Gospel according to Facebook

Here’s the jist of what’s going to be happening at Textualities2013 this friday!!



James Lenihan

School of English

University College Cork



My paper will challenge the issue that social networks inhibit interaction. Examining how increasing online connectivity opposes physical interaction and thus, how being connected ultimately leads to disconnection from what is fast changing as the social normative. With the ever increasing social media forum to discuss, share and interact, we see how the individual separates from society to interact with the digital sphere. Is this the way forward? Do we spend more time tweeting than talking? Looking at the positives as well as negatives we see a real change in the core fabric of our evolving society and technology, the digital age, especially for the youth of the country to which Facebook and Twitter have become the vernacular. In an attempt to understand the lure and addiction that is the gospel of the newsfeed, I will explore, expose and participate in digital integration.

The positive ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ features are now social gold; a mention or to be seen as having liked a particular post is fast gathering momentum as social media gold and stature. It is the status, the more friends the more likes and thus popularity increases. Have we created the virtual schoolyard? One in which we project the best image of ourselves and hide behind the safety of the screen with all associated dangers of inclusion and expulsion. Is it necessary to tell the world through the status or photo or, are we developing to fit the whole story into 140 characters, summarising with a hashtag and conforming to the digital normative.


Representations of Irish-American Catholicism in the Diaspora

Having a particular interest in Irish-American texts I recently re-read Alice McDermott’s At Weddings and Wakes and Charming Billy. In particular I looked for representations of Irish-American Catholicism and found particularly interesting the more transportable aspects of Irish culture.

Contained within the texts, At Weddings and Wakes and Charming Billy, are iterative thematic elements expressed through events – characters and arguments both silent and vocal transpire. The presence of faith is ever-present within McDermott’s work, evident even from her novel title At Weddings and Wakes – both central religious, unifying and for Irish Catholics – social events.  These cultural and religious events are even more important in the representation of Irish-American immigrants such as those in our novels who immigrated to Brooklyn. The Dailey’s for example, are a family whose world-view is shaped and indeed ruled by the more transportable aspects of Irish culture; faith, community and to a certain extent ‘keeping/showing face’.

The presence of unification is quite prevalent across McDermott’s work in her use of religious, locational and emotional challenges. This facilitates continuity for the reader and helps to develop key concepts in McDermott’s work such as Irish-American Catholicism. Both novels centre on faith, death and the testing of relationships, the relationship of Billy and Dennis for example. Elements of honour, truth and tradition prevail throughout these novels of diaspora in which ritual events mobilise communities, centred on Irish-American Catholicism. Representations of the faith by McDermott are influenced by her upbringing and therefore can be read as semi-autobiographical in parts. Representations are positive in that she represents a prosperous hybridity of Irish and American culture yet keeps faith as the constant that remains unchanged which holds true also for the characters McDermott portrays.  A hybridity of her father’s generation views as well as her own, with reference to faith, is at play within the texts. The events of our character’s lives in At Weddings and Wakes conform to a very traditional Irish social context, both guarded and cultivated by Momma.

Irish-American Catholicism is strongly represented, achieved through a parish structure. “… the period between the two world wars was the golden age of the big-city parishes, which were an enormous source of strength to a catholic community that had not quite shed its outsider status.” (Lee, 592) Networking amongst Irish in America was facilitated by the parishes which were set up during the time the Irish migrated to the US. The Irish-American Catholicism facilitated conversation, interaction and began the community formation. This congregation around faith represents rural Ireland and the more traditional aspects of what it means to be Irish. Community, Identity and place are some of the things the Irish took with them when they migrated to new poly-ethnic places.

The representations of Irish-American Catholicism as positive is somewhat blurred by the father, Lucy’s husband. Early in the novel he remarks that the journey to Momma’s is like the journey to hell, thus likening the apartment to something demonic. The father is one character who goes against the grain of Irish-American traditional ways, evident from the tension we see between him and Momma. This is a strongly gendered element of McDermott’s writing, always representing the female characters as stuck and never moving forward, e.g. Aunt Veronica – the token alcoholic. McDermott represents the male characters as the movers, more modern and up to date with the times.

