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Connecting some loose ends

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 05:02 am Leave a comment

Davison, Neil L. James Joyce, Ulysses, and the construction of Jewish identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

The problem with a lot of scholarship on Ulysses and Judaism is how focused it is on how Joyce came to understand Judaism himself rather than actually analyzing how they operate within the text. Davison (who wrote an article on Bloom and Zionism I looked at earlier) here spends most of the book looking at Joyce’s relationships to Jews in Trieste, his reaction to the Dreyfus Affair, and so on, and how this informs his depiction of Bloom. I’ve found a few useful parts though, and will continue to use this source for my final paper later this semester.

So anyway. Davison more than anyone else I’ve found so far gets to the bottom of the Hellenism/Hebraism debate, which I’m grateful for. Davison explains that Joyce encountered this dichotomy through both Matthew Arnold and Nietzsche. Arnold (like Buck Mulligan) saw his country as excessively ‘Hebraic’ and thus sought a balance between ‘strictness’ of Hebraism and ‘spontaneity’ of Hellenism as a means of reinvigorating the British Empire (109-10). It should be noted that Arnold didn’t see this notion of Hebraism as having anything to do with modern-day Jews (compare to how the men in Aeolus/Cyclops talk about the Israelites while remaining anti-Semitic to Bloom).

This dichotomy wasn’t enough for Bloom, especially after his encounters with modern-day Jews on the continent. Davison writes that the more he learned about modern Jews, “the more their secular history necessitated an understanding through a direct focus on their political plight; Hellenizing or Hebraizing his own culture thus became for Joyce another attempt—like the Celtic Twilight—at the reshaping of national consciousness through a politically naïve, inviable notion” (111). Thus you have Arnold lampooned in Circe through “Philip Drunk and Philip Sober” (Hellenism and Hebraism), Siamese twins, “Oxford dons with lawnmowers [. . .] masked with Matthew Arnold’s face” (15.2512-14).

Nietzsche did more for Joyce, in that he directly addresses the Jews of modern Europe in a political context even while using the same Hellenic/Hebraic dichotomy (and its master/slave moralities, which I talked about earlier in regard to Bloom’s masochism). Nietzsche understood Jews to be essential players in the making of Europe as he knew it, and conceived of them as such: “On one hand they are the ancients who established the ‘destructive’ moral code of the West; on the other they are a contemporary people who have been made by history into a group categorically different form all other peoples occupying Europe. Because their estrangement had transformed the Jews into such a willful people, Nietzsche believed they must assimilate with other Europeans so as to create a superior ‘new ruling caste for Europe’” (116). This assimilation (and with it ‘racial mixing’ that’s touched on a bit in Ulysses and a lot in Nietzsche) maybe accounts for the “Jewgreek is greekjew” thing I’m so hung up on (15.2097-8)—Jewish assimilation will in some sense benefit all of Europe, Jews and gentiles included. Along with that, Bloom’s opposition to Zionism.

A final note, on Judaism in Ulysses scholarship as a whole: Marilyn Reizbaum, who I wrote about earlier, writes in her introduction to James Joyce’s Judaic Other that looking at Joyce’s depictions of Jews is a relatively new thing. Prior to 1955, pretty much every study (including Stuart Gilbert’s seminal one) focuses on Stephen and sees Bloom as simply his foil. It didn’t get much better after that—Richard Ellmann, Joyce’s biographer, said in 1982 on the subject of Jews in Joyce that “there was not much in it” (Reizbaum 1), and after that a lot of the scholarship was on figuring out whether or not Bloom’s actually Jewish (which is sort of a stupid debate if you ask me). The big names now, who often seem largely in agreement in refuting much of this previous scholarship, are Neil Davison and Marilyn Reizbaum. Probably others too, but hey, these guys wrote books.

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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?).

Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 05:52 am Leave a comment

There are a few really essential moments relating to Judaism in Circe, so I’ll deal with those here:

As I mentioned in my notes for Monday, the Bloom-as-King-Daniel scene is really odd, but it shows the kind of society in which Bloom can live and so I think it’s the most useful scene to my obsession in the chapter. It’s prefaced by the question of whether he’s a “Messiah ben Joseph or ben David” (15.1834) (that is, a messiah who will establish Israel or one who will bring about a new world) and his answer, “You have said it” (1836), makes him both. Thus, he creates a (literal) dream world where “Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future” has among other things “Esperanto the universal language with universal brotherhood” (1544-5, 1691-2). Bloomusalem is the perfect solution to Bloom’s problems—it’s at once a Jewish state and an Irish state, but also an explicitly international state which seems perfectly inclusive of Bloom who doesn’t fit into one nation or another. That this is a dream, and that this is all a pretty empty idea (Bloom’s speech, “Aleph Beth Ghimel Daleth Hagadah Tephilim Kosher Yom Kippur Hanukah Roschaschana Beni Brith Bar Mitzvah Mazzoth Askenazim Meshuggah Talith” (1623-5), is actually just nonsense) makes me hope that Joyce provides some real way for Bloom to live with his identity instead of this totally idealized one that’s derived from the Biblical past rather than the present (a divide that Bloom hasn’t really crossed before now).

