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A couple of Questions

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 04:07 am Leave a comment Go to comments

For this post I’m going to do something a little different than I have been doing, and focus on the nature and importance of a couple of questions in particular instead of searching out patterns by episode.

The first question (or really series of questions) I want to consider is the set we discussed in class a little bit on Monday, which was the series of questions regarding nationality.  If we take Bloom’s definition of what a nation is, “the same people living in the same place,” then it is natural that he would define anyone living long-term in Ireland as Irish, including himself.  Bloom’s logic cannot accept the reasoning that makes all the other characters see him as Jewish nationality-wise, since there isn’t exactly a real concentration of Jews anywhere.  There may be small communities in various countries around Europe, but there is no nation where the tying “sameness” is Judaism.  This brings up the interesting question (asked by me, not in Ulysses); where then does Bloom’s Judaism fit in his identity if not in nationality?  The answer is that Bloom’s Irishness and Jewishness are, respectively, a national identity and a racial identity.  Nationality is something that is self-defined for Bloom, but racially he must be Jewish simply by the fact that his mother was Jewish. 

Though this will turn into a bit of a digression, I also want to briefly talk about another split within Bloom past the Irish/Jewish split.  Within the Jewish piece of Bloom’s identity, he is religiously almost certainly not Jewish, but racially he is immutably so.  This may be a difficult distinction to make for some, because of Bloom’s non-observance of kosher laws (he eats pork) and the fact that up to this point we’ve seen him enter only churches and never synagogues.  However, religious identity for each Jew is a very personal thing, since there is no Church as in Catholicism that dictates current interpretations of the Bible (or Torah), and so each Jew individually generally has their own sense about the appropriateness of observing Jewish law.  This individuality means that Bloom’s practice of Judaism as a religion has no bearing on his self-identification as a Jew overall, which explains why his response to the citizen is so sharp.  Though we as readers may not see Bloom as a Jew because of his laxness in following Jewish law and tradition, he cannot see himself otherwise.

The other question I want to talk about is also in Cyclops, and it is the citizen’s question of “Whose God?” after Bloom says “And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God” (12.1805-10).  The thing that struck me about the citizen’s question was that it might be mistaken for “Who’s God” when spoken aloud, transforming the question into “Who Is God?”  I really don’t have an answer for this one, only that it is interesting that Bloom seems to answer the “alternate” question first, by saying “Well, his uncle was a jew,” and only after that saying “Your God was a jew” in response to the citizen’s real question.  I tried looking into whether William Shakespeare had any uncles that were Jews, or if he had any brothers that converted to Judaism (so that Hamnet’s uncle would be a Jew), or if Joyce had any uncles that were Jews, but no such information was to be found.  The only other explanation I can think of is the probable over-reach of “Well” missing an “I” (this is in Cyclops after all) to turn it into Will (William Shakespeare), continuing the running theme of William Shakespeare / Joyce as God.

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