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A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (2003)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (2003)

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3.59 of 5 Votes: 5
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0142437344 (ISBN13: 9780142437346)
penguin classics

About book A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (2003)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman "Already in the preface to Richard Wagner it is asserted that art—and not morality—is the true metaphysical activity of man; several times in the book itself the provocative sentence recurs that the existence of the world is justified (gerechtfertigt) only as an aesthetic phenomenon."–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of TragedyThe moon has been sighted, the siren is sounding through the air and Eid celebrations have begun here where I sit writing. The holy month of Ramadan has ended. Sometimes, when I step out of my skin and go into what Sartre calls the “pre-reflective mode” of consciousness, I am hit and swept away by an abundance of emotion, the ambivalency of which both amuses and depresses me. Having been raised in the house of a raging anticlerical father and a devout Muslim mother, I have always had trouble forming a coherent account of religion for myself. And as time passed, a raging heretic was born under the skin of my brother whose opinions are slightly more fantastical than my father; so nowadays when I listen to both of them, I seriously have little idea about what to think. Top that all with reading excessive amounts of modernist and postmodernist fiction, and you can understand my predicament. Well, this is why I could perfectly understand Stephen’s predicament. "He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment."How does one find place for oneself in this world? My veil misleads my relatives into assuming my piety; my interest in Western arts misleads some of my friends into assuming that I have been “led astray”; the rest of the indifferent world sees me as an oppressed female, shackled into the prisons of a religion that is, well, not looked upon kindly, at all. And yet inside I feel none of what the world or those around label me. The self seeks affirmation and finds none. In religion, one finds some sense of simplicity, some order and grounding, and yet at times one does not even know whose religion to follow. The fundamentalist’s, the liberal’s or the heretic’s? Islam or any religion for that matter is not a monolithic entity, so whose version, whose interpretation holds most currency for me? " The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."How does one ever escape from these nets of judgment, prejudice and intolerance?How does one… fly?Like Stephen, I, too, have passed through several stages of hedonism and self-denial, but I am still to find my own answers. I believe in his journey because it is a road well-trodden by many before us, and many still go down that path looking for themselves. Though at times I find myself echoing the views of my father and brother and even sometimes those of my humble little mother, they still seem alien to me. The preachers and saints in whom my friends believe in seldom manage to move me. There seems an unbridgeable distance between us, a kind of distance that Stephen might have felt between himself and the fathers and brothers of his school. I look upon them with respect and admiration but that is all.For seekers like us who endeavor to escape and to soar above societal conditioning and familial pressures, this book seems familiar and reads like one’s own diary. We, too, finally try to seek meaning in art forms, and for most of us the world only makes sense when interpreted aesthetically. Even though I lack Stephen’s daring and fortitude and even though I might not agree with all the conclusions he came to, I still find within myself esteem for a fellow wanderer for it is a journey I recognize and understand perfectly.But enough with the memoir, let’s get down to the literary tectonics.A Portrait: The Beginning of a New Aesthetic "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."Keeping authorial intentions aside, this book, if not construed as a product of its age, reflects clearly some of the anxieties that marked late 19th and early 20th century literature. In the words of Levenson, who writes in his Cambridge Companion, we’re dealing with an age that was consumed with the: "... memory of an alienation, an uncanny sense of moral bottomlessness, a political anxiety. There was so much to doubt: the foundations of religion and ethics, the integrity of governments and selves, the survival of a redemptive culture."The times in which Joyce was writing necessitated a relearning and revaluation of values, not only those belonging to the social and moral spheres but also on the aesthetic plane. Much of modernist art concerns itself with the reappraisal of social structures, the liberation from constructed gender roles, and this renaissance of sorts reflected itself blatantly in art forms, in their construction