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The end (or mostly a lack of endings)

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

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?).

Wait, what? (Some mysteries in Ithaca!)

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

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.