a tantalizing pattern, hinting at shadows of epic significance, but firmly embodying none of them. Their performance of an Easter Vigil together (572-8)  imposes sublime patterning on trivial incidents in such a way that the effects of elevation and of bathos coexist and undermine one another.
Any establishment of meaning that claims fixity is promptly sent spinning by the text’s adoption and disruption of its discourse. The doubt that nourished deep gloom in Ibsen or Kafka, fuels in Joyce a devil-may-care sporting with chaos in order to master it, transgressing norms of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation, narrative, plot, style, literary genre, to show how fragile and misleading are the conventions structuring conversation, mores, sentiment, ethics, philosophy, literary criticism and every other academic discipline, time and space, personal identity, cause and effect, consciousness, religion, patriotism, human relationships.
The targets include medicine, law and theology, the traditional butts of comedy, and contemporary jargons such as that of science, whose ‘objectivity’, in the catechism of ‘Ithaca’, is solicited towards the sublime (the hymn to water, 549-50) as well as towards the ridiculous (‘ignition was communicated from the faggots of precombustible fuel to polyhedral masses of bituminous coal’, 550), in either case dissolving into stunning verbal performance – just as the discourse of Catholicism is made to dissolve. Even the grandiose mythic patterns in the background of the story are present only as simulacra, and even the established identities of character and author are deliberately undermined, as when Molly Bloom calls out to the author: ‘Oh Jamesy let me up out of this’ (633).
Verbal collapse instigates the collapse of the powers which define their claims in stable diction, and undoes all orthodoxies in their linguistic matrix. All power, for Joyce, boils down to the unquestioned sway of limiting vocabularies. The material despoliation of the poor is of less moment than the disinheritance of their minds, saturated with conventional diction, and the deprivation of lives trapped in a round of conventional gestures.
His method of attack on this bondage is not a satirical scorching of the alienating convention, but instead a send-up, elevating to new intensity the eloquence of hellfire sermons, Shakespearean scholarship, nationalistic propaganda, fashion magazines, purple prose, erotic novels, provincial journalism, scientific textbooks, usually on the basis of deliberate researches into the genre. These are the dialects that enwrap the consciousness of Dublin, explored as extensions of the varieties of demotic which provide the book’s lowest styles. In a mimicry that aims to release the soul of the city from these governing conventions, Ulysses plays back the talk of Dublin, vamping up its brilliance and at the same time exposing its provincial delusions of grandeur. Irish enamorment of English eloquence is carried to a terrific extreme in ‘Oxen of the Sun’, which runs through the historical gamut of prose styles in order to demonstrate a creative freedom transcending their constraints. Yet the tone of Ulysses is not one of satire nor of the Flaubertian irony of Dubliners. No matter how absurd or disgusting the characters, they are subjects of epic celebration and each of them make an individual contribution to the linguistic plenitude and diversity of the work.
Joyce’s revolt against Catholicism, recapitulated, telescoped and distanced in Portrait, was the launching-pad of his resistance to the imposition of definition on the texture of life and its expression. Such definition he saw as a lie, a way of hiding oneself or hiding from oneself, and a violence, an imposition of narrow boundaries and destructive divisions. In his disenchanted view, only one versed in the arts of deception and self-deception could play well the roles expected of him or her in Catholic Ireland. He opposed to these subtle nets not another vocal gospel, but a way of seeing, a subtlety of awareness, to which he felt his way by writing and rewriting.
The keynote to Ulysses’ critique of Catholicism is neither the mockery of Mulligan, nor Molly’s lax acceptance, nor the fretting of Stephen: ‘Of him that walked the waves. Here also over these craven hearts his shadow lies and on the scoffer’s heart and lips and on mine. It lies upon their eager faces who offered him a coin of the tribute. To Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s’ (22); ‘(he taps his brow) But in here it is I must kill the priest and the king’ (481). Nor is it given by the Bunuelesque exposure of the absurdities of the clerical mind-set in Father Conmee (180-184), nor even by the techniques of defamiliarization, the startling juxtapositions, foregrounding of details, presentation of the domestic scene through alien eyes (those of the Jew Bloom, as much a stranger as Montesquieu’s Persians when he observes the communion and funeral rites (66-68, 85-86), whereby Joyce mounts an exhibition of religious practices which shows them as odd, archaic and vacuous.
The final vantage is that of the artist, who sees the terminology and symbolism of Catholicism as a heritage to be used to new ends, to enrich the plot and style of the novel as a revelation of life. It is not impossible to see in this irreverent transfusion a religious purpose. Beyond its Voltairean and Flaubertian levels, Joyce’s irony follows a transforming star.
The dialectic of parody deflates conventions of everyday life and converts them on the spot into literary artefacts which may recur as motifs in the unmasterably dense polyphony of the text. Paradoxically, the mockery of sacred conventions leaves over a set of comic rubrics which serve to hallow the everyday, or at least lend it aesthetic shape. Thus the scatological recycling of Robert Emmet’s ‘Speech from the Dock’ provides an apt cadence to ‘Sirens’ (238-9), and the treatment of nationalist rhetoric in ‘Cyclops’ and Marian effusion in ‘Nausicaa’ coolly robs these materials of their pathos and unfolds them as stylistic specimens to enrich the work’s fabric. ‘Oxen of the Sun’ displays a mastery of all styles as the reward of suspension of belief in any.
This process of parodic transmutation begins in Stephen’s hyperliterary stream of consciousness: ‘Young shouts of moneyed voices in Clive Kempthorpe’s rooms. Palefaces: they hold their ribs with laughter, one clasping another. O, I shall expire!’ (6), and in the wry mimickings of Bloom: ‘Whispering around you. Would you like to see a priest? Then rambling and wandering. Delirium all you hid all your life. His sleep is not natural’ (91).
