Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Young Man's Muse

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManA Portrait of the Artist 
as a Young Man 
by James Joyce

"I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile and cunning." - James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce's autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published on this day in 1916 (after having appeared serially in the literary magazine The Egoist in 1914-15). 
I first read this novel during my participation in the Four-year Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago. I have since read and reread this classic work by James Joyce. It is a portrait in words of the coming-of-age of a young boy in Ireland. As a portrait its words resonate with the ideas of Aristotle and the faith of Roman Catholicism and the spirit of music. Music, especially singing, appears repeatedly throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen's appreciation of music is closely tied to his love for the sounds of language. I remember being told by a close friend that Father Arnall’s sermon on Hell was the same sermon she heard while a youth in a catholic neighborhood in Chicago more than fifty years later. Stephen is attracted to the church for a brief period but ultimately rejects austere Catholicism because he feels that it does not permit him the full experience of being human.

From the opening lines, “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo”, Stephen grows in awareness and towards his artistic destiny through the words that delineate the world around him. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen's mind through words as he grows through experience. Stephen's development gives us insight into the development of a literary genius. Stephen's experiences hint at the influences that transformed Joyce himself into the great writer he is considered today. Stephen's obsession with language; his strained relations with religion, family, and culture; and his dedication to forging an aesthetic of his own mirror the ways in which Joyce related to the various tensions in his life during his formative years. In the final moment when he goes "to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience" of his race he raises a banner that seems emblematic of the life of the author of this inspiring novel.

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Brian Joseph said...

I have also read this three times.

As you say, this book is a look into the development of a literary mind. The way that Joyce integrates all the elements that you mention is a wonder.

It is also a difficult book. If ever there was a work that lent itself to rereading, this is one.

James said...

Thanks for your observation. I agree with you about the difficulty of the book. This was especially true for me as I am not well-versed in the Catholicism that permeates this and other Joyce works. While I enjoy both this and Dubliners, I have not felt the urge to reread Ulysses.