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The Jew’s Daughter patterns itself upon a journey, moving between cityscapes of ports and trains, to internal monologues that outline mythical landscapes more closely aligned with nature. Positioning itself as a postmodern text that draws strongly on modernist roots, the novel plays not only with its self-reflexive embodiment – wherein the changing elements often attribute the same saying to multiple characters, shifting between first and second person, destabilizing the narrative and leading the reader to repeat the narrator’s question of “Whose horrible voices are these?” – but also evokes its own historicity and contemporaneity through multiple literary allusions.
For example, the novel’s fragmentary nature, its use of shifting narrators who are both male and female (who speak in both first and second person) while relying on a primarily male narrator, its constant moving landscape, the intercutting of a bar scene, as well as its play with popular tunes suggests a deliberate evocation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Yet, at the same time, the primary male narrator appears rather Prufrockian, hesitant and unsure in his relationship with Eva and longing for more; the text’s abruptly centered lines on the page of prose describe a woman in a pearly white dress that might be Eva and her distance from the narrator. The Jew’s Daughter returns repeatedly to the image of the city and dogs, the singing that seems unrelated to the narrator himself and occurs mostly around him. In yet another parallel, the primary narrator’s return home, his alienated and crumbling relationship with his partner, Eva, his status as an Irish-Jew, all suggests an homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses. The possibility of this homage is further strengthened by Morrissey’s choice to name the novel ‘The Jew’s Daughter’, after an anti-Semitic folk song from the United Kingdom that is quoted in part in Joyce’s book. That is, Morrissey’s text opens itself to multiple possibilities and multiple interpretations – its play with stylistic and narrative conventions emphasizes the need for a plurality in terms of its reading encounter, as well as in any attempt at meaning making.
The novel states, “When the sacred builds itself, it dismantles us and then it is up to us to reassemble the things that linger in its wake, the brine and feathers that it scattered when it left… This is because its wholeness is our own. The broken sum of its parts is a great agonist. What are we without our histories? The work exhausts itself against us, and in our impotence we become great.” The Jew’s Daughter thus opens onto not simply discussion of the work as lived experience within our own shared histories, but also the work as a literary and philosophical construct. Given the text’s homage to Ulysses and Joyce’s as well as the text’s own suggestion of a link to Homer’s Odyssey – the questioning of the horrible voices, the repeated singing, the references to sea-journeys and ports, the decoration of the house with small black ram’s horns and oriental anchors, his return to Eva and the troubles that await him – it’s perhaps worth reading The Jew’s Daughter alongside Maurice Blanchot’s essay ‘Encountering the Imaginary’ which is itself based on Ulysses’ encounter with the Sirens.
In the essay, Blanchot suggests that the narrative is like a siren that beckons the reader towards meaning, that the entire event is a movement towards the distance of its conclusion. However, this promise is never revealed for the ‘truth’ of the siren’s song remains a secret never to be revealed – sailors are unable to survive the encounter, or else can only complete their course by blocking their ears to its song. The narrator’s choice to suggest that the work should exhaust itself against us without reaction would almost appear to repeat the Ulysses encounter with the siren – lashed to the mast and unable to give in, yet willing to encounter the experience – allowing the work to maintain its mystery and learning no truth but that of his singular journey. At the conclusion of The Jew’s Daughter, the text refuses simple meaning-making. For all that the reader is brought full circle in their journey alongside the narrator, the novel retains its complexity and plurality of voices – historical, literary, and fictional.
Note: Follow this link to read the first entry on this work.
Featured in The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1.