Parodic commentary allows both to integrate and master the data of experience, or perhaps to preserve the identity of their moi against the corrosive effect of exposure to the Real. Their mental processes reflect the narcissism of the artist who finds ‘in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible’ (175) and this Imaginary ordering is taken up into the wider patterning of the Symbolic texture of the work us a whole.
The saturation-level citationality of Joyce’s writings is already anticipated in the monologues of Stephen and Bloom (even Molly has a quota of quashed quotations). Shakespeare’s jokey self-quotations in Cymbeline (nicely emphasized in Peter Hall’s recent production) explain why the close of that play is quoted at the end of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (179). The triumphant order and peace felt by Stephen after his brilliant performance echoes the sense of achieved synthesis Shakespeare (unsuccessfully?) tried to communicate at the close of his first historico-tragi-comedy and anticipates an effect intended by the grand design of U as a whole.
The inner monologues are also entrusted with the first phase in the text’s work of linguistic disintegration and transformation: ‘Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don’t please poor foregetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha’s perfume’ (64). Martha’s letter, here parodied, is itself a parody on the author’s part (63-64), as are Milly’s (54), Mr Deasy’s (27), H. Rumbold’s (249), and every other document quoted in the course of the work, including pre-existing compositions, such as the poems of Douglas Hyde and Louis J. Walsh (153, 298: these caricature themselves, like the Sorbonne document on baptizing unborn babies, adduced by Sterne ). Bloom, Stephen, Molly, Mulligan, Mr. Dedalus are walking self-parodies, and the more two-dimensional figures caricature also the types they represent: Father Conmee as the Jesuit, Haines as the Englishman, Master Dignam as the Schoolboy, Boylan as the Bester. The parody releases the real (functions epiphanally) in the early chapters for it focusses not on general traits but on what is oddest in its targets. Later a hypertrophy of the mock-heroic, while not entirely losing sight of the events or non-events of the narrative, serves less as comic commentary than as parody of literary genres and the entire institution of literature.
Forced to reveal themselves in immediate gesture, the characters leap into unexplained life before our eyes. Bloom is always doing so in his stream of consciousness. Others we grasp from outside, and their self-manifestation is often bizarre and unexpected. The parody never blurs, but at every turn intensifies singularity, to uncover what is quirkiest in the speech and behaviour of the personae. Each of the novel’s eighteen scenes subsists in its own style free of any encompassing frame or context. The effect is one of naked vividness in ‘Aeolus’ and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, each character revealing his essence with concentrated vigour throughout, while the writing bends to the action, contorting into rhetorical figures (throughout ‘Aeolus’), or shaping itself to blank verse (167) and to dramatic dialogue (271-2). These vibrant exchanges are talk for talk’s sake, the quintessence of Celtic aestheticism. Though in the total context some of the themes broached have a pseudo-structuring role (pseudo, in that the thematic web never attains structural closure), the immediate and prevalent effect is of a brilliant foregrounding of the everyday and an elimination of any ideological or conventionally realistic framework for interpreting it.
If the stripping away of frames of understanding defamiliarizes the events narrated, they are subsequently enclosed in another medium which lends them their true sense: the book itself. Epiphanic realism is focused in strange and striking phrases, permitting a magical sublation of the realistic into the verbal, the enclosure of Dublin in the book. Bloom’s father’s book, Thoughts from Spinoza (233, 582), indicates this metaphysical frame, a monism wherein the events of real life are reduced, via the phrases that light up their essence, to aspects of the absolute substance which is the book itself.
The subversive power of this writing is at the service of an effort to redeem the whole reach of banal and sordid everyday experience – by a demonstration that nothing is banal or sordid.
The constantly heightened outlandishness of presentation defamiliarizes the material and increasingly the emphasis shifts to a defamiliarization of the working of words as such. There are instances, too, of what one might call defamiliarization by extreme familiarity, in cryptic notations of stray thoughts and physical sensations which the reader will recognize although no literary text had chronicled such things before. These objets trouvés punctuate the seamless robe of literature with the ruptures of the real. Molly Bloom’s monologue carries this technique to an extreme, contrasting with ‘Ithaca’s extreme of suspended familiarity. The comic subversions of secure identity are reinforced by and in turn permit the emergence of the real (contingency, brute physical materiality, that which is irreducible to imaginary or symbolic recuperation). Ulysses is as contaminated by the real as any text can be while still remaining literature, that is, while still overcoming the deadness and the absurdity of mere fact. ‘The reality of experience’ (Portrait, 228) includes many realms of eloquence and fantasy, but it always carries the ballast of these grimy references. They surface throughout HCE’s grandiose dream, notably in the form of the drab trappings of his public house in Chapelizod.
Theology might find here a challenge to extend and deepen the incarnational principle, shattering the ecclesiastical stylization which continues to exclude the ‘lower’, demonized dimensions of bodily being. Joyce complained that traditional authors ‘show you i pleasant exterior but ignore the inner construction, the pathological and psychological body which our behaviour and thought depend on. Comprehension is the purpose of literature, but how can we know human beings if we continue to ignore their most vital functions’. Again, for ‘literature’ substitute ‘theology’ here. Words and the body are Joyce’s two allies against fascism. Suppression of free speech and estrangement from the body have recently been singled out as the chief symptoms of renascent fascism within the Catholic Church.
Ulysses espouses the commonplace to the point of seeming a compendium of useless information and stale jests. At first Bloom’s mind seems only a conglomeration of trivia. But repeated readings increase one’s appreciation not only of his moral qualities but also of his intelligence, wit, powers of observation: ‘Same blue serge dress she had two years ago, the nap bleaching. Seen its best days. Wispish hair over her ears. And that dowdy toque: three old grapes to take the harm out of it. Shabby genteel’ (130). His value as an organ of perception and reflection is increased by an ability to make cosmic connections: ‘Cityful passing away, other cityful coming, passing away too: other coming on, passing on. Houses, lines of houses, streets, miles of pavements, piledup bricks, stones... Pyramids in sand. Built on bread and onions. Slaves Chinese wall. Babylon’ (135).
