Ulysses, Proteus, Leopold Bloom, James Joyce

Ep. 48 – Haroun al-Raschid’s Melons

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Psychopomp

Kelly and Dermot take a look at Stephen Dedalus’ prophetic dream in “Proteus.” Topics discussed include James Joyce’s fascination with dream analysis, Stephen’s connection to the mysterious Akasic record, Dermot’s own experience with slippery time, the location of the “street of harlots” in Dublin, how Leopold Bloom and Haroun al-Raschid are connected, Orientalism, almosting, and prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.

You can hear our episode about translating Finnegans Wake into Japanese here.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus

Ep. 46 – Paradise of Pretenders

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Lambert Simnel carried on the shoulders of his (barefoot) Irish supporters.

Kelly and Dermot explore Ireland’s historic connections to various pretenders to the English throne, how this connects to Stephen’s unsquashable beef against Buck Mulligan,  Solange Knowles, medieval abstrusiosities of all sorts, the mystery of the princes in the Tower, Dermot’s disdain for the Tudors, whether or not Ireland is still a “paradise of pretenders,” Stephen’s sadness and guilt, his shadow projection, his hydrophobia, his relationship to his sister Dilly, and the drowning motif of Ulysses.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, Moses, Judaism

Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?

It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin. – Padraic Colum, p. 56, Our Friend James Joyce

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. – James Joyce, in the New York Times

It is a truth universally acknowledged that James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses tells the story of a Jewish Dubliner named Leopold Bloom. So famously Jewish, in fact, that Mel Brooks borrowed the name for the peevish accountant in The Producers. I say this because the title of this post may seem absurd on its face. “Of course Bloom is Jewish!” you may be scoffing. Before you turn to another blog, hear me out. Is Dublin’s most famous Jew not really Jewish?

Bloom’s father Rudolph was a Hungarian Jew, so most of the Jewish references swimming around Bloom’s mind have their origins in childhood memories of him. Jewishness is matrilineal, however, and Bloom’s mother, Ellen (née Higgins) was not Jewish. There is some speculation among folks who are given to speculate about such things that Ellen’s father, Julius Higgins, was also a Hungarian Jew and therefore Leopold is ¾ Jewish, though this is not explicitly backed up in the text of Ulysses. We know little about Julius Higgins other than that he was born Karoly. While this is a common Hungarian name, it doesn’t necessarily make him Jewish.  Regardless, even if Julius had been devoutly Jewish, his status alone wouldn’t factor into whether Leopold or Ellen were Jewish as he was a father and not a mother.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, the Viking, Dublin, history

Ep. 44- Galleys of the Lochlanns

oh-boy-sleep-thats-where-im-a-vikingKelly and Dermot set sail for the time of Vikings and jerkined dwarfs! They discuss the differences of similarly-shaped seafaring vessels, Lochlanns, Fr. Dineen’s Irish dictionary, the intersection of Viking and Celtic cultures in Ireland, torcs, tomahawk, the horrors of 14th c. Dublin, famine, plague and slaughters, the story of the time a pod of cetaceans washed ashore in medieval Dublin, the story of the time the Liffey froze over and people grilled on top of it, Stephen as a changeling, Stephen momentarily becoming displaced in time, and Stephen’s attempt to construct an Irish identity.

Steve Carey of Bloomsday in Melbourne drops by to chat about how to put on a Bloomsday theatre production in the time of Covid.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus, Sir Lout, Stephen Dedalus

Ep. 43 – Panthersahib and Pointer

Kelly and Dermot consider, Stephen’s decision to leave the Martello Tower, his struggles as a would-be artist in the colonial landscape of Edwardian Dublin, his fear of dogs, the protean process of death and decay, what the heck a grike is, why Sir Lout talks like that, how to pronounce “gunwale,” some more meditations on death and decay, and who the two maries are.

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The Three Women on the Tomb of Christ, Irma Martin, 1843

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James Joyce, Calypso, Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, Tayto, potato

Bloom’s Potato

“On the doorstep he felt in his hip pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have. Creaky wardrobe. No use disturbing her.” Ulysses, p. 57

The episodes “Calypso” and “Telemachus” correspond roughly to the same point in Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ day – 8:00 A.M., breakfast hour.  The beginning of their stories overlap in many ways, including that both Stephen and Bloom leave home that morning without their key. Stephen’s is “usurped” by Buck Mulligan, while Bloom’s is absentmindedly forgotten.  A relatable mistake to most folks – he changes his trousers for a funeral, but neglects to transfer all the contents, leaving his latchkey in the other pair. However, he is unwilling to go back upstairs and disturb a dozing Molly, and so he leaves to buy his kidney without the latchkey to the front door of his Ithaca. However, Bloom idiosyncratically remembers a seemingly odd and insignificant item – a shriveled, black potato. A peculiar and impractical object to carry in a pocket it would seem, but Bloom thinks as he leaves for Dlugacz’s “Potato I have.” Why in the world would a grown man carry a dried-out, old spud in his pocket?