and expression. Even if the Portrait is not as experimental as Joyce’s later works like Finnegans Wake and especially Ulysses, it was still outlandish enough to trouble publishing houses as most of them refused to publish it. To the reader of Victorian literature, Joyce’s uncanny dialogue, the lack of a “story” and his narrative choices might be unsettling if not inartistic. But we’re dealing with an age that was characterized by this very chaos and fragmentation. But then I’m not getting into modernist aesthetics AGAIN here. I’ve done that enough with the VSI and the Companion.Cutting it short, the book’s emphasis on flight and escape could be taken as a metaphor, and Stephen’s epiphany could be likened to the epiphany that the entire modern age was experiencing and recovering from. I hate repeating myself but we are looking at an age that was painfully trying to maintain a foothold in a world that was constantly defying rational and moral norms of previous times. The discontent with dogma and tradition that we see in Stephen is not simply his own but that of the culture of which he is a representative. Thus, his epiphany in the novel is of utmost importance to understand the human predicament that he was expressing. This breaking away with the past and ushering in the new is one of the most prominent features of modernist literature, and the avant-garde expressed this fin de siècle awareness through “epiphanies” and “moments of recognition”. Levenson writes: "Many, if not most, plots, and certainly those favored by the great nineteenth-century realists, turn on moments of revelation, recognition scenes, when the illusions nurtured by timidity, prejudice, or habit fall away, and a naked self confronts a naked world. These are the moments when identity is begun, renewed, or completed. French Naturalism added a different plot, in which the revelation is gradual, and of something already known, but concealed: a moral or physical flaw, an organic "lesion." Both kinds of plot favor awareness. Illusions are there to be stripped away."And regardless of whether the illusions be moral or political in nature. Stephen confronts both the established religious system of his time and various political views of his colleagues and tries to escape from them all. For him is the search for his own destiny, his own voice and his own opinions and this noncorformism and individualism is again a big part of modernist sensibility. As his name suggests (one must applaud Joyce for his employment of the metaphor), Stephen Dedalus desires freedom. "Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy. So timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal his own mood that all ages were as one to him. A moment before the ghost of the ancient kingdom of the Danes had looked forth through the vesture of the haze wrapped city. Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean?"The fact that the plot doesn’t resolve into anything concrete is perfectly comprehensible: the human self continues evolving, always surprising itself and its past, always morphing into new forms. There is no end to self-actualization, it is a journey that only ends with the individual, and thus the narrative does not contain a well-defined dénouement or climax. This is, after all, a defining feature of the modern novel. Belonging to the genre of the Bildungsroman (which we call the coming-of-age novel) and the sub-genre of the Künstlerroman (which specifically deals with the evolution of the artist), the purpose of the book is the journey and not the destination. And we do have a journey—almost poetically presented—of an age that sought its haven and its truth, its affirmation and its anchorage in its arts and in all that is beautiful and sublime. As Nietzsche remarks, man found his true calling, amid the destruction and reconstruction of his world, he found his purpose and his meaning in the aesthetic! The fact that this book culminates into a fascinating aesthetic theory says a lot.Anyway, this book is highly recommended to the student of modernist literature. One can see the new aesthetic in its embryonic form in Joyce’s first novel and in its grand maturation in Ulysses. The beginning and evolution of the aesthetic, like that of the artist, is very fascinating but for those who are into that sort of thing. For those who have little interest in what or what not this novel contributed to English literature, well, I don’t see how they can find this especially enjoyable. And I also recommend this book to the seeker, and the appreciator of human courage and individualism. Those who strive to define themselves, not fearing exile or isolation, it is for those that this book could hold value. Stephen and I might end up in different places, under the shade of different havens, with different meanings and truths, but it is the same path that we take, the same road that we walk upon. The quest is endless, the journey without a destination, but as long as we keep on moving, as long as we keep seeking and striving, the human condition does not seem to me that hopeless. "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!"