He is one of the two major strengths of the work, the other, which also grows with familiarity (against an initial sense of opacity and over-elaborateness), is the classic radiance, the epic plenitude, of the prose, its euphony, clarity and urbanity. The commonplace is assumed massively into a writing that is never itself commonplace and that constantly catches the commonplace at novel angles, setting it out in ironic or mock-sublime relief or finding in it an unsuspected comedy or pathos, effects partly enabled by the antiquarian character of the scenes chronicled. U freezes the life of Dublin at a point in the past in order to subject it to a treatment which, losing the flow of history and the openness of the future, becomes a retrospective danse macabre of codes and communications from the turn of the century. Not only is the movement of the characters arrested, imprisoned as they are in claustrophobic textual space, but the whole world becomes a ship in a-bottle, unnaturally becalmed. This is perhaps the price that has to be paid for so thorough a conversion of life into book.
Literary dignity has always been achieved at the cost of obscurantism, imposed not by bureaucratic censors but by metaphysical principles of style. Ulysses does not flout these principles, but carefully negotiates their enlargement. A degree of homage is paid to the three unities, yet time and place are so hacked up, notably in ‘Ithaca’ and ‘Wandering Rocks’ (in which the place, Dublin, is itself the protagonist ) that this homage too results in an effraction of classical closure; as for unity of subject, it is provided by the story behind the text which the text itself deliberately fails to match, for the epiphanic parody permits the presentation of life only at odd angles, cutting across it in a series of snapshots which catch it in states of undress, and abolishing the continuity of its texture as usually represented in fiction. Still the ‘grand imposture’ of literature (Barthes) can never allow the blunt expression of desire (deflated in any case by the impartiality of the comic medium) or disgust. It reveals only at the price of concealments. It is held in check by invisible, traditional laws, with which Joyce was wrestling to the end. Finnegans Wake, too, for all its licence is recognizably _literature_, a still typically modernist synthesis of revolution and classicism which never cuts itself off fromt he tradition it subversively transforms.
But is this art transformative only in the sense of clothing ugliness and chaos in the mantle of style and form? To some extent the art is shown to have its roots in the lives of the characters. The speech of Simon Dedalus and the denizens of Dublin’s pubs is revealed as crawling with puns and arresting idioms, and the more wilful inventiveness of Mulligan and Stephen lies along the same linguistic spectrum, as do the stylistic acrobatics of the entire text. Ripped from what is often an inarticulate and unimaginative context, these ephemeral fragments of speech become gems of literature.
A prose which nourishes itself on the noises of the streets can be sustained only by a constant negotiation of twin dangers: while remaining open to all influence, it has to keep fighting off the banality its sources threaten to impose. This ‘anxiety of influence’ is not stylistic only but stems from the metaphysical desire to transmute the flatness of everyday life. The writing holds together a downward movement towards the chaos of fragmented meaningless urban existence, towards the paralysis of unproductive Dublin, city of empty talk, and an ascensional movement to an aesthetic stasis, in which the idle voices of the city are gathered into the stillness of monumental form. The reader may share in the glad descent towards life, but he will find it checked at every moment by the literary conscience which imposes from, and a certain deadness, on the exuberance of life and even of language. Each of the pearls in the literary chain is formed painfully about a piece of Dublin grit, but the grit must in every case disappear into the pearl. Yet up to the very last moment this imperative of form is resisted by the disruptive urge of fidelity to the real.
Ulysses is a tissue of imitations of others’ utterances and its own, a set of variations on pre-given discourse, the earlier chapters serving as such for the later. It thus functions as a critical commentary on the whole range of human discourse, which it subjects to constant testing. In Dubliners the impersonal Flaubertian narrative voice was constantly exposed to contamination by the style of speech of the characters described, a contamination to which Flaubert’s own use of ‘style indirect libre’ often lent itself. The effect is one of ironic exhibition of the character’s verbal universe - of the character as verbal universe. In Portrait this contamination is constant, as the style reflects the young man’s unfolding soul, again with the ironic distance of portraiture. In Ulysses, however, every authoritative narrative instance is abandoned. Deliberately clumsy devices in the opening chapter, representing ‘Narrative (young)’, include the accumulation of stock adverbs (on the first page: gently, coarsely, solemnly, gravely, coldly, smartly, briskly, gravely, quietly, gaily), a stylistic game not so obtrusive as to prevent the narrative from being young in another sense, lively and bright. Once we notice the adverbial passacaglia a part of the narrative transparency of the text vanishes and we are left with opaque verbal artefacts (as when in Fellini’s E la nave va we notice that the swelling sea is actually made of vinyl); yet the adverbs used as Dedalus recalls his mother seem more poignant because of this deliberateness: ‘Silently in a dream she had come to him...’ (7); ‘A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly’ (8). Everywhere in Joyce’s work such recurrent motifs – the heart in ‘Hades’, wind in ‘Aeolus’, the names of rivers in ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ – can produce these discreetly beautiful effects.
Utter impersonality might seem to characterize the Arranger of such effects (analysed by David Hayman and Hugh Kenner), who comes obtrusively to the fore in the newspaper headlines of ‘Aeolus’, the overture of ‘Sirens’ and the catechism format of ‘Ithaca’. But in fact there is no single arranger; each of these voices is a distinct comic pseudo-personality provided for this occasion. The apparently godlike and remote personality is not the mark of omniscient intelligence but the stupefying baldness of print and computers, and they wield only the spurious authority of newspaper headlines or examination papers. Even these forms of discourse, the most inimical to literature, prove pliant to comic mimicry. Again, the last stage in our acquaintance with the imposing patterns sewn into the text is the discovery that they are only gimmicks that mock themselves. The more the narrative voices become compromised in their mimesis, the less reliable they are, but this is compensated for by the fact that the characters are very keen observers of one another, and the retention of their voices in all chapters except ‘Oxen of the Sun’, ‘Eumaeus’ and’Ithaca’ preserves the observational focus of the work until the end. The men continue a constant commentary on one another’s economic fortunes and prospects, which builds up a socio-economic portrait of Dublin more comprehensive than that of Dubliners. Even the adolescent Gerty MacDowell is well-versed in the secrets of her companions’ lives, and the unlettered Molly spills the beans on all the people figuring in her monologue. Up to the very last sentence new information keeps flowing in, even if not with quite the novelistic variety of early sections. The chief agents of revelation in the work are the talkative characters themselves.