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Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Ep. 41 – Froggreen Wormwood

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Édouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, 1859

Images of early morning Paris through the ineluctable modality of Stephen Dedalus’ memory, smells of incense and absinthe. We discuss Stephen’s life as a starving artist (literally), Kevin Egan and his unwilling exile in Paris, Egan’s real life counterpart, New York Times write-ups of duels in the 19th century, Irish nationalist groups of the 19th century, the proper way to drink absinthe, dalcassians and Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, Édouard Drumont v. Léo Taxil, and the pitfalls of attempting to make Ireland more like continental Europe.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, kidney

Agendath Netaim

He took a page up from the pile of cut sheets: the model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshore of Tiberias. Can become ideal winter sanatorium. Moses Montefiore. I thought he was. Farmhouse, wall round it, blurred cattle cropping. He held the page from him: interesting: read it nearer, the title, the blurred cropping cattle, the page rustling.

The cited passages appear mainly on pgs. 59-60 of Ulysses (1990 Vintage International Edition). 

Sometimes all a man needs is a nice pork kidney to start his day.

Leopold Bloom is endeavoring to do just this in “Calypso,” Ulysses’ fourth episode. Our hero has nipped around the corner from his house to buy the last pork kidney from Mr. Dlugacz, a porkbutcher and fellow Hungarian Jew. This encounter highlights just how tepid Bloom’s Judaism is – he’s opting for a decidedly un-kosher breakfast treat while ogling the “moving hams” of a stout cleaning woman. To reign in his lust while waiting in line, Bloom picks up a pamphlet for Agendath Netaim, a Zionist “planter’s company” offering to sell plots of land in Palestine to be planted with citrus trees and other crops. The Zionist movement encouraged the Jewish diaspora to settle in Palestine in order to create a Jewish homeland, eventually (spoiler alert) culminating in the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Bloom reads the pamphlet with interest, but given the casual nature of his Judaism, does it stir a longing in him for a Promised Land far to the East? 

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Ulysses, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Ep. 38 – Pico della Mirandola like.

 

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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

This episode of Blooms & Barnacles takes an esoteric twist as we continue deeper into “Proteus”, Ulysses‘ third episode. Topics include: why Dermot is not impressed with the Library of Alexandria, the length of a mahamanvantara, what the heck a mahamanvantara is, Joyce’s youthful rage put into poetry, Joyce’s youthful interest in theosophy, Pico della Mirandola’s desire to speak to angels, Renaissance magic, hermeticism, , correspondences in Ulysses, and why Dermot thinks Neil de Grasse Tyson is wrong.

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Who Was the Real Leopold Bloom?

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. –James Joyce

This post is a part of an occasional series on the real people behind the characters in Ulysses.


Where to begin piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of Leopold Bloom’s inception? Like most of the characters in the Joycean canon, Bloom was inspired by real people and events from Joyce’s life. Unlike a character like Buck Mulligan, however, there is no single, definitive inspiration for Bloom. Such a literary puzzle leaves the curious amongst us to hunt down clues and tidbits.

Let’s start by considering Blooms’ defining characteristics.

Leopold Bloom lives in a house on 7 Eccles St. on Dublin’s north side. He works as an ad canvasser for the Freeman’s Journal, a nationalist newspaper. He has an unfaithful wife, a maturing teen daughter, and a son who died in infancy. He loves organ meats. He’s ethnically Hungarian on his father’s side. He’s tepidly Jewish. He has a moustache. He’s awkward and nebbish on the outside but insightful and witty in his internal monologue. He’s our Dubliner-Everyman-Odysseus, the consummate outsider living in his hometown. 

Finding a single person in Joyce’s life that meets all these prerequisites is difficult. Instead, one begins to realize that Bloom is actually a Frankenstein’s monster of moustachioed Jewish men that Joyce knew throughout his life. The list I’ve compiled is by no means comprehensive, but I have tried to include the major inspirations for these definitive qualities of Leopold Bloom. The sum total of their parts is a truly singular, Hellenic-Hebraic-Hibernian hero.

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