NOW:Completed in its completeness back in the handsome daze of 2007 and partially re-read (up to p160) on Dec 5 2012. I emerged battered from the fiery pulpit chapter, hell licking at my wary eyeballs as Dedalus blubbers his sins in the confessional, hankering for some sin-making and utterly, totally and completely ready to never read this again. I wrote a very detailed review on September 7th 2007 at the moist age of twenty. Excuse the cute naivety of my prose.THEN:The Very Essence of Adolescence“The next day brought death and judgement, stirring his soul slowly from its listless despair… he felt the death chill touch the extremities and creep onwards towards the heart, the film of death veiling the eyes . . . ” (p85)And that’s just Monday.It is interesting how this landmark novel—once so empowering, audacious and revolutionary—has slipped under the same shroud of popular indifference as the present day Catholic Church. It is depressing to imagine battered copies of A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man gathering dust among the wonky catechisms of tired old priests, bound to the Bible as punishment and the process of life as the continual absolution from sin. Dust it down from these lonely shelves, I say! Blast away the dust with a triple-speed Hoover and go swim in its transcendent prosaic beauty!Unlike the hair-pulling hypocrisy of the Bible, this transitional novel from James Joyce remains the finest Kunstlerroman ever composed, a pompous word show-offs use to indicate their insecurities and prove their subscription to “Thesaurus Rex,” a publication for dinosaur and big word enthusiasts. It is a coming-of-age tale which converts the ludicrous process of adolescence into a tapestry of wonderful music, gentler than Bach, mellower than Handel and more rocking than The Brian Jonestown Massacre.Stephen Dedalus, who would resurface in the literary titan Ulysses in the subsequent decade, is the fictional embodiment of James Joyce in many respects. Given Joyce was an author concerned with the human mind and body as an instrument of precious wonderment in relation to the fleeting ephemerality of man’s existence (yeah, one of those bastards) Joyce is the heart, souls and guts of Stephen Dedalus and this autobiographical account of his own upbringing in Dublin proves this hook, line and sinker.We begin the novel with a famously impressionistic and experimental sentence, one which read aloud sounds almost parodical; almost like a nursery rhyme in places and then part jabberwocky. This opening is used to establish the novel’s dichotomy between the sensuality and the emotional luminescence of his experience, set against and the moments of fire-and-brimstone whenever he is in the twisted grip of the Catholic Church, or indeed trapped in his own uncertain mind. The novel places itself on the more romantic side of his development, interspersing the experience with the hell of his surroundings, and the reader is allowed to glide through the humanity and natural flow of this aging process as he turns into The Artist As A Young Man.In a literary mammoth of this nature, there is much to discuss and so little time. I could expand this humble nugget of consumer experience into a free-wheeling dissertation with footnotes and scholarly quotations, but there is no grade in it for me nor a hug from Dr. May Wilmot. This being the case, and at the risk of rambling like a crazed shepherd on E—here is what I took from the text.The biggest area of interest for me was indeed the religious intrigue, and Steven’s own frustrations with the Catholic Church. Joyce was keen for Steven to embody the progression of a new Ireland, eschewing the retrograde notions of a land defined by unrealistic historical conventions established by the Normans, and to make his protagonist into someone who helped facilitate this vision of a New Ireland. The Catholic Church in the novel is unappealing to Dedalus through its attempts to seize the freedom of his artistic awakenings. Most subsequent generations will empathise with this struggle between old and new values, religious or otherwise, and Joyce accepts that soon Ireland will become a place free from the vicelike grip of one particular dogma.The most pressing reason A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man is adored to this current date is due to the fact it contains the most accessible prose approach from Joyce. There are those souls such as myself who fall at the hurdle of Ulysses, and his mind-boggling final work Finnegans Wake, since often these texts seems nothing more than academic exercises of titanic proportions from which no real vicarious pleasure can be derived. This novel however, throws out visceral, skin-crawling little sentences and moments of rich poetic pulchritude—universal and beautiful—which bottle the very essence of adolescence.It makes for a wonderful perfume.

