A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man – James Joyce

There is a father. The son becomes the father. There is a game. The boys compete.

This book asks the reader, « Who are you watching? » While the son competes in his studies, others challenge, and God watches reassuringly, (p.6), « The little silk badge with the red rose on it looked very rich because he had a blue sailor top on. » This book is written as omnipresent. He is the boy, he is the artist, then he is the student, the writer, a poet… he is the omnipresent ‘one boy’. It is written as the boy speaks, as the boy thinks, as the One God watches, as the One God sees, « I don’t believe a son should be afraid of his father, » (p. 86).

He is deft.

God believes… beauty is beautiful as beauty is seen. The eye of the beholder beholds God’s warmth. It is that we perceive beauty at all that God discerns. He writes, and we are closer for his efforts.

The author writes regarding separation of church and state, (p. 26), in a dialog at the the boy’s dinner table. This is Ireland – the discussion is on God, not politics, on rights of the people, versus the people having rights, and doing right. I am reading as an American would read, I realize now that we are sometimes jaded in our conceptualization.

Chapter 1 is about order. The order of authority. It is also about emblems, signification, the idea of marks and attribution instead of symbols. You are part of a dedicated idea signified by a sign or emblem (a rose on a badge for instance), the idea is not, however, a symbol of yourself.

In Chapter 2, he sees the beauty the artist feels, (p. 61), « He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. » The boy’s father is the monologue, still (p. 61). He then writes, as father, understanding the son through the father’s cynical account of the boy’s life circumstances.

The author/narrator writes, (p. 66), « The verses told only of the night… Some undefined sorrow was hidden in the hearts of the protagonists as they stood in silence beneath the leafless trees… » If I am to understand the writing of Irish writers from this one author, the Irish are not disposed to the use of metaphors as « crutches, » (p. 70), « His unrest issued from him like a wave of sound… » The message is fact-based; it’s not a metaphor if it is as it was written. The description is exactly as it is seen. Do we see ‘eye-to-eye’? The Irish believe in reciting from memory, they use repetition… ‘twice should do it’. The men don’t cook, they taste every detail of their wholesome spread, (p. 95), « He hoped there would be stew for dinner, turnips and carrots and braised potatoes and fat mutton pieces to be ladled out in thick peppered, flour-fattened sauce. »

He breaks every rule of writing, perfectly. His verse, his converse (the dialogue of one, then the other), is less a devotion to laws of grammar, less a definitive string of descriptive overly meaningful sentences, subject to verb to predicate. His writing is without end, it is understood in his art; with this writer, there isn’t need of punctuation.

On Christianity, (p. 137), after confession of his doubts and scruples, « he was bidden by his confessor to name some sin of his past life before absolution was given…  » The ‘awful’ power of priesthood, of this church, he gives earthly attention to the question of religious commitment. That to invest a life into a priesthood has commitment to a specific guidance; and where to merely give your attention to this religion is rather a socially-connected observance. Here, the writer’s flourish, he articulates the son’s flair and poetic capacity for his faith, (p. 145), « The snares of the world were its ways of sin. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently, in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be at some instant to come, falling, falling, but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall. »

He speaks of the web of deceit, (p. 118) here, « a spiritual pain is the pain of extension… Man, in this earthly life, though he be capable of many evils, is not capable of them all at once, inasmuch as one evil corrects and counteracts another just as one person frequently corrects another. »

Father, son, then minister of devotion, he is the author of lives and lives lived-well toward God. He speaks of devoted guilt, (p. 133), « at times (the) sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower. »

He provides every heartstring from faith to be plucked; first God, he then provides the heart of a writer who writes, and one who speaks, thinks, adheres to God’s words, artfully. He gives a composition of phrasing, words as harmony, a wide and vast adoration for his language eloquently impressing his land’s variety of vivid sensations and this faith’s ‘monstrous’ appeal to the wicked and the weak, (p. 149), « Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue; sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey-fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of language many-coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose? » He claims his devotion, « The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful, » (p. 165).

In the son’s vision of human compassion, he resonates with inspiration at his own awareness, (p. 148), he reveals his epiphany that « the commandment of love (bids) us not to love our neighbor as ourselves with the same amount and intensity of love but to love him as ourselves with the same kind of love. » He promotes the ability and the desire to distinguish our needs from the next of needs, and in observance of learning from this ministry, I hope and desire to distinguish various descriptions, Love being a ‘thing’ and something which endures with respect.

He distinguishes beauty according to the apprehension of beauty. There are three forms is his educated distinction, (p. 195), « the lyrical form, the form wherein the artist presents his image in immediate relation to himself; the epical form, the form wherein he presents his image in mediate relation to himself and others; the dramatic form, the form wherein he presents his image in immediate relation to others. » He suggests that beauty (by definition I understand this to mean all language, all words within the language), beauty has a wider sense form or sense of understanding in the literary tradition. These three forms, then, he suggests are the space which understanding or judgment of beauty is influenced by a marketplace for the art.

My question: Is God’s perception of warmth immediate within a marketplace?


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