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The end (or mostly a lack of endings)

Sunday, November 15, 2009; 11:47 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Bloom’s own ambivalent relationship to Judaism underscores the importance of the theme to Ulysses as a whole. This is interesting considering the history of criticism surrounding the novel, which until very recently tended to push Bloom’s Jewishness, and Bloom as a whole, to the side in favor of Stephen (more on this for Wednesday). Bloom’s relationship to Judaism oscillates between total identification (in Cyclops) and total disavowal (in Eumaeus and elsewhere), and this is underscored by the fact that his actual religious connection to Judaism is tenuous at best. Leopold’s father Rudolph converted from Judaism to Protestantism and Leopold himself converted to Catholicism, so he’s two steps removed from his ancestors’ religion. Furthermore, Bloom’s mother is a Protestant, so in a matrilineal religion like Judaism he’s the “last of my race” (11.1066) from the start. Penelope does throw in a really interesting alternative to this, as Molly’s mother is ostensibly a “Jewess” (18.1184), so Jewish blood technically runs not only through her (a Catholic religiously), but also through Leopold’s kids (and it’ll continue through Milly).

So there’s that. Given the fact that Bloom has himself converted to Catholicism, it makes sense that his Jewishness is almost exclusively cultural, without knowledge of the Hebrew language or much else besides rudimentary ceremonial procedures and the like (17.743-4). It’s especially tragic that Bloom faces anti-Semitism around Dublin despite not even being technically Jewish; he’s thrust into the societal position of a Jew, and consequently exhibits traits of femininity and masochism highlighted by Marilyn Reizbaum and others, in some sense (especially in Circe) seeming to enjoy the amount of abuse he receives.

Bloom understandably he puts a lot of thought into ways to solve the question of what to do with nationless Jews in a Europe that’s divided by nation-states. In Calypso, he comes across a pamphlet advertising Agendath Netaim (4.191), a planters organization in Palestine for Jews to return to their ancestral homeland. Bloom is pretty critical of this solution to the Jewish question, thinking that the Agendath scheme seems like a money-grabbing scam, and besides, Bloom considers himself Irish and thinks that he ought to be accepted by Ireland first and foremost. Nevertheless, despite eventually burning the Agendath pamphlet in Ithaca, his dream of a New Bloomusalem in Circe features Bloom as a distinctly David-like king, showing that even his conception of an ideal nation devoid of oppression is headed by a Jewish leader (that he’s a king, that this isn’t a Sinn Fein democracy, is important too, as is the fact that this is in a dream featuring talking soap and Bloom himself giving birth to eight children).

I’m still not sure how or even if Ulysses resolves Bloom’s quest for a homeland. He ends Ithaca literally kissing Molly’s ass, which smells of milk and honey, but so what? Maybe Bloom’s metempsychotic relationship with Moses (and his constant wandering and like every other way Bloom is characterized throughout the novel) means that he won’t live to see any kind of resolution, whether in Israel or Ireland.

The other facet of my obsession relates to how others view Judaism in Ulysses. There’s a lot of Irish nationalists who invoke the ancient Israelites as a precursor to Ireland and its striving for freedom from outside rule. This first serves as a contrast to the non-Jewish characters’ occasionally flagrant anti-Semitism (as in Aeolus and Cyclops), but also sets up a dichotomy that I haven’t yet been able to parse out entirely, that of Hellenism and Hebraism. Buck Mulligan says in Telemachus that Ireland ought to be Hellenized by the likes of himself and Stephen (1.158), in order to make it less Hebraic (using a dichotomy set up by Matthew Arnold and others in the 19th century). Throughout the novel there’s a distinction between Greeks and Hebrews, which can perhaps be tied to Nietzschean slave/master moralities, text versus sight, et cetera. I also want to further explore the Circe conflation of the two (“Jewgreek is greekjew” (15.2097-8)) and the recurring image of Michelangelo’s Moses (again, a unification of the two sides?).

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