The Discovery of Bloom’s Misreading: Metaphysics, Mysticism, and the Role of the Unconscious in “Calypso”


The influence of Jewish mysticism on Ulysses, particularly as it relates to the theme of metempsychosis or reincarnation, has been under-recognized by critics. The doctrine of metempsychosis blurs the boundary between mysticism and metaphysics, reconciling the tensions of Hebraism and Hellenism by demonstrating not only their cultural reciprocity, but also their sympathetic envisioning of a soul in a way that is distinct from the Irish-Catholic tradition. This has implications for the range of unconscious responses that Bloom has to Rudy’s death, as sin theologizes the formerly secular Greek soul and introduces the problem of evil. The psychological dimension of the soul plays a pivotal role in “Calypso,” for the word “metempsychosis” can be seen to emerge as an instance of Freudian parapraxis. Although the popular notion involves only errors in speech, Freud delineates several other parapraxial categories relevant to interpreting Ulysses, including mistakes in reading. In each case of parapraxis, the error reveals a powerful unconscious motive on the part of the subject. In Ulysses, this unconscious motive manifests itself in Bloom’s repression of his son’s death. However, the unconscious in Greek thought was also synonymous with anamnesis, or the ability of the soul to “recollect” a priori knowledge. As such, Jewish mysticism can be seen to emerge from within the work as a positive unconscious “motive” which counteracts the negative repression of Rudy’s death. By employing the doctrine of anamnesis, Joyce recovers the Jewish mystical tradition even as Bloom remains unconscious of the knowledge’s source.