Spinozan, again, is the conjunction of the majestic necessity of the literary patterns, the imposed styles, and the abundant randomness of the incidents and encounters they chronicle, each apparent contingency turning out to have a literary necessity. The novel exploits the properties of a small city, in which chance encounters are constantly occurring and easily fall into a pattern of karmic connections. The characters’ wanderings gravitate of their own accord to ordered webs of interconnections, a principle of complication, repetition, and retrospective design on which the self-echoing texture of the work can build. ‘With Joyce, chance is always retrieved by law, meaning and programme, according to the overdetermination of the figures and the ruses’.
If Joyce is the iconoclastic reader and deconstructor of the Western literary and ideological heritage, he does not directly assault that heritage in its noblest monuments. Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare and St Thomas are mediated by common consciousness in the showy speech of cocky students and provincial intellectuals, or the muddled reminiscences of a travelling salesman. Even when the text seems to be reaching out into the whole history of the Western mind, above and beyond whatever the individual characters are thinking, its Homeric parallels, its exoticisms of vocabulary, exercises in fine writing  and mythological machineries, do not constitute a superior authorial vantage point like that of ‘The Waste Land’, pitting learned culture against popular inculture. The authorial vantage point is self-undermining and can offer no superior wisdom not accessible to the characters. The grandiose patterns of the encounter of Father and Son planted by the author carry no further significance than what the characters themselves provide in the day’s musings on paternity and sonship. The omniscience of the ‘Arranger’ in ‘Ithaca’ is that of the family encyclopaedia, in which Bloom seems to have become trapped. Plotinus and Spinoza would hardly find impressive the meditations on death in ‘Hades’: ‘One of those chaps would make short work of a fellow. Pick the bones clean no matter who it was. Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad’ (94). Every pretence of knowing better than the everyday mortal comes crashing on the ‘reality of experience’, its bits and pieces of small change which Bloom counts and recounts in his alert musings.
The artefact which absorbs and transmutes this lowly everyday world, the labyrinth of mirrors which reflect and refract, distort and enlarge, fragmentate and reassemble it from angles innumerable, opens up a play of consciousness which surpasses that of the individual, even of the author, who is more its tender or miner than its master, a catalyzing agent, whose formal, textual inventiveness kneads oral abundance to a pitch of pregnant concentration, allowing all possibilities of ambiguity, polyvalence and transformation to multiply ad infinitum. A text in which ‘every word is so deep’ (62) and has the maximum of interconnection with every other becomes a machinery for finding the absolute in the everyday, God as ‘a shout in the street’ (28, 183). The author himself can no longer tell how much meaning is to be read into any given detail, a situation which prompts us to treat everything as sacred. This immanentist theological method - ‘I do not like that other world’ (63, 94) – moves from empiricism to phenomenalism to a linguistic idealism in which language turns out to be the truth of the phenomena which it names and, in the process of naming, reveals to be constructed from itself.
But each of these philosophical and theological labels indicates only the general thrust of Joyce’s thinking, nor are any of them unequivocal: there are probably germs of many kinds of empiricism, phenomenalism, immanentism, idealism in Joyce, none of which provides a definitive characterization of his basic stance. To say that Ulysses is a ‘secular humanistic New New Testament’  is perhaps misleading, for the sacred keeps popping out in Joyce’s secularity, humanism might suggest a cut and dried ideology which the text disallows by reason of its endlessly open-ended questioning of what it means to be human, and Joyce’s affirmation of life is offered in too humourous a key to pass as a Testament. Perhaps what is most salient in Joyce’s comic creed is the sacral status assumed by language as the womb in which the collective consciousness or unconscious of the race is formed.
THE AUTONOMY OF LANGUAGE
Since the conventions which are the material of the text are primarily of a linguistic order, the parody of convention develops into a play of language with itself, an ever-widening gap between theme and treatment. This free play becomes absolute when the constraints of realism (but not the re-emergence of the real through the disguises of the dream-work) are removed in Finnegans Wake’s quasi-autistic combination of intense inner life and disengagement from extenal reality. Here every word has a dreamlike life of its own and is held in check by no inelastic chain of reference. This abandonment of reference also allows an approach to the real as the chaotic dismemberment of psychosis, ready to erupt when the symbolic order breaks down.
Psychotic episodes occur when the intrinsic lack of this key phallic signifier – the Name-of-the-Father – is challenged within the Symbolic order. The confrontation topples the mental house of cards supporting the subject’s identity. Imaginary relations between moi and others also collapse. The real ego, heretofore unsymbolized, emerges as the ‘miraculous infant’, looming forth with a new name, such as Christ, God, Napoleon, or any other name not the person’s own, while the existential shape of synchronic relations (je) disappears.
Where the taut and, despite its density, transparent texture of Ulysses allows the sharp edges of the real to intrude vividly, the loose lapsing of Finnegans Wake exploits the possibilities of regression to primordial psychic chaos. The tug of war between symbolic and real (like that between social law and polymorphous perversion) in Ulysses is replaced in the later work by happier mutual accommodation under the aegis of infantile games and fantasies; the imaginary keeps both the repressive father and the threatening real at a distance, yet the strict organization of its play reflects a sane awareness of these other instances.
