Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

"Memory of These Migrations": Joyce, Interculturalism, and the Reception of Ulysses in the Irish Immigration Debate

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

"Memory of These Migrations": Joyce, Interculturalism, and the Reception of Ulysses in the Irish Immigration Debate

Article excerpt

Before coming to Dublin, Bosnian immigrant Selma Harrington "hardly knew anything about Ireland except for the Troubles" and "James Joyce [who] was compulsory in school literature: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and a bit of Ulysses". "That said", she adds, "the Irish people I met abroad were open-minded, cosmopolitan. Living here [in Dublin], I am finding other sides to the mentality".1 Like many immigrants and cultural commentators in Ireland today, Harrington implicitly identifies the figure of James Joyce with an ideal of Irish cosmopolitanism and open-mindedness which is perceived to be increasingly under threat. My intention here is to examine such contemporary responses to the legacy of James Joyce in the context of Ireland's ongoing immigration debate, as interpreted from the perspective of cultural theorists and that of immigrants themselves. Broadly speaking, I want to consider the ways in which both cultural theorists and immigrants have invoked Joyce's characters as exemplars of Irish intercultural ideals, as well as the manner in which Leopold Bloom himself has come to epitomize the place of the immigrant in the Irish popular imagination, especially during the period leading up to the Citizenship referendum and Bloomsday Centenary in mid- June 2004. More specifically, I want to argue that members of Irish cultural minorities and immigrant groups tend to identify their situation with that of Leopold Bloom in their struggle for recognition in contemporary Ireland, and that Bloom's own gestures of respect for minority "beliefs and practices" vested in the communal "memory of these migrations" U 17.1895, 17.1916) reflect a positive attitude towards immigrants which appears less indicative of his status as an outsider than his enduring significance as a role model for the Irish host society.

More than any other character in modern Irish fiction, Leopold Bloom has served as an exemplar of immigrant self-expression. His experiences of marginalization have also become increasingly interpreted as a metaphor for the social position of the immigrant in an ostensibly intercultural Ireland. For example, both Declan Kiberd and Ronit Lentin invoke the figure of Leopold Bloom to exemplify their different perceptions of Ireland's reception of immigrants and nationalist attitudes towards cultural diversity in a variety of historical and contemporary Irish settings. In the case of Declan Kiberd, he has argued "that Ireland itself was always multi-cultural, in the sense of being eclectic, open, and assimilative. The best definition of a nation", he adds, "is that of Leopold Bloom: the same people living in the same place".2 The historical ideal of Irish nationality is in no way inherently inhospitable, in other words, to external cultural influences or the interests of immigrants or minorities living in Ireland now, because "the history of the Irish, themselves dispossessed yet ever more sure of their communal identity, seemed to bear out the idea of a nation open to endless joiners".3 By contrast, Ronit Lentin has argued that the normative definition of Irish nationality, from the moment of its inception and institutionalization in the Irish State, has been inherently racialized, as represented in the figure of Leopold Bloom "who knows - as early as 1904 - that the Irish, given half a chance, are as racist as their imperial neighbours".4 Thus, she "proposes that a political theory of Irish multiculturalism must begin with an interrogation of the [idea of the] nation"5 and nationality in Ireland, rather than envisioning it, as Kiberd does, in terms of a receptive host that is infinitely amenable to the interplay of cultural differences. For Lentin, a figure like Leopold Bloom is exemplary "of the racialization of the Irish Jews",6 whereas for Kiberd he has much "more in common with the members of the historic Irish nation" whom, like Bloom, were always suspicious, Kiberd claims, of mono-cultural ideals.7

This question of whether Irish culture is more inclined to insularity or hospitality became especially pronounced during the Bloomsday Centenary, which took place almost immediately after the Citizenship referendum in June 2004. …

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