There are many symbolic metaphors and representations in At Weddings and Wakes as well as Charming Billy, mostly to do with the Irish-American Catholic faith. The apartment of Momma that the three Dailey children and their mother make their way to every week is representative of the church in that it is a place where everyone must go and meet regardless of whether or not they like to, their journey there is quite fragmented and disturbing to the children. The apartment seems to be a locational rut, a place where time stops and Momma’s word is law, likening the apartment to a prison more so than a happy place. Within this prison the children as well as the family members are bound by routine and tradition, bound by their adherence to Momma and ultimately to their faith. The one saviour and lifeline for the children and Lucy is the father, he is representative of their deliverance, always coming to free them, evident from the repeated use of the word ‘delivered’ within the text. The family never seems to extend beyond Momma’s reach or influence, exemplified on the Dailey family vacation and renting of their boat from a man who lived in momma’s neighbourhood, “He greeted their father, who seemed to have known him forever …” (AWW, 49). This supports the view that containment is gendered feminine and that breaking out is therefore masculine, the apartment and Momma are the containers of people and faith, while the father is the deliverer who comes to free those who have served their penance. One character in the novel transcends this gendered stereotype of Irish-American Catholicism and it is through her faith that she does so – the character of Aunt May. Entering into an order of nun’s allows May to get out of the prison that is the apartment and to reclaim, somewhat, her agency.

The extended family is very important to immigrants, as evident from the Dailey’s. Expanding networks of families within the diaspora’s what keeps them alive, quasi tribal in its execution. This leads to a key issue in the unifying social context of faith amongst the Irish in America and indeed the world-view of what transpired in the early twentieth century which is chain-migration. “Chain migration can be defined as that movement in which prospective migrants learn of opportunities, and have initial accommodation and employment arranged by means of family or previous migrants” (MacDonald, 82).

Chain migration is very much present in Charming Billy through the activities of Dennis’ step father Daniel who encourages family members to come over to America, this emanates from a very communal culture of faith and family, represented by McDermott as a positive in the overall world-view of Irish-American Catholicism. Billy also highlights the ease of chain migration though in his situation not everything goes to plan yet if Eva was honest in her intentions then Billy’s help and money would have been the conduit through which she would have become one of the many Irish-American immigrants. Dennis resents this chain migration that Daniel forces upon the family, often putting themselves out to keep up with the tradition. Sheila’s viewpoint is that this activity deprives them of an emotional life in their marriage. Daniel’s gregarious nature is inverted in his marriage to Sheila such that it drives out emotion and pushes them apart, rather than bringing them together. It is through such relationships that McDermott critiques and investigates emotional dysfunction within the Irish-American Catholic family, highlighting its dysfunctions and showing that being good to relatives and friends under the religious obligatory umbrella can be quite detrimental to closer relations rendering oneself emotionally unavailable to the respective partner. One of the prevailing faith-centred themes of Charming Billy is the theme of romance, both failed and successful, and that deceit which goes with it, medieval in its origins. McDermott investigates Irish-American ideals and romanticism coupling them with the multiplicity of Catholicism and alcoholism, paralleled in both texts studied. Billy’s romantic view of Eva is bound up in Catholicism, not only is he actively engaged in his faith Billy is intrigued by the protestant church and with the synagogue. Billy is uplifted by these faiths, a key motive for Billy in life is to pursue and partake in faith. It is only after the death of Clare that we see loss of faith, Dennis’ loss of faith and of love only to regain it later when he reveals the truth regarding Eva to Billy. “It’s hard to be a liar and a believer yourself, at the same time” (CB, 42). Charming Billy is a book about storytelling of stories and events, overall an anthology. Fundamentally our main character, the one who shapes our opinion and guides the reader is not in fact Billy or Dennis but rather the narrator, Dennis’ daughter. It is our narrators’ representation and view which the perceptions of Irish-American Catholicism within the text to the reader. It is her story which fundamentally encircles all others.

Throughout both texts we see that faith has a unifying social effect and the catholic world-view of such a religion is quite criticised by the younger generations opposed in the older generations which have little or no objections to a faith which can be so overbearing at times, highlighting conformity, yet it could be reason winning out – the necessary lie.

What unifies the Irish-American immigrants in our texts is Catholicism, fostering the community, encouraging expansion and urban sprawl in relation under the guise of faith and religious conforms, exemplified in Daniel. “Ties of family and community, although stretched tight by so many burdens, nonetheless bound together many poor and not-so-poor immigrants”. (Bayor 27) The socially unifying context and effect of faith within an Irish-American geographical area such as Long Island or Brooklyn has a progressive, expansive, effect in the macrocosm yet within the microcosm we see the cracks appear. Daniel, through his incessant need to bring everyone from home to America, removes the agency of Sheila, his faith in her. This removal of agency is mirrored in Dennis and his deception of Billy regarding Eva, he removes Billy’s agency just as his mother’s was removed by Daniel – without thought. Removing the agency regresses the characters to pre-emigration when nothing was a choice and life was a struggle within enforced boundaries, this is where the wrong is committed.

