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Bloom and Zionism

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 04:43 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Davison, Neil R., “‘Still an idea behind it’: Trieste, Jewishness, and Zionism in Ulysses,” James Joyce Quarterly vol. 38, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer 2001), pp. 373-394.

Given our progress in Ulysses so far, I’m only going to cover part of this article for now, but I hope to address the later parts (specifically those that address “Cyclops,” “Circe” and “Ithaca”) in later posts.

Davison writes about how it’s pretty common for people to read the Zionism (modern and ancient) expressed in Ulysses as analogous to Sinn Fein republicanism, but that such an analogy “implies that the controversies over Zionism which Joyce absorbed from 1905 to 1915 in Trieste can be conflated into a portrait of the movement as a modern, racialist nationalism and thus a form of colonial mimicry” (373). Davison argues that Joyce is doing a lot more than simply conflating the two.

Bloom, Davison writes, is not a full-on Zionist: his response to Agendath Netaim, “Your name entered for life as owner in the book of the union (4.197-8) is a farcical translation of the Jewish liturgical phrase “to be inscribed in the book of life,” invoked in a land speculation pamphlet “so as to evince the materialist reality of capital used to gain foreign territory” while debunking any religious claims to the land (384). Bloom’s remark, “Nothing doing” (4.200), shows that he doesn’t really buy what Agendath Netaim is selling. That he snaps out of his fantasy by stating “Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now” (4.232-3) implies that he’s more concerned with his present state than some far-off Zion that may or may not be feasible or fulfilling.

But in between all that, Bloom remarks, “Still an idea behind it” (4.200). Davison writes, “the dream here—Joyce seems to be emphasizing—is about the possibility but not the probability of modern Zionism” (386), that despite Bloom’s doubts, he “is simultaneously hopeful that the better lights of [his] Judaic-based Jewishness might someday find an expression in a territory free of racialist, religious, and economic anti-Semitism” (390). Whether or not it’s feasible, Bloom continues thinking about it because it offers some sort of salvation from his current sufferings (once again, this relates to Bloom’s correspondence with Martha).

One more thing. Davison notes that the butcher Dlugacz serves as a contrast to Bloom’s ambivalence towards Zionism and that his more fervent support relates to his greater masculinity: “Deep voice that fellow Dlugacz has. Agendath what is it? Now, my miss. Enthusiast” (4.492-3), Joyce writes. This masculinity/nationalism correlation is something I’ve seen in other works (there’s a lot about moustaches and reactionary nationalism in Midnight’s Children for instance) and I’d like to see if it’s repeated in Ulysses.

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