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.
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?).
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.
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!)
Davison, Neil R., “‘Still an idea behind it’: Trieste, Jewishness, and Zionism in Ulysses,” James Joyce Quarterly vol. 38, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer 2001), pp. 373-394.
Given our progress in Ulysses so far, I’m only going to cover part of this article for now, but I hope to address the later parts (specifically those that address “Cyclops,” “Circe” and “Ithaca”) in later posts.
Davison writes about how it’s pretty common for people to read the Zionism (modern and ancient) expressed in Ulysses as analogous to Sinn Fein republicanism, but that such an analogy “implies that the controversies over Zionism which Joyce absorbed from 1905 to 1915 in Trieste can be conflated into a portrait of the movement as a modern, racialist nationalism and thus a form of colonial mimicry” (373). Davison argues that Joyce is doing a lot more than simply conflating the two.
Bloom, Davison writes, is not a full-on Zionist: his response to Agendath Netaim, “Your name entered for life as owner in the book of the union (4.197-8) is a farcical translation of the Jewish liturgical phrase “to be inscribed in the book of life,” invoked in a land speculation pamphlet “so as to evince the materialist reality of capital used to gain foreign territory” while debunking any religious claims to the land (384). Bloom’s remark, “Nothing doing” (4.200), shows that he doesn’t really buy what Agendath Netaim is selling. That he snaps out of his fantasy by stating “Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now” (4.232-3) implies that he’s more concerned with his present state than some far-off Zion that may or may not be feasible or fulfilling.
But in between all that, Bloom remarks, “Still an idea behind it” (4.200). Davison writes, “the dream here—Joyce seems to be emphasizing—is about the possibility but not the probability of modern Zionism” (386), that despite Bloom’s doubts, he “is simultaneously hopeful that the better lights of [his] Judaic-based Jewishness might someday find an expression in a territory free of racialist, religious, and economic anti-Semitism” (390). Whether or not it’s feasible, Bloom continues thinking about it because it offers some sort of salvation from his current sufferings (once again, this relates to Bloom’s correspondence with Martha).
One more thing. Davison notes that the butcher Dlugacz serves as a contrast to Bloom’s ambivalence towards Zionism and that his more fervent support relates to his greater masculinity: “Deep voice that fellow Dlugacz has. Agendath what is it? Now, my miss. Enthusiast” (4.492-3), Joyce writes. This masculinity/nationalism correlation is something I’ve seen in other works (there’s a lot about moustaches and reactionary nationalism in Midnight’s Children for instance) and I’d like to see if it’s repeated in Ulysses.