...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"That’s the new Messiah for Ireland! says the citizen. Ireland of saints and sages!"

Today during Shabbat services--right in the middle of the chanting of the Sh'ma, in fact--a stout, older woman sitting in front of me turned around and grabbed my arm. "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing wearing green on St. Patrick's Day?" she demanded in a loud whisper. I didn't explain my situation--that although I might be a nice girl, I'm not a Nice Jewish Girl (TM), etc--because, as I said, we were supposed to be singing the prayer, so I just smiled and laughed sheepishly. "Hey, even the rabbi's wearing a green shirt," I whispered back. "I know!" she replied. "And I'm going to give him a hard time, too!"

As I walked up to Market of Choice to catch the bus I thought about whether it was inappropriate to wear green to Shabbat services--if wearing green on St. Patrick's Day implied observance of a Catholic holiday. But then I thought about (what else?) Ulysses, and how although today might be St. Patrick's Day, green is the color of Ireland, not the Catholic Church. I decided that, if I had been called at P'nai Or to justify the color of my shirt, then I would have said that I was wearing it in honor of Irish Jews like Leopold Bloom:
—A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
—By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m living in the same place for the past five years.
So of course everyone had the laugh at Bloom and says he, trying to much out of it:
—Or also living in different places.
—That covers may case, says Joe.
—What is your nation if I may ask? says the citizen.
—Ireland, says Bloom. I was born here. Ireland.
The citizen said nothing only cleared the spit out of his gullet and, gob, he spat a Red bank oyster out of him right in the corner. (12. 1422-33)
Last semester, I had the privilege to be able to take both Religious Studies 390: The Apocalyptic Imagination and English 333: James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Although I wouldn't have expected it, I found incredible convergences between the two courses, and ended up writing my final papers for both classes on apocalyptic, eschatological, and messianic elements in James Joyce's Ulysses (the papers were different enough in focus that this was not intellectually dishonest). Throughout Ulysses, but particularly in "Cyclops," chapter 12; "Circe," chapter 15; and "Ithaca," chapter 17; Joyce equates and conflates Jewish and Irish messianic expectations and apocalyptic elements, such as the ingathering of the exiled 12 Tribes of Israel. For instance, in the passage below, it is not the 12 Tribes of Israel that are gathered, but the 12 Tribes of Iar, hyper-Irish archetypes who reestablish the Sanhedrim:
And there sat with him the high sinhedrim of the twelve tribes of Iar, for every tribe one man, of the tribe of Patrick and the tribe of Hugh and of the tribe of Owen and of the tribe of Conn and of the tribe of Oscar and of the tribe of Fergus and of the tribe of Finn and of the tribe of Dermot and of the tribe of Cormac and of the tribe of Kevin and of the tribe of Caolte and of the tribe of Ossian, there being in all twelve good men and true. (12. 1124-30)
In chapter fifteen, Leopold Bloom himself becomes a messianic figure, who establishes the New Bloomusalem (hopefully everyone recognizes this as a play on the New Jerusalem, which Christ establishes at the end of the Book of Revelation). All will prosper in the New Bloomusalem, regardless of race or religion:
Thirtytwo workers, wearing rosettes, from all the counties of Ireland, under the guidance of Derwan the builder, construct the new Bloomusalem. It is a colossal edifice with crystal roof, built in the shape of a huge pork kidney, containing forty thousand rooms. In the course of its extension several buildings and monuments are demolished…A part of the walls of Dublin, crowded with loyal sightseers, collapses. (15. 1545-1555).

"I stand for the reform of municipal morals and the plain ten commandments. New worlds for old. Union of all, jew, moslem, and gentile. Three acres and a cow for all children of nature…All parks open to the public day and night…General amnesty, weekly carnival with masked license, bonuses for all, esperanto the universal language with universal brotherhood. No more patriotism of barspongers and dropsical imposters. Free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state. (15. 1685-93)"
And on a side note, try writing "New Bloomusalem" a few dozen times within the space of two weeks, and you will find that it becomes very difficult to retrain yourself to say "New Jerusalem."