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Wait, what? (Some mysteries in Ithaca!)

Monday, November 9, 2009; 04:10 am Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m going to focus on Ithaca, and specifically two parts in Ithaca that I just don’t get. But first, here’s a basic outline of developments in the chapter (I didn’t really find much pertinent material in Eumaeus):

Bloom is finally embracing his Judaism in a big way. He sings Hatikvah (763-4), a Zionist anthem, to Stephen, and he sort of sees himself as a Moses figure, “with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the secret of his race” (339-40) here to bring “Light to the gentiles” (355). There’s also a weird way that Bloom simultaneously gives up any dreams of Zionism (he burns the Agendath prospectus (1325-6)) while achieving his own personal Zion through entry into Molly’s bed (her butt is “redolent of milk and honey” (2232-3) and “plump mellow yellow smellow melons” (2241), which have been associated with Israel for a while now)).

There’s also an account of the day through the lens of Jewish ceremony (2044-58), which is both cool and also characterizes all of the actions of the day as working towards Bloom’s salvation of some sort (I’m particularly struck by the bookhunt as representing Simchath Torah (2049), the simultaneous end and beginning of the reading of the Torah, and all the stuff about atonement and repentance). Seeing all the suffering Bloom endures (much of it intentional) as a means to salvation and the only way to return to Molly/Israel maybe legitimizes his masochism in ways that just calling him self-hating doesn’t.

But then there’s the weird stuff. When Bloom sings to Stephen Hatikvah, Stephen responds with a really anti-Semitic song about Jewish ritual murder (802). Stephen! Way to ruin the mood! I don’t particularly understand why Bloom is smiling (810), but I really don’t understand why Stephen would sing such a song in the first place! In the Marilyn Reizbaum book I read a few weeks ago, she explained that it’s proof that Stephen is just as much a part of Ireland as other less palatable characters like the Citizen and thus acts just as anti-Semitically, but is that it? Why is Stephen doing this?

Also, one of the most perplexing things I’ve found yet in Ulysses occurs on page 563, when Stephen and Bloom are writing Irish and Hebrew letters. “Stephen wrote the Irish letters for gee, eh, dee, em, simple and modified, and Bloom in turn wrote the Hebrew characters ghimel, aleph, daleth and (in the absence of mem) a substituted qoph, explaining their arithmetical values as ordinal and cardinal numbers, videlicet 3, 1, 4, and 100” (736-40). The perplexing thing is that neither GEDM (in Gaelic) nor G’DQ or G’DM (in Hebrew) means anything! I don’t think these lines are just a rehash of the “Aleph Beth Ghimel Daleth Hagadah Tephilim Kosher [. . .]” (15.1623) line from Circe, but then if it isn’t that, what is it? Online Hebrew root dictionaries have yielded absolutely nothing for GDQ or GDM, and another source I found said that GEDM is not an Irish word by any stretch.

Edit: After Monday’s class, I have answers for both of these questions. As we discussed, it appears that Stephen is singing an anti-Semitic song either a) to consciously distance himself from Bloom and his household, or b) because he’s totally clueless and values his end point so much more than the means by which he gets to that point that he accidentally offends Bloom without meaning to.

My other question, about the incomprehensible letter choices that Stephen and Bloom use to illustrate their languages, maybe has an answer in Professor Simpson’s analysis of initials in Ulysses. Neither G’DQ/G’DM or GEDM means anything inherently in Hebrew or Gaelic (which makes sense, since neither Stephen nor Bloom possess any knowledge of these languages other than “certain grammatical rules of accidence and syntax and practically excluding vocabulary” (17.743-4)). In a way this seems to echo the “U.P: up” initials: neither Bloom nor Stephen understand what they’re writing, but they’re nevertheless able to create a union between themselves through the initials (which are indecipherable to both them and us). “G’DM” and “GEDM” look a little like “goddamn” too, if that’s something.

What else I can add basically just layers more levels of symbolism on top of what we talked about on Monday. Kosher law forbids mixing milk and meat because it removes the potential for reproduction (drinking the mother’s milk while eating the baby), so Bloom’s lack of adherence to it adds to his egg eating and his desire to make Molly use an umbrella.

We also talked a lot about moderation as the key to Ulysses on Monday, and I’m unsure how Bloom’s politics of Judaism fits into that. I haven’t totally resolved New Bloomusalem in my mind—it’s not really moderate in scope, but it’s the only approach Bloom considers that incorporates both Zionist and assimilationist ideas, and it’s at the same time the one that clearly exists solely within his head. Somehow the conclusion of Ithaca, with Bloom laying his head on Molly’s milk-and-honey butt, doesn’t seem like a satisfying conclusion to me in terms of Bloom’s politics and his place in Irish society.

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