James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus

Ep. 46 – Paradise of Pretenders

lambertsimnel
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.

604px-Irma_Martin_-_The_three_women_on_the_tomb_of_Christ
The Three Women on the Tomb of Christ, Irma Martin, 1843

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus, Kevin Egan, Clerkenwell Prison

Ep. 42 – Under the Walls of Clerkenwell

Clerkenwell_bombing_house_of_detention
An artist’s rendering of the Clerkenwell Explosion, 1867.

Dermot and Kelly take on some of the history behind the tale of Irish exile Kevin Egan. This episode’s discussion covers the story of the 1867 Clerkenwell explosion, what that has to do with Kevin Egan, Egan’s relationship to his wife and son, Dermot’s relationship to Tayto crisps, Egan’s memories of Kilkenny, the Berkeleyan quality of memory, more father-son angst, and a cautionary tale for young Stephen.

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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

449px-Edouard_Manet_-_The_Absinthe_Drinker_-_Google_Art_Project
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, Molly Bloom, metempsychosis

Met Him Pike Hoses

— O rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words. 

While Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan were sniping at each other over breakfast on June 16, Leopold and Molly Bloom were discussing the idea of metempsychosis (better known as reincarnation) over their morning tea. After toiling through “Proteus,” we’re all familiar with high-minded metaphysical ideas and obscure references sliding in and out of the text of Ulysses. “Calypso,” like the preceding episodes, is full of references a 21st century reader might miss, but in this episode, we find high-minded topics like metempsychosis embedded in pop cultural ephemera that would have been recognizable to people in 1904 but might go over our heads today. Welcome to the mind of Leopold Bloom.

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James Joyce, Leopold Bloom, Ulysses

In the Jakes with Mr. Bloom

The life of [Ulysses] comes first and the philosophy afterwards. Obscenity is a question of manners and conventions for ever changing. Virtuosity, if it stood alone, would soon become demoded, and philosophy too, but living character stays through whatever material is presented. – Frank Budgen

Professor Bloom is a finished example of the new womanly man. – Ulysses, p. 493

While Leopold Bloom’s interest in butts is not the first thing we learn about him in “Calypso,” it certainly plays a key role in his actions over the course of Ulysses’ fourth episode. Ulysses, among many, many other things, is an ode to butts. It was written by a man smitten with hinderparts, as revealed in Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle, which describe in graphic detail his lust for her butt and its various, predictable functions. Butts are celebrated in Ulysses’ 700+ pages as both functional and sexy. 

Of our two protagonists, Leopold Bloom shows a particular affinity for shapely cheeks. Bloom is so connected to butts that when he appears as Haroun al-Raschid in Stephen’s prophetic dream, one of the symbolic images Stephen recalls is, “The melon he had he held against my face. Smiled: creamfruit smell.” The image of a melon culminates  in “Ithaca” when Bloom finally curls up next to Molly, head to toe, and describes how “he kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.” A melon is not just a melon in Ulysses.

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