Does the art of Finnegans Wake testify to an inability to assume the constraints of the symbolic order, a failure of nerve before the demands of meaning, ethics, and the transcendent? Or does Joyce, following Vico, uncover the very foundations of these orders in the primitive mind, providing a radical therapy of waking consciousness by sounding its nocturnal springs?
Ulysses plunges towards a void where only verbal echoes survive the ruin of creeds and everyday identities. These echoes themselves seem to self-destruct; in ‘Oxen of the Sun’ the strenuous ventriloquism finally snaps under the pressure of having constantly to give birth and collapses into incoherence: ‘ All off for a buster, armstrong, hollering down the street. Bonafides. Where you slep las nigh? Timothy of the battered naggin. Like ole Billyo. Any brollies or gumboots in the fambly?’ (346). In this method of creation by collapse, which exposes language to every possible debauch, every lapse is retrieved by the ever-vigilant artistry of the text and made into a formal felicity. Even the gutter garrulity of the narrator of ‘Cyclops’ becomes musical as Joyce renders it: ‘Arrah, bloody end to the paw he’d paw and Alf trying to keep him from tumbling off the bloody stool atop of the bloody old dog’ (251).
The process whereby Ulysses allows language to deploy its own resources autonomously, both in formal devices of textuality and a free flow of orality, in growing independence from the demands of narration, is taken to its extreme in Finnegans Wake, which ‘disarticulates, rearticulates, and at the same time annuls, the maximum of linguistic, historical, mythical, and religious traces’. Theology can learn from this how much further it must pursue the linguistic turn, if it is to close the gap between its archaic, provincial, inaccessible linguistic world and the contemporary Babel to which Joyce, without ever deserting the gutters of Dublin, gave tongue.
In the later chapters of Ulysses the core of realistic observation and annotation is still intact, as in Bloom’s inner monologue, but the foregrounded styles now dwarf substance. Retrospectively the entire earlier part of the work is seen to be effecting already, despite appearances, such a subordination of world to text. There has been from the start a gap between theme and treatment, each chapter introducing écarts distinctive of a particular style. Paradoxically, the style that should introduce the least gap, that of science, creates the widest breach of all in ‘Ithaca’. Is the gap closed in some higher significance? Efforts to see the stylistic experiments of the last chapters as subserving the book’s fictional world are unconvincing. This world indeed continues to grow, both by a massive influx of new facts and the opening of the Penelopean perspective, and by the elevation of the protagonists to mythic status. But the writing outstrips these purposes and finally frustrates the demand for closure, using style to open and keep open an abyss. The fictional world so firmly held in place in the early chapters is finally shown to be a limited, limiting construct, and we pass out beyond it into cosmic or oniric verbal spaces.
The reader is gradually initiated into the mystery that reality can take any form words choose to confer on it. In ‘Oxen of the Sun’ a banal scene is transformed by the use of a succession of styles; in ‘Circe’ the scenes are generated by linguistic association, by a visualization of the verbal, as when the ‘Halcyon days’ of Bloom’s musing suddenly leap into life as High School boys (447). The autonomy of language is now such that to utter a word is to create by magic what it names.
‘Circe’ brings a replay, or ‘retrospective arrangement’ of hundreds of key phrases and incidents, now liberated from the residual constraints of their prosaic context. Yet this is not tangential to the material of the chapter, for the melodramatic pantomime probes the guilt, intoxication, and unreality of the nightworld with considerable psychological conviction, and its phantasmagoria is spun from a core of drunken debauch mixed with sensations of shame. These sordid elements are exaggerated, however, in exuberant staginess: ‘On a step a gnome totting among a rubbishtip crouches to shoulder a sack of rags and bones’ (351); the sense of guilt is acted out in the hallucinatory trials of Bloom (373-82) and Stephen’s vision of his dead mother (473-5), which bring to a grotesque climax the unease felt by both during the day; Bloom’s ambitions also attain supreme expression in his apotheosis (390-402), while the smashing of the chandelier (475) and the altercation with the soldiers and Old Gummy Granny (480-490) give Stephen’s posture of revolt its most spectacular manifestation.
Going behind the scenes of the artifice of fiction to expose its basis in the free play of language, ‘Circe’ exhibits the linguistic, textual substance of the events of the day; the world dissolves into textuality, climaxing in a delirious lapsing: ‘heart beerchops perfect fashionable house very eccentric where lots cocottes beautiful dressed much about princesses like are dancing cancan’ (465). Such vertiginous slides occurred earlier in the work, but now this sliding is becoming a basic principle of composition, and is taking over as the primary form of language, language as mumbo-jumbo.
In the spells of Finnegans Wake, supposed to plumb and awaken the sleeping soul of humanity and of Ireland, articulate communication is balked at every turn by its pullulating simulacra, every attempt at univocal meaning seduced into the nonsensical polyvalence of dreamtalk. Already in the latter half of Ulysses, one has the sense that subversion ends by subverting itself. The evasion of convention becomes an evasion of communication. Too conscious of itself as verbal performance, mimesis is reduced to an insubstantial miming.
But perhaps it is in the nature of language, when released from its bondage to the functional, to assert its autonomy and to devour itself in this way. Joyce simply let language be language, and in doing so provided an arsenal of deconstructive strategies to all who would question behind the imposingly substantial face our words present in everyday life. He shows language as a treacherous arrangement without secure foundations, spinning webs of illusion and conventional vision, which it can always dissolve again if allowed to. The dissolution never uncovers an underlying absolute, the tathata (suchness) of Buddhism, but only a new weaving of the web, endlessly. Finnegans Wake provides a schooling in linguistic scepticism, and its readers can scarcely write the most casual sentences without an unsettling consciousness of a thousand latent ambiguities. They have learned that to speak, to write, is to involve oneself in a joke of cosmic proportion, and they are armed to find ever afterwards in the pomp of literary, scientific or religious diction occasions for incredulous amusement. Yet they themselves can enjoy no secure, superior point of vantage. This writing constantly dislodges the subject and abolishes the conveniences of perspective.
