James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist attempts to enter in to the consciousness of a boy growing to young adulthood with an acute sense of the world around him. In the narrative, the writer attempts to collapse the boundary between reader and character consciousness: there is no authorial presence or exterior perspective and each section is written as though it springs directly from the thoughts of the boy at the time. This is why the opening feels like nursery rhyme then broken thought- but each image has weight and purpose. In fact, some have argued that the opening page contains the entire meaning of the rest of the book. But you have to read the whole thing for the layers to come through.

Reading Joyce is intimidating – no question. So why is the read worth the struggle?

There is a story of a celebrated Russian dancer who was asked by someone what she meant by a certain dance. She answered with some exasperation, ‘If I could say it in so many words, do you think I should take the very great trouble of dancing it?’

It is an important story, because it is a valid explanation of obscurity in art. A method involving apparent obscurity is surely justified when it is the clearest, the simplest, the only method possible of saying in full what the writer has to say.    

R. Hughes, introduction to The Sound & the Fury

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Posted on

October 15, 2018