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I skip long introductory notes to works of fiction and proceed directly to the text. But since the introduction titled "Life & Times: About the Author" was only four-and-a-quarter pages long, I made an exception this time round, and decided to skim through it. After all how much the writer could pack into a small space to influence my reading of Joyce?...I was in for an awful surprise, no, terrible shock.On page 1, paragraph 2, line 21, after telling us about Joyce's early difficulties to earn a living and get published the intro writer says: It wasn't until he found a wealthy benefactor that he was able to live the life of the creative writer, which he seems to have done without ethical qualms.Without ethical qualms? Did Joyce steal from his benefactor? Did he deceive his benefactor about his art? Had he bullied others into giving him a stipend to live off? I don't think so. So what gives?Had it not been for a system of patronage most - and I mean most - of the art that has come down to us in various shapes and forms would never have been created in the first place. From the earliest Akkadian times down to our university system artists have struggled to earn a living due to the nature of their work. Only when they have found some means of subsistence they have managed to devote their full time to artistic pursuits (exceptions excepted). Does the writer also have ethical qualms when academic institutions hand out public money to writers, or when various private organisatoins give grants, convinced of the artist's talent? I wager not.This is not it.Here is the immediate sentence, on page 1, paragraph 2, line 23 (yes, I counted the lines): It is apparent, from photographic portrait of Joyce, that he rather fancied himself the literary sophisticate. The images are typically overly posed and affected. For a man living on the handouts of another, one might think Joyce would have wished to project a more sincere, modest and grateful countenance. However, perhaps he needed to inflate his ego for fear of revealing a fragile self-esteem.Ah, couldn't resit taking a low jibe at Joyce could he? What I hate about this prosaic excrescence is its pretentious pop psychology. Only wannabes who don't have the intelligence to make a meaningful comment will resort to such asinine remarks. You tilt your head this way in a pose, you must be a fucking bastard! How about some phrenological observations to get a clearer picture? Please tell us about Joyce's personality traits by examining the bumps of his skull and the length of his face?...Sorry? Can't hear you...And do note, dear readers, that we are being introduced to the author's life and times and this is just lines 23-25 of page 1.On page 3 we read: He felt claustrophobic in Dublin because of the type of personality he happened to possess, so his decision to leave was necessary.We are not told what "type of personality" did Joyce posses, apart from "overly posed and affected" photographs.And it continues.After discussing the autobiographical aspect of the novel and Joyce's difficulties in writing it, we read this on page 4.Another indication that literature did not come easily to Joyce is his economy of dialogue in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dialogue is a difficult thing to master for those who are not naturally given to it. It requires close observation of character in choice of word and phrase...." And a few lines later: "It's a curious thing, but nowadays Joyce is celebrated as an important literary genius and influence..."Look, I have no love lost for Joyce, and that's simply because I have not read him (this is my first and I'm just starting). But the intro almost reads like a badly written blog post by someone who dismisses Joyce in toto. I'd be okay with it if it were an independent opinion piece to appear somewhere, or even a GR review. But if you see no merit in Joyce at all then you don't have a moral right to write an introduction to a widely circulated edition of Joyce's novel. You just shouldn't be there! Ethical qualms anyone? And shame on Collins Classics series editor for letting this stay on.--------------------------------------Apologies for the overly harsh tones. I was so irked and had to get it off my chest. Now I am going to read the actual novel :)April 20, 2015

