May 6, 2005


Seminar: Irish Studies, 535


Meeting Date: May 6, 2005


Chair: Mary McGlynn


Speaker: Abby Bender

                  Ph.D. candidate in English, Princeton University


Title of Talk: A Pisgah Sight of Palestine from Dear Dirty Dublin”


Rapporteur: Cóilín Parsons


Attendees: Frank Naughton (Kean University); Alice Naughton; Diane Menagh (Fairfield University, Connecticut); Gertrude Hamilton (Marymount College of Fordham University); Thomas W. Ihde (Lehman College, CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies); Robert St-Cyr; Maria McGarrity (Long Island University); Rita Loughlin (American Irish Teachers Association); Peter M. Leahy (CUNY Graduate Center); Natasha Tessone (Princeton University); Patrick McNierney (Columbia University); Ann Marie McNulty; Michael Shannon (Lehman College, CUNY); Edward Hagan (Western Connecticut State University); Alex Neal (Princeton University); Dermot Ryan (Columbia University); Elizabeth Murphy; Martin J. Burke (CUNY Graduate Center and Lehman College); Joseph Lennon (Manhattan College).


A Pisgah Sight of Palestine from Dear Dirty Dublin”

A copy of the paper that Ms. Bender gave has been deposited with University Seminars.  The following is a synopsis.


                  The Pisgah Sight of Palestine referred to in the title refers both to Moses’ view, from Mt. Pisgah, of the land he will not be permitted to enter, and to the view from Nelson’s Pillar that Stephen Dedalus describes in the Aeolus episode of Joyce’s Ulysses.  Joyce has inscribed the story of Exodus in Ulysses at least three ways: as political rhetoric, as parody, and as a genuine possibility for Irish liberation.

                  Michael Walzer has argued in Exodus and Revolution (1986) that the story offers a politics of freedom for those struggling against oppression.  Edward Said, however, in his review of Walzer’s book, exposed what he calls “the irreducibly sectarian premises of Exodus,” arguing that it is a narrative of divinely sanctioned imperialism, in which the Israelites exterminate the Canaanites.  His reading also offers an analogical critique of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.  At the level of myth, then, Exodus appeals to communities struggling against oppression, but twentieth-century history—the establishment of the state of Israel—affects the ways in which the story of Exodus can be appropriated.

In Ireland of the late nineteenth century Jewish identity was still figured as diasporic, and Zionism was often considered one with other anti-colonial movements.  Yet, while many Irish thought of the Israelites as figures of anti-colonial struggle, the story of Exodus was simultaneously being used by groups such as the British Israelites to justify colonialism in Ireland.  It is in this context of Exodus as a ubiquitous literary trope—both colonial and anti-colonial—that Joyce takes it up as a central theme in Ulysses.  Joyce, through Stephen and Bloom, interrogates the political use of Exodus, explores where it fails, or where Ireland fails it, and finally reimagines it as a national narrative that is personal, inclusive, and complex.  Joyce reads Exodus carefully, and explores the image of the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness, longing for the culture of the oppressor.

John F. Taylor, a barrister, gave a speech using the Exodus narrative, in October 1901 to the Law Students’ Debate Society, in which he pointed to the Irish language as a critical marker of national identity.  Joyce—whose aesthetic was fundamentally opposed to purity of language—reproduces this speech, but leaves out the analogy between Irish and Hebrew, both of them marked by sacredness and purity.  He inserts the term “outlaw language,” which may even refer to the English language for Joyce.  He may have been influenced in this matter by John Eglinton, who joined the debate on the language question by using yet another Jewish analogy, only to quite different effect from Taylor.  Eglinton argues against the necessity of Irish as a national language, and supports the use of English precisely because it is not “the ancient language of a chosen people”—it is a language that will not afford an easy mode of national self-differentiation, an idea that would most likely have appealed to Joyce.

The “Pisgah Sight of Palestine or parable of the plums” that Stephen Dedalus tells is all banality, but should not be written off, as many critics have done.  The two characters who climb Nelson’s Pillar and are vouchsafed the “Pisgah Sight” are carrying with them brawn, a headcheese, which is a literalisation of the “fleshpots” of Egypt for which the Israelites long—even “wise virgins” long for the culture of the colonist.  In Stephen’s later sermon in “Oxen of the Sun” he fuses Moore’s “Let Erin remember” and Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32 to produce an ironic reading of the Jewish/Irish analogy.

While Stephen’s sermon is trapped in the political rhetoric of Ireland, Bloom sees possibilities beyond Irish-Ireland nationalism, English colonialism, or Dedalian irony.  Bloom is acutely aware of the ambivalence of liberation, which Exodus exposes.  The “New Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the Future” may, despite all, be a (highly ironised) locus from which the Irish nation might emerge, while also resisting the territorial imperative of nationalism.  In the New Bloomusalem the inhabitants are lodged in barrels and boxes, making the nation a portable space, just as for Joyce the Irish nation was best accessed from “Trieste-Zurich-Paris.”

Ulysses concludes not with a nostos, a homecoming, both with a journeying forth—he returns to a home that is a “wilderness of inhabitation.”  To return to Said, his re-thinking of Exodus in his writing on Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, acknowledges that it is a national origin myth defined by its multiplicity, ambivalence, and hybridity.  The approaches to Exodus by Joyce, Freud, and even Said, can be read as prophesies or warnings—when nations reach their promised lands, they tend not to acknowledge hybrid beginnings, origins in wilderness, or inclusive identities.




Q. I have a question about Joyce’s relation to John Eglinton.  Is there anything in “Ireland, Island of Saints and Scholars” that would help flesh out how their ideas are related?

A. I haven’t looked back at Joyce’s essay to see what he says about language, but does reject the idea that that blood links the nation.  In this way he is close to Eglinton.  Eglinton is almost Ireland’s first postcolonial theorist.  Of course, we have to be wary of this, because he is of the Ascendancy class, and is expressing opinions that arise out of his class position.

Q. I am interested in the relationship between Eglinton and Taylor.  I am right in saying that Eglinton was a revivalist but not a political nationalist?

A. Yes.  Eglinton was part of the literary revival movement, but opposed the nationalist movement.


At this point the proceedings were interrupted by a fire alarm, and the seminar was forced to adjourn.