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, Proteus, Kevin Egan, Clerkenwell Prison

Ep. 42 – Under the Walls of Clerkenwell

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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, 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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Decoding Dedalus: God Becomes Featherbed Mountain

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The line below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the line that begins “God becomes…” and ends “…featherbed mountain.”

God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain. 

This sentence is a riddle for us, Stephen’s phantom students.

Early in “Proteus,” Stephen thinks, “Signature of all things I am here to read,” and as the episode closes, Stephen is still deciphering these signatures. All of the items in this list are, at least theoretically, signs that might appear to Stephen on the seashore. The question is, can we (or Stephen) interpret these signs? This sentence shows a progression of concepts shifting and metamorphosing into one another, staying true to the slippery, protean nature of the shore. Where does the land end and the sea begin? It’s all a matter of perspective depending on ever-changing and overlapping forms – the sand, the water, the tides that join them, all existing on a continuum, nacheinander and nebeneinander. 

How does God transform into a featherbed mountain, anyway?

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Ep. 31 – Contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality

The_Annunciation_-_Girolamo_da_Santacroce
The Annunciation, Girolamo da Santacroce, c. 1540

Let’s have fun with consubstantiality! Kelly and Dermot untangle Stephen Dedalus’ thoughts on the dual nature of God the Father and God the Son, the Nicene Creed, the difference between being made and being begotten, the death of Arius, seahorses, a shocking fact about the Star Wars cantina and an even more shocking fact about the symbolism of doves.

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James Joyce, Proteus, Ulysses

The Word Known to All Men

Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.

The lines above appear towards the end of “Proteus,” page 49 in my copy (1990 Vintage International), as Stephen pens the first draft of his poem while reclining on a rock on Sandymount Strand. Our key line today is Stephen’s unanswered question: “What is that word known to all men?” James Joyce seemingly never met an obscure allusion or rambly list that he didn’t love. Naturally, posing a question and not giving a concrete answer is solidly in line with his style. 

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, Aristotle, Sandymount Strand, Dublin, Ireland

Ep. 26 – Ineluctable Modalities

Ineluctable modality of the podcast! A discussion of the first paragraph of “Proteus,” in which Kelly and Dermot try to make sense of Stephen’s untethered inner monologue. We discuss Aristotle’s theory of vision, Bishop George’s Berkeley’s mistrust of sense perception, an interpretation of a famous meme, who Jakob Boehme was and what he meant by “signature of all things.” This episode will leave you with a pleasing sense of superiority over your friends.

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Dr Samuel Johnson

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Proteus, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Ep. 25 – Proteus

Michael_Maier_Atalanta_Fugiens_Emblem_36
The cubes in this emblem represent prima materia; 1617, Michael Maier

The time has come for Blooms & Barnacles to tackle Ulysses‘ third episode – “Proteus”! This is Ulysses‘ first “difficult” episode – jam-packed with multiple languages and obscure references. This week’s podcast gives an overview of many of the themes found in “Proteus,” including its connection to The Odyssey, the influence of esoteric doctrines on the text and Joyce’s love of writing in multiple languages. With guest star, Emma the cat.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ep. 19 – Fogey and Tory

C2aVdIPWQAEjHrT.jpgA character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.

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Ep. 11 – Kelly Bryan

39748441_10102648692960357_5371947615535497216_oOn a Very Special Episode of the Blooms & Barnacles podcast – it’s Dermot’s first time leading an episode. He chose to interview his co-host and founder of the podcast, Kelly. He talks to her about why she’s the one to teach the world about Ulysses, her insane dream to stage “Circe,” how to make a soffee, and how she got invited to a party by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. A different vibe than our normal show, but don’t worry, it’s the good kind of weird. Continue reading “Ep. 11 – Kelly Bryan”