Works Cited

  • MacDonald, John. S., Chain Migration Ethnic Neighbourhood Formation and Social Network. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Vol. 42, Jan 1964. Web. 14 Jan. 2012.


  • McDermott, Alice. At Weddings and Wakes. London: Penguin, 1992. Print.
  • McDermott, Alice. Charming Billy. London: Penguin, 1998. Print.
  • Bayor, Ronald H., Meagher, Timothy J. The New York Irish. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.
  • Fanning, Charles. New Perspectives on the Irish Diaspora. Southern Illinois University, 2000. Print.
  • Lee, J. J., Casey, Marion R.. Making the Irish American – History and heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Print.

Saussure’s distinctions between Langage, Langue and Parole – A student view!

Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist who wanted to move away from the empirical and national style of language; questioning the language system he ultimately elevated the language in my opinion. Saussure laid the foundations of modern structural linguistics, developing the science and strength of semiotics, the study of symbols and signs. Breaking down the study of language into sections and distinguishing between; Langage, Langue and Parole. Saussure was an exceptional mind of his time and thus dominated much of twentieth century linguistic thought. Upon reading the scholars of Saussure and excerpts from his book ‘Cours de linguistique générale’ (Course in General Linguistics) –  inspiring structuralism as a school of thought – what has become very clear is that Saussure is the catalyst for the revolution of linguistic thought during the twentieth century; stimulating so many others to follow in his work, expanding and re-reading signs to create a new signified. Harris, in preface to his study of Saussure and Wittigenstein notes that “Language is no longer regarded as peripheral to our grasp of the world … [Words] are collective products of social interaction, essential instruments to articulate the world.” (Harris ix) Bearing this in mind Saussure redefined two French words in view of his linguistic project, ‘langue’ which is language as a system and ‘parole’ which is language in use, this is just the start.

Difference between things is what makes people understand what is said and depicted and therefore how we communicate.  Thus, the difference between, is what creates the meaning. Saussure knew this and he played with it as a child would play with sounds, fumbling until something sounded right, i.e. aligning the signifier with the chosen signified to create the sign. The meaning of a sentence happens beyond itself through difference. Saussure, in his infinite creativity and forethought created distinctions between what had once needed no clarification, he looked deeper. There are strong links with Saussure and philosophy such that his work preoccupied commentators across disciplines. From his work we see the emergence of a tripartite, distinctive, system; Langage, Langue and Parole.

  • Langage is most easily understood and indeed explained as a rule-abiding game. It is a universal system which has an underlying, fundamental, structure so that linguistic communication can work.
  • Langue is the actual language spoken, for instance; French, German or English. The language of the speaker.
  • Parole is the individual speech act. Romantic and humanistic readings influence one’s parole.

Language is a link between thought and sound, and is a means for thought to be expressed as sound. Thoughts become ordered and sounds articulated, for language to occur. The teachings of Saussure seem to suggest that language lies between thought and sound. Spoken language includes concepts communication through sound-images from the speaker to the listener.

According to the teachings of Saussure, he was opposed to ‘nomenclature,’ which basically is a view that language is a simple process of naming things and the naming process only. “’Nomenclaturism’ has a long history in the western linguistic tradition” (Harris 7) One of the most famous, and certainly the first instance of nomenclaturism in text form lies in the Bible. The Book of Genesis tells the story of how God brings animals, fields and fowl to Adam so that he could name them. In short every name that Adam gave was what it would be called and known as from that day forward. Critics argue that over the course of history and through language’s development, we have lost some of the true meanings of words and terms which once existed in their true form and true meaning, the recovery of such information and possible meaning would be the Holy Grail to a modern linguist.

To conclude, there has been an extraordinarily diverse range of work based upon Saussure’s teachings and from the readings of his initial insights as documented by the students in his course. The reconstruction of his lecture courses can be found in the Course in General Linguistics, an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the basis of structuralism and semiotics. This being said, Saussure is no ‘walk in the park’ but rather a walk one should pursue in order to achieve an enlightened understanding of linguistics. History does not impact upon, evolve nor articulate a language. History becomes accessible to us only, and totally, through language. Language therefore does not unfold within history, experience or taste etc., but rather history evolves within language. This illustrates the assertion that, provided there is not a word for something then it does not exist.