Comedians have always made mock of linguistic habit, but Joyce’s inability to use any word except tongue in cheek threatens the very roots of sense and communication. The liberation it effects is so drastic as to be oppressive. This autonomous eruption of language could be paralleled with many other such eruptions in twentieth-century experience: the foregrounding in science of methodology at the expense of matter and the emergence of inbuilt incertitude in these methodologies; the foregrounding of critical procedures over substantive claims in philosophy; the structuralist turn in the human sciences; the various non-representational departures of painting; the prevalance of medium over message in journalism and politics. Finnegans Wake runs ahead of every triumph of language over solid reality, and helps us find our bearings in the flux of unanchored significance. Such practice at swimming in an ocean of floating signifiers is invaluable inasmuch as the contemporary world is such an ocean.
A BRUSH WITH NIHILISM
Beneath the subversive, transformative, and quasi-idealist roles of language lies a constant philosophical worry: a battle against nihilistic incertitude. This concern shows through as a jealous testing of the empirical everyday, thrown in kaleidoscopic dispersal as soon as it is written of, and as a doubt about the endless fertility of writing itself the fear that it may be an idle game rather than an organ of revelation. Each advance of Joyce’s art uncovers nihilistic possibilities, reveals that the world is ‘founded,… macro and microcosm, upon the void’ (170). The wonder of verbal creation may be a tributary and offshoot of the wonder of being or it may be no more than a spume on the void. That ambivalence is not dispelled by Ulysses or Finnegans Wake as it is in the grand affirmation of such artists as Dante. Indeed, Joycean doubt reacts on the literary tradition and forces us to ask whether it does not all belong to the same register of trivial textual play.
Can theology face up to this sense or the vacuity and jadedness of all its language, and then somehow go on to win from it a resurrection of the Logos? The resurrectional patterns of Finnegans Wake, a doubt-ridden myth for Joyce, might figure in a renewed kerygma that would have first undergone the experience of the fallen, falling state of all verbal performance and acquired a comic consciousness of the absurdity of all statement. The pomp of ‘Aeolus’, the futile brilliance of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ – ‘Folly. Persist’ (152) –, the bombast of ‘Cyclops’, the bumbling of ‘Eumaeus’, the monotony of ‘lthaca’ form so many discouraging demonstrations of the impossibility of saying anything or at least of saying it in such a way as to get it taken seriously, and Finnegans Wake speeds up the demonstration, habitually playing on several such registers simultaneously. Is a kerygma possible after Finnegans Wake? Perhaps only by assuming the posture of a clown can one succeed in obliquely communicating a serious message.
The epiphanal parody of Ulysses insensibly passes over into phenomenalism; the momentary emergence of the real is preserved as a static verbal construct detached from any serious referential function, a cinema still no longer inserted in a movement of history. As the novel proceeds, we learn to consider each scene as primarily a text, and the comedy becomes predominantly linguistic. Even Molly’s world is a fantasy spun from her flow of stray phrases. In Finnegans Wake any reference that promises to attain stability as an event, character or theme is dissolved, through perpetual variation, into the rise and fall, assembly and disintegration, of linguistic aggregates.
What remains? A nihilistic void? A hermetically sealed soundbox? Or an opening of language beyond its habitual boundaries onto a sense of the infinite? If Henry James could find a tender of immortality in the never-ending refinements of consciousness, and the way the world seemed to meet them, as if to communicate a message, Joyce’s experience with language does not yield an unambiguously positive persuasion; the cycles of rebirth in Finnegans Wake are also cycles of decline; the buoyancy of new beginnings is shadowed by the weariness of the eternal return.
Joyce explodes the traditional order of Catholicism, but is it to put in its place a flat secularity? No, for secularity is itself exploded in turn. The solid floor of the secular world dissolves in the tricky and treacherous self-reflection of a text which insists on calling attention to itself as text. Is the upshot then a reduction of all reality to a mere play of words? Or does this play effect a transformation of consciousness? Ulysses might claim to convey the message of love, tolerance and human sympathy, but the upshot of Finnegans Wake emerges indistinctly if at all through the fog.
Even in Ulysses fatalism prevails. Its characters are trapped not only in the economic circumstances of their city, but in the formalities of Style which etches the bounds of their possible self-realization. The final chapters are pervaded by the rhythm of return to the womb (Bloom curling up in foetal position); creative regression is the only way forward. In Ulysses comedy triumphs over all, but only just. The central incident of Bloom’s day – his cuckolding by a brashly seductive fellow-Dubliner – is of a kind which has sometimes provided rough comic fare. But here every ounce of pain is wrung from it by the presentation through the consciousness of the husband; and like the blinding of Oedipus or the destruction of Hippolytus it is made to happen offstage.
Yet the situation also corresponds to the central fantasy of Sacher-Masoch’s novellas, and to the social masochism that affects most Joycean characters: the young Dedalus takes pleasure in the taste of humiliation as his family sink to ever greater depths – ‘He chronicled with patience what he saw, detaching himself from it and testing its mortifying flavour in secret’ (Portrait, 69) – and the characters of Dubliners submit themselves with the same secret gladness to the thrall of a dead past. That masochistic fatalism is the staple of Irish spirituality is suggested in ‘The Sisters’, ‘Eveline’ and ‘Clay’, whose protagonists are shown succumbing to the sickly lure of self-sacrifice. Perhaps the economic and political paralysis of the nineteenth century made such masochism a survival skill. Since there is no way out for the Dubliners, they might as well enjoy their misery and their elegies for non-existent golden pasts.
