Academic journal article The Comparatist

I Call That Patriotism: Leopold Bloom and Cosmopolitan Caritas

Academic journal article The Comparatist

I Call That Patriotism: Leopold Bloom and Cosmopolitan Caritas

Article excerpt

There results a state of feeling in which friends, brothers, kinsmen, connections, fellow-citizens, and finally all human beings (since our belief is that all mankind are united in one society [unam societatem hominum esse]) are things desirable for their own sakes [propter se]. Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum V.xxiii.67

Joyce's moral vision is quasi-religious because its essential principle, love (caritas) is fundamental to Judaism, the teachings of Christ and Paul, as well as to the scholastics. However--and this cannot be said too often--it is also based on premises that are entirely different from the religious realm, since it is grounded in a world that is not endowed with any theological or metaphysical spirituality.

Joyce's Jesuitical education taught him that the primary object of Scripture was to teach and live in accordance with caritas: "scripture enjoins nothing but love" (Augustine, On Christian Teaching III.36). To Augustine, love is understood as follows: "By love I mean the impulse of one's mind to enjoy God on his own account and to enjoy oneself and one's neighbour on account of God" (III.37). In strict contrast to this teaching, Joyce believed that love consists in loving things in their own right and presupposes a certain empathy and identification with things as they are in themselves. Contrary to the Christian love for which Augustine pleas, Joyce asserts that one should love things as an end in itself. This is precisely what Bloom does, and his moral superiority consists in his ability to endure and live with fundamental incertitude. He conquers through love despite any assuredness of meaning. To step forth bravely to face contingency seems to be the precondition for love and Bloom dares, indeed to do so. He is able to live with fundamental emptiness (the void). (1) He acknowledges facts and refuses to idealize, sentimentalize, or pervert other human beings. If he judges people critically, he modifies his views immediately, letting his sympathy, empathy, and understanding embrace them. He thus achieves a greater understanding of their particular problems, restrictions, and difficulties.

There is a good deal of irony in the fact that Bloom, a Jew, is the very embodiment of the virtue, which Christians for centuries have accused the Jews of lacking. This paradox is most obvious in the "Cyclops" episode, where the Citizen confronts Bloom as Goliath to David or Polyphemos to Odysseus. It is significant that in all of these scenarios, it is the smallest figure who is victorious, not because he is the strongest, but because the strongest and most brutal are incapable of overcoming one whose soul is armed with courage, cunning, and strong convictions. Joyce had no confidence in the belief that purely material victories contributed to spiritual and moral superiority. In one of his school essays, Joyce writes that: "all subjugation by force, if carried out and prosecuted by force is only so far successful in breaking men's spirits and aspirations [...] it is, in the extreme, productive of ill-will and rebellion" (Critical Writings 17). In Ulysses, Bloom correspondingly emphasizes the futility of force: "But it's no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that" (12: 1481). Here Bloom is quite simply applying to history the two names by which Joyce had always characterized it. It's no use. The Hegelian life-and-death struggle for existence, whose only valid premise is the force and the power to master the other, cannot offer subjects access to universality. Such a morality cannot constitute a stable, symbolic ground of identification, since there will always be someone who is stronger or more superior than another. In order to illustrate the absurdity and meaninglessness of the merciless logic of force, we need only to bring to mind Brueghel the Elder's wonderful drawing, Big Fish Eat small Fish (1556). This work of art perfectly illustrates Bloom's critical statement: "Eat or be eaten. …

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