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Some Freud and Nietzsche and masochism and cuckoldry

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 06:23 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Reizbaum, Marilyn. James Joyce’s Judaic Other. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

I found a good book, but one that I won’t by any means be able to fully summarize in this post. For now I’ll focus on the first and third chapters as the second is largely historical background and the fourth is called “The Temptation of Circe” and since I haven’t read Circe yet it might be better to proceed after I do that.

The first chapter, “Thematics of Jewishness” outlines basic themes tied to Judaism that are present in Ulysses. A lot of this simply confirms and elaborates on what I’ve been noticing myself: in addition to themes of Zionism, Jews as usurers, etc., it also discusses the fundamental ‘impossibility’ of Jews as both insiders and outsiders; they’re simultaneously seen as fundamentally different from Irish/European society and assimilated to the point where they’re totally unrecognizable, at once unwilling to embrace the “true god” and totally “’modern’ and secular” (30). Reizbaum explains that the constant otherness of Jews results them being “in the untenable position of being always fixed in a stereotype and hence ostensibly identityless in any conventional sense” (34). That Bloom is mostly defined as Jewish externally (with the exception of his declaration in Cyclops) seems to confirm this impossible notion.

The third chapter, “Poetics of Jewishness,” delves a lot deeper. Using the works of Nietzsche, Freud and Otto Weininger (all of whom the author contends Joyce had on his bookshelf and thus read), Reizbaum discusses “how the central issues and concerns of Ulysses—such as belonging, betrayal, irresolution, reunion—are necessarily (although not exclusively) informed by the figures and figurations of Jewishness” (51). I’m not as well-versed in Nietzsche and Freud as I should be in discussing this, but I’ll explain what I’ve found useful. Sorry in advance if this part is a mess.

There’s a lot of talk about Jewish self-hatred and masochism present in Bloom and elaborated by Freud and Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s notion of a slave morality (as developed by the Jews, and in contrast to the Hellenic master morality) places nobleness in the realm of the oppressed, but in order for the oppressed to remain noble they must keep an other around to do the oppressing.  Tying in Freud, Reizbaum explains that the oppressed group will “both internalize contempt experienced from without and identify with the source of the contempt in an effort to emulate and escape” (59), resulting in self-hatred. So, Bloom “seems to participate in his own victimization/self-sabotage, and to take a certain relish in his own suffering. Bloom, in one way, perpetuates his position as underdog, as betrayed, as cuckold, at the same time that he suffers from these positions. He has a certain investment in himself as victim” (67).

There are also numerous discussions about Jewishness’s intersections with gender, largely through the work of notable sexist and anti-Semite (and converted Jew!) Otto Weininger. For Weininger, all people are part man and part woman, with the male part being “positive, productive, logical, conceptual, capable of genius (56), and the female part being pretty much a lack of these things. For Weininger, Jews are much more female than most men, and that’s the problem with them. This notion of Jews and lack (oh hey, circumcision!) is a trope maybe worth following in the novel.

Reizbaum also talks about cuckoos and cuckoldry. Since cuckoos are birds that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, it’s possible to see Joyce’s cuckoos in Nausicaa as representing Irish racialist nationalism’s notion of Jews as invading the Irish nest (that they can’t go home to their own nest then ties into Zionism again). Also maybe syphilis and disease in general?

Finally, Reizbaum writes that Nietzsche “admires the Jews for their suffering, their perseverance, and their ability to violate their own dogma in the interest of enlightenment” (55). This supposed characteristic of Judaism might explain both Bloom’s lack of interest in keeping Kosher and his mental excursions into unappealing territories.

So yeah! Sorry this is so long and convoluted and maybe depressing. I feel like this is a pretty touchy subject in that Joyce seems to be working uncritically with a lot of pretty terrible stereotypes about Jews but it’s maybe unreasonable to expect him to do otherwise given his time and place.

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