Some critics define this masochism as a compulsive repetition-neurosis and see Joyce’s attitude to it as simply condemnatory. Thus they query Bloom’s claim to heroism, see the sublime close of ‘The Dead’ as a hymn of defeat rather than the birth of an artist’s vision, and interpret Richard Rowan in Exiles as a figure in a ‘comedy of humours’ rather than as the too naked embodiment of Joyce’s own conflicting desires. Joyce cannot sustain an attitude of comic or ironic distance towards this ‘taste for failure’ (Sartre’s definition of vice) which melts into a universal sympathy in ‘The Dead’: ‘His soul swooned slowly…’ Bloom and Gabriel Conroy do not win redemption by overcoming their masochism but by accepting it. Signs of an ideology of the triumph of failure in Ulysses include the humbling of the rebellious Dedalus, the glorification of the underdog Bloom, the fascination with debris of life, speech and writing, and the ecstasy of shame and humiliation in ‘Sirens’, ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Circe’ (continued in Finnegans Wake).
Bloom’s suppressed agonies of jealousy could be seen as paralleling the agony of incertitude about the nature of reality which underlies so much of the writing. Other of the unseemly incidents can be construed as a proclamation of the innocence of becoming, in Nietzsche’s sense. But the Boylan-Molly business allows of no insouciant integration into the comic web. If Bloom finally triumphs in the affections of his wife, that triumph does not end the oppressed and unfulfilled aspects of his life. These constitute a web that is spun out about the centre of Boylan’s visit to Molly. They include his sexual inadequacy, unfulfilment, and occasional twinges of guilt, his loss of his son, the physical repellancy which gives his presentation such a tang of unmistakeable bodily presence, and the contempt and mistrust of his fellow-citizens. Bloom’s sorrows do not reduce him to the status of anti-hero, but rather magnify his stature as comic hero. His inner security is an antidote to the poisons of doubt and scepticism which the world that surrounds him everywhere exudes, poisons which seep into his own consciousness in ‘Hades’ and ‘Lestrygonians’, and wherever Boylan comes to mind.
Sex can hardly be said to play an anti-nihilist role in Ulysses, with the solitary exception of Molly’s, contextually mitigated, ‘Yes’. Joyce’s sexual gamut is a narrow one: his parade of perversions is bereft of poetic overtones that would lend them the finest complexity, and if he partially succeeds in working out an alliance between sex and love or life in the figures of Molly Bloom and Anna Livia, this is on a primitive level and constitutes a gospel of sexual acceptance rather than one of sexual wisdom. He places all his male characters under a cloud of sexual uneasiness – one of Bloom’s first thoughts on the subject is ‘Who knows? Eunuch. One way out of it’ (67) – and far from cultivating a philosophical theory of free mores he prefers to make fun of any attempt to take sex too seriously by a farcical exhibition of sexual detail at its most embarrassing. Molly’s guiltlessness is proposed as the healthiest sexual attitude in Ulysses, but it is scarcely enough to free the others from their psychological chains.
Just as the ‘cynical frankness’ that he later regretted may have allowed the young Joyce to measure the hypocrisies of Dublin life, these chronicles of perversity play an equally crucial role in cracking open the falsifying proprieties imposed by literary forms and polite restraints on expression, to replace them with an art that shows the real without comment, challenging the reader to judgement, but baffling all efforts at conclusive judgement. Defoe’s Moll Flanders was the model of such writing. Yet though no judgement is ever formulated, even in Dubliners, still the issue of judgement is never entirely dropped. Like Stanley Fish’s Milton, Joyce ‘consciously wants to worry his reader, to force him to doubt the correctness of his responses, and to bring him to the realization that his inability to read the poem with any confidence in his own perceptions is its focus’. But where the puritan dogmatist aims at convicting his readers of sin and assuring them of grace, the Catholic agnostic debunks all peremptory judgement, while opening perspectives of awareness and sympathy that should give our efforts at judgement a riper quality. This gives the few moments where moral issues are explicitly raised, notably the end of ‘Cyclops’, considerable resonance.
The triumph of Bloom as one of comic character is not the chief warrant of an overcoming of nihilism in Ulysses. What compensates for Bloom’s unsatisfactory circumstances is their epiphanal notation in his resourceful inner verbalization. This is also part of a general triumph of language, one that Joyce can celebrate more originally than he can the triumph of love or goodness (just as in James the triumph of consciousness dwarfs the moral victories). Bloom’s ethic of forbearance receives less emphasis than does the grace of linguistic invention shining in every line.
To some extent Joyce abandons his characters, even Bloom, to their hopeless condition; the only redemption he holds out is that though the whole universe conspire to crush us, we triumph over it by the power of speech and writing. Joyce is thus himself the chief sufferer from the paralysis he excoriates, except in that one department of verbal vitality. From the start his art has signed off from any more concrete engagement with the world.
His Dubliners are held fast by poverty above all, poverty which undermines not only one’s physical well-being, but one’s cultural and intellectual possibilities, one’s human relationships and sexual life, one’s freedom to differ from prevailing ideologies and social expectations. Yet Joyce never so much as breathes a hint of any liberation for his characters other than that which his absolute freedom of formulation may signify.
The dangers of radical parody are not only artistic; such writing tends to undermine the securities of creed and human understanding which shield the individual and society from chaos and despair. Joyce’s comic art is never all smiles; it is an agon, a struggle for an affirmative which it barely snatches from the jaws of mere negation. His urge to test the meaning of the world by stretching the possibilities of articulation can be seen as a search for faith by one who put no trust in authoritative sources speaking from beyond experience or in poetic idealizations. Only the tried and tested real, the real manifested epiphanically, is worthy of faith, and the real is not fully tested, fully manifest, until it is put into precise words.
But at a certain point it becomes clear that the words splinter and relativize their real references, providing consciousness with a space for expansion that dwarfs what even the city of Dublin has to offer. This world of words in turn is tested by all sorts of experiments on them, in the course of which it appears that language is always testing itself, that the whole world can be grasped as a never-ending reformulation of itself. A traditional faith would surely have inhibited ]oyce’s attack on the frontiers of the sayable. Only writing pursued as a religion - a religion of absolute non-conformity - could break the limits of the Logos which enshrouded the consciousness not only of his race but of the West.
