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, 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, 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, Leo Taxil, blasphemy, Baphomet, Ulysses, Paris

Ep. 39 – C’est le pigeon, Joseph.

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La Vie de Jésus, by Léo Taxil

Stephen Dedalus learns the value of gentlemanly blasphemy in this episode of Blooms & Barnacles. Our hero evades the nets of his oppressors while recalling a conversation with a friend in Paris. Topics include the changing face of Ringsend, the Pigeonhouse, Stephen’s epiphanies and the Epiphany, Dermot speaking French, what Jules Michelet doesn’t know about women, absinthe, the elaborate blasphemies of Leo Taxil’s pornographic pope period, Baphomet, the freemasons, and the greatest trick ever played on the Catholic Church (that might be overstating it, but it’s a fun story).

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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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James Joyce, Proteus, Ulysses, Eucharist, Catholicism, Last Supper

Ep. 37 – Who is this Dan Occam fellow, anyway?

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William of Ockham

Dermot and Kelly tickle your brain with Stephen Dedalus’ thoughts on the Eucharist, William of Occam, hypostasis, consubstantiation, transubstantiation… we’ve got it all! Other major philosophical queries discussed include: How can so much bread and wine all become Christ’s body and blood. Does Stephen really understand hypostasis. When does soup become soup? Is it immoral to impersonate a priest as long as you don’t hear someone’s confession?

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Stephen Dedalus, W.B. Yeats, The Tables of the Law, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ep. 35 – The Hundredheaded Rabble

Joachim_of_Flora
Joachim of Fiore

Join Kelly and Dermot for a story about James Joyce’s youthful rebellion against the literary establishment of Dublin, his obsession with the apocalyptic predictions of a 12th century monk, a tale of psychic horror by W.B. Yeats, Jonathan Swift and Dublin’s oldest public library. It’s a jam-packed episode! The paragraph discussed in this episode can be found on p. 39-40 of the 1990 Vintage International edition of Ulysses.

Bonus: Dermot interviews Kelly about completing her blog series about “Proteus.” Check out those blog posts here.

Double Bonus: The difference between Elisha and Elijah from Chuck Knows Church.

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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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