Bloom’s masochism really shines here too, and it’s brought out most extremely by Bella Cohen, who happens to be a Jew herself. The fact that Bloom focuses so intently on tying a shoe on her (cloven unkosher) horse hoof (2810), and then the hoof talks to him, adds a dietary aspect to his hangups which are otherwise mostly about sex and power. That the Bella-as-Bello section ends with a Jewish funeral service (3219) seems to explicitly tie together the total and utter masochism of the section with Judaism in the most explicit way yet.

I also want to talk about the phrase “Jewgreek is greekjew” (2097-8). The Hellenism/Hebraism debate has been conflated but I don’t know how this came about (except for, as the Blaimres says, with the joining of Bloom and Stephen, but there’s certainly more here).

Also, what’s with the backwards writing section? “Htengier Tnetopinmo Dog Drol eht rof, Aiulella!” (4708) explicitly connects right-to-left Hebrew writing (later referenced again with the appearance of Rudy) with dogs? And dog worship? And Bloom’s connection with dogs? In a way I’m worried that Joyce has been writing secret “Hebrew” clues backwards throughout the book and that now I have to go back and find them.

(P.S. There’s a second reference to Michelangelo’s Moses in this chapter (From the forehead of Judge Frederick Falkiner, notable Dublin anti-Semite, “arise starkly the Mosaic ramshorns” (1164-5), so here’s a link to an image of that. Look at ’em ramshorns!)

Judaism in Calypso through Lestrygonians

Monday, September 28, 2009; 07:02 am Leave a comment

Oof, apologies for being hours late. In this post I’m focusing mostly on Aeolus and Lestrygonians, but I’m addressing themes that are present throughout the chapters before them as well.

For characters that aren’t Bloom, ancient Israel and the Jewish people are an easy parallel to draw with Ireland and the Irish. This is made especially explicit in Aeolus when MacHugh likens the Romans to the English and the Jews to the Irish, explaining that both the Roman and the Englishman “brought to every new shore on which he set his foot [. . .] only his cloacal obsession” (7.492-3), while oppressing the more spiritual and creative parts of the dominated lands (that this book so occupies itself with bowel movements seems to imply that Joyce is doing something more than just echoing his characters’ sentiments). While Bloom later seems to express opinions contrary to this excrement-culture dichotomy (his thoughts about “the harp that once did starve us all” (8.605) could imply that despite all the culture of the Jews and Ireland, they can’t expect to successfully maintain nations without putting food on the table), the Christian characters in the novel seem to see this as a pretty viable way to see things.

I should also note that despite the ease by which Bloom’s colleagues use Israel as a stand-in for Ireland, their simultaneous shunning of Bloom himself based on his religion draws attention to their hypocrisy. While Nannetti (a Roman?!) can be “more Irish than the Irish” (7.100), Bloom must perpetually endure social exclusion due to his Jewish heritage. It seems like this further discredits their claims and further distances them from the reality of their situations.

What’s interesting is the way in which Jews and Judaism are characterized by Bloom varies so much from the Ireland-Israel parallel set out by other (non-Jewish) characters. Bloom is notably absent during the entire Aeolus discussion about Semites v. Romans, and the way that he thinks about Jewish customs (he confuses rituals at Passover, for example, which both plays into his tendency to almost get things right and also shows his detachment from his heritage (7.206-216)) and even Jewish friends (like Citron) indicates that he’s pretty estranged from Judaism as a whole, despite how much it seems to shape his thoughts. It does very seriously shape his thoughts, though. Bloom’s constant thinking of the Agendath Netaim ad (most recently at the end of Lestrygonians (8.1184)) and Palestine works as a kind of salvation from his current existence, one with a happy married life full of melons. His metempsychotic relationship with Moses seems to imply that he won’t live to see this sort of paradise (7.873), but it exists (like his relationship with Martha and much else) as an ideal in his head instead of an actual factual thing.

Update: I mentioned this in class, and I want to flesh it out a bit. A few posts ago I mentioned Gifford’s annotation of Buck Mulligan’s want for a “Hellenised” Ireland (1.158) and how this contrasted with a “Hebraised” one contrasts Greek and Semitic culture directly. I think it’s not unreasonable to see Greek and Roman culture on one side of a dichotomy and Jewish and Christian on the other given the ways in which Roman and Jewish culture interact in Aeolus, and this works especially interestingly in that Bloom is at once metempsychotically connected to Jews (Moses) and Greeks (Odysseus), as is Stephen with his origins tied to “Aleph, alpha” (3.39). And then what of J. J. O’Molloy’s discussion of “the Moses of Michelangelo in the vatican” (7.757), in which Jewish culture is interpreted by Roman (and obviously Christian) culture?

And (!!!) if Jews and Greeks are both tied to Ireland and Christians and Romans are both tied to Britain, does the fact that Joyce is writing an Irish novel in English have any significance given the Moses of Michelangelo bit?

This is all extremely muddled, both because there are so many possible dichotomies that can be set up and because they’re all intentionally transgressed (and because I haven’t thought this all the way through), but I think there’s something happening here about Bloom’s identity, Ireland’s identity, Joyce’s identity, et cetera.