Irish Catholicism has flooded the world with words, most of them of a vulgar order, unworthy of the sublime verities they meant to communicate. Against an excessively rhetorical background, Joyce turned language in on itself in a searching critique, and he calls Christians to a similar linguistic self-awareness. His example shows that such a probe can lead to a re-creation, can lead perhaps much further than he was able to demonstrate. It may be that only a theology written in awareness of the Joycean questions can permit an inculturation of the Gospel in contemporary Western minds. Christian language can function as an expedient means only if reshaped in awareness of the radical relativity of all language. Joyce is a major source for the theory of that relativity. If Irish Catholicism could swallow him whole, and digest him with the necessary critical discrimination, perhaps it would find at last the contemporary adult application of its precious heritage.
 John Bishop, Joyce’s Book of the Dark (University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).
 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Grafton Books, 1977).
 Quoted in Tom Bishop and Raymond Federman, ed. Samuel Beckett (Paris: L’Herne, 1976; Livre de Poche edition), 49.
 See the various memoirs of Oliver St John Gogarty, and Eugene Sheehy, Mav it Please the Court (Dublin: Fallon, 1951).
 See John F. Byrne, Silent Years (New York, 1953).
 Jacques Aubert and Fritz Senn, ed. James Joyce (Paris: L’Herne, 1985), 178.
 Quoted in John Bishop, 423-4.
 See Michael Pye, Skilful Means (London: Duckworth, 1978).
 See Robert Day Adams, ‘Le diacre Dedalus’, in Aubert and Senn, 309-17.
 All quotations are from Ulysses: The Corrected Text. Student Edition (Penguin, 1986).
 Kevin Sullivan misreads this episode: ‘Conmee, in miniature, is form and spirit, a source of existence and life’ (Joyce among the Jesuits [Columbia UP, 1957], 16.
 For this concept see Fredric Jameson, The Prison-House of Language (Princeton UP, 1972), and R.H. Stacy, Defamiliarization in Language and Literature (Syracuse UP, 1977).
 For the element of justice here, see Cheryl Herr’s examination of the sermons of the period, which reveal a mechanical and oppressive dogmatism (Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture [University of Illinois Press. 1986], 222-81).
 Tristram Shandy, I 20.
 See John Henry Raleigh, ‘Bloom as a Modern Epic Hero’, Critical Inquiry 13:3, (Spring 1977):539-98.
 In ‘Hades’ (74), the mourners brush dried semen from the carriage seat (note Mr Dedalus’s ‘it’s the most natural thing in the world’ and the diction of ‘the mildewed buttonless leather of the seats’). This intrusion of the real, muddy and bizarre, a piece of meaningless static in the narrative, is symbolically the white barley meal of Odyssey XI 28, and may also refer intertextually to a convention of Victorian pornography. It is one of the chapter’s many images of death, close to that of cheese as ‘corpse of milk’ (94). In ‘Ithaca’ Bloom finds ‘the imprint of a human form, male, not his, some crumbs, some flakes of potted meat, recooked’ in his bed (601); ‘Penelope’ gives reason to suspect euphemism here (611.154-5). See Robert Adams in Clive Hart and David Hayman, ed. James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (Universitv of California Press, 1974), 112.
 On Jacques Lacan’s notion of the real, and its interplay with the imaginary and the symbolic, see Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (University of Illinois Press, 1987), pp. 185-95.
 See Lindsay Tucker, Stephen and Bloom at Life’s Feast (Ohio State UP, 1984).
 Quoted, Bishop, 420.
 Matthew Fox, ‘Dear Brother Ratzinger’, National Catholic Reporter, November 1986, pp. 1-30.
 Euphonia, sapheneia, asteiotes, as explained by Victor Bérard, Joyce’s guide to Homer (L’Odysé [Paris: Belles Lettres, 1933], xxvii).
 See Clive Hart’s essay in Hart and Hayman.
 Karen Lawrence, The Odyssey of Style in ‘Ulysses’ (Princeton UP, 1981).
 See Hugh Kenner, A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers (Allen Lane, 1983), 192-3.
 Jacques Derrida, Ulysse gramophone (Paris: Galilée, 1987), 60.
 These reflect the middle-class Irish autodidact’s approach to English prose rather than the voice of the Establishment. The sources of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ are just those the common reader might have consulted: Quiller-Couch’s anthology and George Saintsbury, History of English Prose Rhythm (1912, repr. Bloomington and London: Indiana UP, 1967).
 Daniel R. Schwarz, Reading Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (Macmillan, 1987), 87.
 Kathleen Bernard in Aubert and Senn, 493.
 Ragland-Sullivan, 198-9.
 Philippe Sollers, Théorie des exceptions (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), 81. Sollers calls this project ‘an active trans-nationalism’.
 ‘None of the discourses which circulate in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses can master or make sense of the others and there is, therefore, no possibility of the critic articulating his or her reading as an elaboration of a dominant position within the text’ (Colin MacCabe, Joyce and the Revolution of the Word [Macmillan, 1978], 14).
 See ‘Is there a Life after Death?’ in F.O. Mathiessen, The James Family: A Group Biography (New York: Vintage, 1980), 602-614.
 See Edward Brandabur, A Scrupulous Meanness (University of Illinois Press, 1971). Brandabur’s appeal to psychoanalytic orthodoxy’ (4) cannot do justice to Joyce’s exploration of perversion as a richly ambivalent resource for his art.
 Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin (University of California Press, 1971), 4.
 My thanks to Ciaran Murray, George Hughes and Masaki Kondo for many stimulating comments. [2006: On the Celtic dimension of Ulysses, see now Maria Tymoczko, The Irish Ulysses (University of California Press, 1994).]
From: An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, ed. James P. Mackey (Edinburgh: Clark, 1989; 2nd ed. 1993).