Works Cited

  • Harris, R. Course in General Linguistics. London: Duckworth, 1990. Print.
  • Harris, R. Language, Saussure and Wittgenstein, How to play games with words. London: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Joyce at The Everyman

The cast in James Joyce’s Ulysses (played at The Everyman Palace Theatre) did a tremendous job overall in their staging if the adaptation of Ulysses, especially given the difficulty of the material in this particular play. Ulysses is set in Dublin throughout the day on June 16th and into the early hours of June 17th in 1904. The actors were kept going from start to finish and did not waiver in the slightest during their performance. Adapted for the stage for the first time by author and Dublin chronicler Dermot Bolger, Ulysses is; hilarious, entertaining and emotional throughout. This play celebrates Joyce’s genius for depicting life in all its profundity.


Opening in darkness with just the bed visible in the dim lighting of the Everyman, the staging of this play, although set within space constraints, was exceptional. Third row centre were perfect seats to take in all of the action of the play. The props and multi-versatile set was one of the best assets to the play and for a novice it was surprisingly readily understandable, ingenious at times – especially to the Modernist eye!  The ingenious multiple uses of the ladder and the bed were quite intuitive, which leads me to the stunning stage design. For such a small venue – in comparison to others, The Everyman furnished an exceptional set which gave a more intimate and inclusive show experience overall. The set was designed with what seemed like hundreds of books, contrasting colours, globes and general pieces pertaining to the period – oil lamps and the sorts, extending out beyond the reaches of the stage into the audience. It reflected very well the deep and clustered nature of Joyce’s text and mind, as well as ideas referenced in Ulysses itself. It was a great introduction to what will be an interesting read.


Not an avid theatre going student, I really did enjoy this adaptation of Ulysses. Reading a play and seeing it performed are two totally different approaches to studying a literary work and, for me it was well worth the time. I was unsure at points as to where the plot was taking us but with a little imagination and forethought it became easy to follow. What I found most intriguing about the play was its sexual undercurrent which seemed to permeate throughout. The restraint and keeping of character by the actors was very commendable, even at the points when laughter could be heard from every corner of the theatre. The whole play works so wonderfully well. Admittedly, I was a little lost at the start, towards the end of the first act things began to come together and characters were easily distinguishable. There is so much in this play worth seeing, and at seven euro it most definitely is worth the two and a half hour performance.


It took Joyce seven years to write Ulysses, but it has taken years for Dermot Bolger to get his adaptation of Ulysses to the stage. With a cast, set and genius design Bolger really has succeeded in doing Joyce justice – no small feat! Well worth the entrance fee and a night to take in some culture. I would recommend it to any student of literature or even to those looking for something interesting, different and fun!

A thought on imperialism and slavery in ‘Heart of Darkness’

Having cleared off the ever-increasing bookshelf, I decided to re-read Joseph Conrad’s 1902 work ‘Heart of Darkness’ recently. A work of adventure fiction, laced with an heir of imperial romance.  When I first read this novel I was captivated by the portrayal of the native people and Conrad’s highlighting of the stretch and depth of British imperialism and it has lived up to the memory once again.

Intended, I believe, as a critique of colonialism in the Congo and the civilising effects of imperialism, Heart of Darkness is vivid and quite gripping for readers of Modernist literature. Conrad’s detail, description and events which transpire in this narrative inter-weave to form one of the best fictional works I have read to date. This narrative in its entirety has been read in many ways and through many translations by students and critics alike for years, granted moreso since Conrad’s death in 1924. Important threads within the narrative coupled with new characters being introduced throughout, keep the reader’s attention as well as transforming the narrative. The narrative perfectly exemplifies the depth and strength of British imperialism of the period, the real heart of darkness. What is particularly interesting is how Conrad transforms a personal experience into historical and cultural significance, succeeding in locating his narrative on the frontier of social and historical tensions.

From the very beginning of the narrative we see how Conrad’s literary impressionism shines through from his description of the young boy in the round table scene. In this scene we also see racism and class structure in its most crude form, “He allowed his boy – an overfed negro from the coast – to treat white men with such provoking insolence.” (Heart of Darkness) Granted, this is Conrad’s own personal view and perception of events experienced and it is for this up front tongue in cheek narrative voice that Conrad was branded a racist by many critics of modern literature. Illustrating the suffering of the Congonese enslaved through scenes of such a vivid nature highlight Conrad’s unique writing ability. The imagery of slavery is intertwined with the depiction of the natural world and its destruction, for example the whips used on slaves (made from rhinoceros skin) would rip layers of skin from a man’s back, illustrative of imperialism stripping the Congo of its natural resources such as ivory and trees. Embedded in the narrative are sub plots and complex undercurrents which highlight the plight endures by the native Congonese. “The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere.” (Heart of Darkness)

In Heart of Darkness Conrad grafts imperial romance to detective fiction through the story of Marlow and Kurtz. A journey, a death and a return establish a symbolic quest for Marlow – Kurtz being the object of the quest. The natural environment is depicted as the strongest force in Heart of Darkness, permeating all three sections and often being described as impenetrable and all-encompassing. Embedded in Conrad’s narrative (through Marlow) we see a parallel between the interconnectedness of man and nature best illustrated in the relationship between Marlow and his helmsman – one not realising how much the other depends on him and their worth, until it is too late. This is representative of the relationship between imperialism and nature. As in many imperial romances, a homosocial element exists in this text between the two male characters, thus aligning this work with other imperial romances.

