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Springtime for Ulysses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2021


Why did Mel Brooks name one of the main characters in The Producers (1967) after James Joyce's Leopold Bloom? Tracing the meanings of that name over the course of a half century, from Joyce's Ulysses (1922) to the stage adaptation Ulysses in Nighttown (1958) to Brooks's film, illuminates how the landmark modernist novel not only acquired outsize significance for American Jewish readers but in fact became a Jewish text. Having affiliated itself with highbrow Joycean modernism in a bid for respectability, Jewish culture discovered in the source of that respectability something not so highbrow and hardly respectable at all: an enjoyable perversity rooted in popular comic performance. The Jewish form and content of both Ulysses and The Producers turn out to celebrate ethnic, racial, sexual, and class difference in defiance of Christian norms of taste, health, and citizenship; and it is in Brooks's popular citation of the literary that this defiance becomes visible.

PMLA , Volume 136 , Issue 5 , October 2021 , pp. 728 - 745
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Modern Language Association of America

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This essay benefited from the research assistance of Alexis Grainger and the critical comments of Adam Rzepka, Art Simon, and Stephen Watt. Jeremy Megraw of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, provided help with archival materials.


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