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Judaism in Calypso through Lestrygonians

Monday, September 28, 2009; 07:02 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Oof, apologies for being hours late. In this post I’m focusing mostly on Aeolus and Lestrygonians, but I’m addressing themes that are present throughout the chapters before them as well.

For characters that aren’t Bloom, ancient Israel and the Jewish people are an easy parallel to draw with Ireland and the Irish. This is made especially explicit in Aeolus when MacHugh likens the Romans to the English and the Jews to the Irish, explaining that both the Roman and the Englishman “brought to every new shore on which he set his foot [. . .] only his cloacal obsession” (7.492-3), while oppressing the more spiritual and creative parts of the dominated lands (that this book so occupies itself with bowel movements seems to imply that Joyce is doing something more than just echoing his characters’ sentiments). While Bloom later seems to express opinions contrary to this excrement-culture dichotomy (his thoughts about “the harp that once did starve us all” (8.605) could imply that despite all the culture of the Jews and Ireland, they can’t expect to successfully maintain nations without putting food on the table), the Christian characters in the novel seem to see this as a pretty viable way to see things.

I should also note that despite the ease by which Bloom’s colleagues use Israel as a stand-in for Ireland, their simultaneous shunning of Bloom himself based on his religion draws attention to their hypocrisy. While Nannetti (a Roman?!) can be “more Irish than the Irish” (7.100), Bloom must perpetually endure social exclusion due to his Jewish heritage. It seems like this further discredits their claims and further distances them from the reality of their situations.

What’s interesting is the way in which Jews and Judaism are characterized by Bloom varies so much from the Ireland-Israel parallel set out by other (non-Jewish) characters. Bloom is notably absent during the entire Aeolus discussion about Semites v. Romans, and the way that he thinks about Jewish customs (he confuses rituals at Passover, for example, which both plays into his tendency to almost get things right and also shows his detachment from his heritage (7.206-216)) and even Jewish friends (like Citron) indicates that he’s pretty estranged from Judaism as a whole, despite how much it seems to shape his thoughts. It does very seriously shape his thoughts, though. Bloom’s constant thinking of the Agendath Netaim ad (most recently at the end of Lestrygonians (8.1184)) and Palestine works as a kind of salvation from his current existence, one with a happy married life full of melons. His metempsychotic relationship with Moses seems to imply that he won’t live to see this sort of paradise (7.873), but it exists (like his relationship with Martha and much else) as an ideal in his head instead of an actual factual thing.

Update: I mentioned this in class, and I want to flesh it out a bit. A few posts ago I mentioned Gifford’s annotation of Buck Mulligan’s want for a “Hellenised” Ireland (1.158) and how this contrasted with a “Hebraised” one contrasts Greek and Semitic culture directly. I think it’s not unreasonable to see Greek and Roman culture on one side of a dichotomy and Jewish and Christian on the other given the ways in which Roman and Jewish culture interact in Aeolus, and this works especially interestingly in that Bloom is at once metempsychotically connected to Jews (Moses) and Greeks (Odysseus), as is Stephen with his origins tied to “Aleph, alpha” (3.39). And then what of J. J. O’Molloy’s discussion of “the Moses of Michelangelo in the vatican” (7.757), in which Jewish culture is interpreted by Roman (and obviously Christian) culture?

And (!!!) if Jews and Greeks are both tied to Ireland and Christians and Romans are both tied to Britain, does the fact that Joyce is writing an Irish novel in English have any significance given the Moses of Michelangelo bit?

This is all extremely muddled, both because there are so many possible dichotomies that can be set up and because they’re all intentionally transgressed (and because I haven’t thought this all the way through), but I think there’s something happening here about Bloom’s identity, Ireland’s identity, Joyce’s identity, et cetera.

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