As fiction Heart of Darkness was harmless but, when introduced to the highly charged imperialist sphere, it became dangerous. I would recommend this text to anyone with an interest in colonialism, imperialism and history. Racism and its associated connotations permeates throughout as does the plight and suffering of the people which is best encapsulated in Conrad’s own words as, “The vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured human conscience and geographical exploration.” (Heart of Darkness)

Works Cited

  • Conrad, J (1902). Heart of Darkness. Great Britain: Penguin.

Marx & Associates – A view of the class structure and principles of Marxist thought

Marx was a German philosopher, political economists, historian, sociologist and communist. Marx believed just as the feudal system was replaced by capitalism, capitalism would too be replaced by socialism which in turn society would become classless, over ruling the reign of elites and eventually leading to all individuals being seen as equal components.

Marx has distinct theories on how the classes of a society are formed which eventually leads to social stratification, digressing into social conflict as the eventual result. Social class also known as social stratification or social inequality is the ‘hierarchical arrangement of individuals based on wealth, power and status within a society’. (Macionis, J (2009). Society – The Basics. New York: Pearson Publications.)

This brings us to Weber, also a German sociologist and political economists, was critical of Marx’s theories and believed that Marx’s theories were too simple to illustrate societies. Weber (in all his insight!) believed in a three dimension theory of class; class position, status and power. Weber’s writings on social class structure were previously based on Marx’s ideas but believed that Marx concentrated too much on the fundamental structures of the economic dimensions. This interests me from a modernist point of view in that I believe the deconstructing of Marx’s theory gave way for the construction of Weber’s own, an adaptation of sorts with a view to bettering it. His theories are based on the 19th century feudal system and how class is divided by the ‘Bourgeoisie’ who owned productive property and the ‘proletariat’ who supplied labour.

An associate of Marx’s Fredrich Engels agreed with Marx’s theories on communism and wrote alongside him in ‘The Communism Manifesto’. Engel’s was also born in German and was a social scientist and political theorist. Marx bases his overall theory of social inequality around the idea of capitalism. His theories originated and were based on the foundations of the 19th century ‘Industrial revolution’ and the belief that the ownership of land and capital made one ‘high up’ on the social ladder in regards to the hierarchical social structure of class. He uses many references to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the industrial periods and uses them as the main distinction of class dividing class into two diverging camps. Marx’s theory of alienation, first proposed by Hengel, was a concept that people needed to reach a self- actualisation stage and with the processes of modernisation, many individuals experienced disruption with the social change and never meet their quota leaving them feeling isolated and oppressed from the changes in society.  Marx only highlighted two types of class structures leading people to believe that once outside the grasp of property ownership people could only sell labour and to be exploited by those of economic dominance.

Other factors related to social inequality are culture and ethnic differences, demographic changes and the development of social movements. Both Weber and Marx touched on these components in relation to the causes of social class. Culture differences refer to new inventions and new ideas aim at further developing prospects of the market and economic growth, Weber includes the significance of new ideas in his theories of class division as it enables societies to progress also drawing in the bases of discovery which has been enabled thanks to the technology of western modernised economies. Marx saw gender and race as issues also affecting the social structure of the economy, in his main concepts he clearly distinguishes between the fruits and resources that are generally inherited by an individual, or alternatively the oppression of being in the labour class division where race and gender minorities where restricted too. In generally due to the declining birth rates of modern societies and the alarming rates of immigration from rural to urban areas has a major defect on social division.

In my opinion both Karl Marl and Max Weber gave a powerful and compelling contribution to the analysis of class and social inequality. Although both present conflicting theories, they are elaborate and thorough in the concepts which are still sufficient to the understanding of today’s modern society. Weber saw social class in society as a far more complex than the two tier dimension of Marx’s theories. Even though Weber based his studies of social division originally on Marx’s theories is it transparent that major contrasts ignited afterwards.


  • Macionis, J (2009). Society – The Basics. New York: Pearson Publications.