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James Joyce's Judaic Other
Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe
Marilyn Reizbaum. James Joyce's Judaic Other. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. x + 194 pp.
Marilyn Reizbaum's new book on Jewishness in Ulysses appears as part of Stanford University Press's "Contraversions: Jews and Other Differences" [End Page 531] series. While an investigation of "the question of Bloom's Jewishness" is the book's organizing principle, Reizbaum's definition of the question--she makes it clear early that she is interested in Jewishness as a construct rather than an essential, "authentic" attribute--helps her avoid being bogged down by the questions in which some scholars of Ulysses have remained mired. She is not interested, for example, in proving or disproving that Bloom is "really" Jewish, or in exonerating or indicting James Joyce for anti-Semitism. In fact, the impossibility of coming up with a definitive or authentic answer to the question of Bloom's Jewishness is one of her major themes. Reizbaum's argument instead treats Joyce's conception of Jewishness as "a complex of ideas" through which he manipulates, critiques, and transforms prevailing conceptions of other foundational identity categories like race, gender, sexuality, and Irishness.
Her first two chapters conduct a fairly straightforward historicist investigation of the historical, cultural, and intellectual context in which Joyce develops his conception of Jewishness. The investigation is thorough, even if some of the ground has already been gone over, and Reizbaum regularly leads it back to the novel, elucidating Joyce's deployment of particular motifs and intertexts. From an Irish studies perspective, the most interesting feature of these chapters may be Reizbaum's excavation of anti-Semitism in turn-of-the-century Ireland, which complicates our understanding of the relationship the novel creates between Zionism and Irish nationalism. Reizbaum identifies Arthur Griffith's peculiar articulation of anti-Semitism--in which he reviles Jews en masse as "usurers and parasites" while at the same time endorsing Zionism as a legitimate nationalist movement supported by "honest and patriotic Jews"--as crucial to Joyce's recognition of a "split in sentiment" that rendered constructions of Jewishness particularly slippery, self-subverting, and hybridized. That idea of Jewishness as an "impossible" category underpins the rest of Reizbaum's analysis; the third chapter shows how race theory and the discourse of psychoanalysis elaborated on that "impossibility" by linking it to other troubling indeterminacies involving gender and sexuality, while the fourth chapter uses that link to read Bloom's metamorphoses in "Circe," and the fifth argues that this impossibility is crucial to Joyce's articulation of Bloom's qualified and incomplete homecoming in the novel's "irresolution." [End Page 532]
Like many Joyce scholars, Reizbaum is occasionally guilty of treating her subject as if it is the one true key to all of Ulysses's mysteries. All the same, her argument is the opposite of reductive, opening up new approaches to the text rather than shutting them down. Precisely because Reizbaum's reading treats Jewishness in Ulysses as a figure for indeterminacy, mutability, and interpenetration, delineating it allows Reizbaum to get a grip on some of the more slippery aspects of the novel without crushing complexity and ambiguity out of them. The best demonstration of her argument's potential as a reading of the novel is probably the chapter on "Circe," in which Reizbaum's work in earlier chapters with Weininger and Freud enables her to do a lucid and convincing reading of that most anarchic of episodes. More important, perhaps, the book as a whole and that chapter in particular make a convincing argument for the construct of Jewishness as an important third term in the heavily mediated relationship between race and gender--in Ulysses, and in the world that created it.
Notre Dame University