Cf. 1922; 3:17, Gabler 3:19]
Mulligan’s travesty of the Catholic mass continues with a joke about transubstantiation–he pretends to be changing his shaving lather into the body and blood of Christ.
Rob and I had a long conversation about this passage and what Buck means when he says “back to barracks.” I see it as a garden-variety transubstantiation joke–wherein Mulligan is trying to keep the genie in the bottle, the spirit of Christ (or “christine,” as Mulligan will say in a moment) from escaping the shaving bowl before it can be transmuted into the shaving lather.
About the barracks. It’s important to know that in Joyce’s Dublin, a “barracks” was an all-to-familiar part of the neighborhood. In 1904, as at many times in Irish history, British troops were garrisonned in barracks that were cheek and jowl with densely populated urban areas, because their function was to control the people living in those neighborhoods. The presence of British troops on the street, their movements, their leisure entertainments, their interactions with the “natives,” are all an important part of the atmosphere of Dublin in June of 1904.
These days, the old barracks have been appropriated for various purposes… the now-called “Collins Barracks” is a stunning museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland, with exhibitions relating to decorative arts and Irish history. The barracks at “Beggars Bush” has a national printing museum.
So what’s the “genuine Christine”? Gifford parses “Christine” as referring to the black mass “tradition” of having a naked woman serve as an altar. Interesting thing I just learned from Wikipedia: The black mass is not a Satanic ritual per se, but rather just kind of a fun “extra,” a parody of the regular mass that’s a morale-builder for the troops.
If this all seems farfetched, there’s an lascivious and fascinating story in Ellmann’s biography (and elsewhere) about Joyce’s encounters with a young woman in Zurich named Marthe Fleischmann. In 1919, on his 37th birthday, Joyce made arrangements with his friend Frank Budgen to entertain Ms. Fleischmann in Budgen’s studio. [ Fleischmann also may have served as the model for Bloom's correspondend Martha Clifford, and Gerty Macdowell...] We don’t know much about what happened… Joyce later claimed to have explored the “hottest and coldest” parts of a woman’s body. Very unsexy. Apparently he also brought a menorah (!) to the occasion, telling the man he bought it from that it was intended for a “black mass.” this would have happened at least two years after he wrote these lines.