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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.

Some Freud and Nietzsche and masochism and cuckoldry

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

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.