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In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, theories of the state increasingly grappled with the ethical questions raised by specters of colonial violence that give rise to equally violent nationalist revolutions. In few places has this violence been so sustained and long-drawn-out as in Ireland, and James Joyce directly confronts the rhetorical and physical violence of this conflict in Ulysses (1921–22).1 This article uses theories of origins of the state offered by two of Joyce’s German contemporaries—jurist Carl Schmitt and literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin—to think through the interdependent ethics of violence, narratives of national origins and sovereignty, and the role of the would-be citizen in Joyce’s novel. I propose that, in the character of Leopold Bloom, Ulysses develops strategies for negotiating violence and conceptualizing a form of citizenship that is more inclusive than those offered by the prevailing colonial and nationalist models. Bloom’s actions attempt to imagine an Irish future beyond the terms offered by these models. These actions can be situated relative not only to the critique formulated by the novel’s engagements with Irish nationalism but also to the broader concerns of those interested in questions of how state power rhetorically legitimizes itself.

1. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Vintage, 1986).