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Reviewed by:
  • James Joyce’s Judaic Other
  • Zack Bowen
James Joyce’s Judaic Other, by Marilyn Reizbaum. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999. 194 pp. $49.50.

The topic of Joyce’s relationship with Judaica and Jewish people in his life and his work has long been a topic of considerable interest to Joyce scholars and critics, not the least of whom is Marilyn Reizbaum. Just when the subject seemed exhausted, Reizbaum, building on her already extensively referenced dissertation and earlier essays, provides another compelling dimension to the topic—one, I think, that will become a major permanent factor in Ulysses criticism.

It is impossible to detail the enormous scope of this book in so short a review, but its substance is that in Ulysses, and especially in Leopold Bloom, Joyce attempted to emulate a quintessential hybridity—an ambiguity singularly represented in Jewishness, social and cultural as well as religious and/or racially specific. It is a book based principally on Joyce’s use of antisemitic perceptions of Jewishness, a conflation of all of the attributes of otherness that contribute to the entire range of cultural, ethnic, and gender-based biases and rationalizing mythologies and distortions that historically have accompanied them. The very indefinableness of Jewishness makes it at once subject to elaborate division of identification and method, ultimately as complex as people them selves, a prime example of hybridity, so recently described in post-colonial scholarship.

Reizbaum sees the historical representation of Jews in literature as either compensatorially noble or caricatured. Joyce was both praised and condemned by critics for creating so prominent a figure in literature, either for putting Jews once more on the literary map or for venting his own inherited antisemitism. In effect Joyce accurately described the stereotyping of Jews, who were overtly disliked not because they were Jews, but because they represented all the things that were ascribed to them; even though those attributes are self-contradictory, they are all constructions of “otherness.”

As fascinating as it is full of common sense, Reizbaum’s historical construction of the problem only sets the stage for spectacular detailed readings and interpretations of key scenes from Ulysses, beginning with Deasy’s early diatribe and the Irish political hostility fueled by Arthur Griffith, through Bloom’s complex identification with Judaica manifested in his knowledge of “Chad Gadya” in the newspaper office, and continuing in his overt claims to both Irish nationalism and his Jewish heritage in Cyclops and a climactic new reading of his exceptionally complex feelings of guilt and sexual ambiguity in Circe, to his cultural relationship to Stephen/Joyce in Eumaeus and Ithaca, and eventually culminating in Molly’s own hybrid racial and ethnic mixture in Penelope.

Framed against Joyce’s sources in Nietzsche, Freud, and Weininger, Reizbaum’s detailed reading not only establishes her point that Semitism permeates the inspiration behind the composition of Ulysses, but dramatically inspires a new and brilliantly detailed explication of the text itself, and as well an understanding of the Jewish psyche [End Page 171] both internalized and externalized in 1904 Dublin, the whole framed against the universality of Odysseus’s ancient journey.

Reizbaum’s research is thorough and to the point, her writing clear and unambiguous even in its stress on the inherent ambiguity of both subject matter and application. Along with a substantial body of footnoted material and a lengthy bibliography of sources, Reizbaum includes a bibliography of pertinent books in Joyce’s Trieste library and another of books on Judaica with which Joyce is known to have been familiar. James Joyce’s Judaic Other constitutes a major contribution to Joyce scholarship.

Zack Bowen
Department of English
University of Miami

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pp. 171-172
Launched on MUSE
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