APRIL 19 (Evening): Alright. This is insane. It has been almost eighteen, 18 (has more impact) hours since I sat down to scribble something about what is going on in my mind but the right words are still elusive. And this eluding is colluding my mind no bounds. No, I did not mean to create any sense of rhythmic rhyme here. Because life is no rhyme. And far from rhythmic. It is a battle – fierce, dark, compounded with many elements and munitions and machineries and what not. It is a forever raging battle where I always find myself fighting, well, ME. Yes, I am always up against myself. A Present ME vs A Future ME, A Strong ME vs A Weak ME, A Hopeful ME vs A Dejected ME, A Sure ME vs A Doubtful ME. The last one, seems, perennially raging, blazing like the eternal flame of a glorious soul. Ah, Soul. Why did I even write that word? While the whole world tells me it is the purest part of a body, the guardian of noble deeds and the first thing to leave a body that has rotten beyond repair, I have seen it the most corrupt. In my case at least. I mean what was the soul doing when I was bartering my innocence for shrewdness in school? What kept the soul busy when I bargained my mother’s love for an empty vessel of ego? And where was the soul snoring when I engaged my skin in disgusting deflowering acts? I don’t believe in soul. it just my soul? Tarnished, contaminated, listless, condemned? Does the soul have two doors? That if I enter through one, I would see wistful smoke, pious fragrance and bright lights of goodness and if I enter through the other, the room would turn black, with nauseating stench and coarse rays of sin everywhere? Is it an eternal dilemma of which door shall I push open? The Ever and Never of Soul? Of Life? Oh I don’t know. This is all so maddening. Mother told me I will get answers in the home of God. And so, I have made a good number of visits to his house. Let me say I like him. Wherever he is, talking to him, makes me feel good. Basically, he always lends an ear, the luxury which none of my friends are willing to extend. So, I talk to him. I believe in him, like I do in a friend. I fight with him, I lie to him, I sing songs with him, I spend many hours of silent confessions with him. But when I am asked to treat him as a superior, rather the most Supreme, I raise my hand in hesitant protest and ask him questions – Why should I delegate you up there? Why should I pray to you? Why should I be religious? What good it is to be a member of your community? I had respect for you and even placed my faith in you. I believed in your assurance under which I dared to offer my loving heart to another beautiful creation of yours. But by letting seep the venomous stream of unrequited love into me, you killed a part of me. Should I not blame you for that? Weren’t you supposed to safeguard my innocent emotions if I were under your refuge? In my hours of adolescent wretchedness, when foul smell of arrogance and vanity emanated from my unabashed openings, why did you not arrest it with a warm blanket of your wisdom? I started losing faith in you and you stood there, watching. Why did you not protect me when atheistic shower was pounding on my vulnerable heart? Well, I can keep pointing fingers at you because it is easy and requires no preparation. You don't answer and I can throw my missiles at you. But whether it is likely that I went wrong somewhere? No clear answer. May be I should search. May be I should read. Read more of Aquinas and Aristotle. And other great minds. I am learning anew to swim in their submersible waters. They talk about beauty and sin, glory and pity, truth and myth. Sometimes, I grab a bunch of answers and sometimes, I grapple in nothingness. But mostly, I get navigators. You ask navigate where to? Oh, I need to find answer for that one too! But by deploying the triple weapons of silence, exile and cunning, I have seen the answers are not that obscure. Really. Whether my filial duties and academic tenacities would contribute in this quest is something I don’t know. But this questioning would. And I think I would continue doing that no matter how much worthy mass the process accumulates and how much filth it throws my way. Yeah, it sounds good. Oh wait! I just wrote a whole page, didn’t I? Not bad for someone who was swimming in a wordless sea just a few minutes back. Good Lord! Alright then. Time to go. I have a walk to take and a few more questions to ask for the day. See you at another junction. And don’t ask me where.- Anonymous Stephen Dedalus My Alter Ego

I think this book is best read at a very specific time. I think there needs to be a restlessness in you, the need for difference, an awareness of yourself and your own needs that is just beginning to emerge. I think this novel is inspiring for people in that situation. Particularly those in their late teens and early twenties. It's a coming of age novel. Certainly the most accessible of any of James Joyce's novels. I don't think I would have been ready for it when I started high school, and I might have not liked it a year or two ago either. But I read it as a high school senior in AP Lit, and that was perfect. Stephen is a thoroughly unappealing character when one first approaches him, and I think it's necessary to have a sympathy with his feelings to really connect with him.This is not to say that the writing is not good on its own, but I think to have an interest in the proceedings, Stephen's conflict really has to be your own on some level. So those graduating from college this year, those yearning to, those graduating from high school, perhaps moving to start a new job, or changing majors- any of those transitional periods- this is a good book for you. Warning: In addition, one must have a patience for a somewhat difficult writing style.

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