Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918)
by James Joyce (1882-1941)
Where does James Joyce stand in relation to his fellow expressionists (some describe Joyce as a psychological realist)? “The twentieth-century writer who has influenced English literary form and style most is, no doubt, James Joyce.”[i] But for our purposes, we want to know where James Joyce stands in his quest for Truth, what principles of the NOW does he exemplify? One clue is that Joyce chooses the name of the Greek mythological character Daedalus to represent himself in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918) and in Ulysses (1922). The dictionary definition of Dedalus is: “A legendary artist and inventor, builder of the Labyrinth.” In P-A the artist is a prophet and one who connects to the Implicate Order as a creator and inventor. The artist, in short, spends more time in the present moment than most of us do. James Joyce was among the most genuine of that type of uncompromising artist.
“As he grew older, Joyce lived his art; not content with being a renegade from dogmatic religion, he left his native Ireland to become a citizen of Europe.”[ii] In Portrait Joyce has Dedalus say that history is a nightmare from which he is trying to awaken. Joyce then sees himself as embarking on the classic “Hero’s Journey” in search of truth and beauty. To do that he has to consciously begin disconnecting from P-B which he does by abandoning his family (the values of his upbringing), his church (rigid Catholicism) and his nation (blind patriotism). “If he wanted to understand beauty, he had to leave Ireland, where there was nothing in which he believed.”[iii]
Joyce understood the chaotic mind that twentieth century humanity identified with as we see in Ulysses. “The book is written in a variety of styles and techniques; the most important is the stream-of-consciousness method by which Joyce attempts to reproduce not only the sights, sounds, and smells of Dublin but also the memories, emotions, and desires of his people trapped in the drab modern world.”[iv]
The shift from P-B to P-A usually involves an insight, what we could also call a peak experience or epiphany. Joyce ties this anticipated experience to his search for beauty. “Stephen develops his aesthetic theory of the epiphany—a sudden revelation of truth and beauty—through the artistic goals of ‘wholeness, harmony, and radiance.’”[v] This description seems like an intellectually imagined ideal rather than one he has actually experienced. P-A is supported by silence, simplicity and solitude and the ability to respond (to stay in the present moment) rather than reacting to the mind, body and emotions. James Joyce certainly tried hard to discover the freedom and beauty associated with awakening into the NOW—his searching was almost heroic—but there is little evidence to reveal that he succeeded.
Nevertheless, Joyce was one of the most important artists among the movement called Expressionism[vi] which was defined by the following traits:
- Expressionism is first and foremost subjective. Instead of trying to communicate ideas, to give a direct significance to the life about him, he admits only the importance of the responses [emphasis added] his inner awareness makes to the stimulus from without.
- Expressionism discards imitation. Surface reality is, the modernist holds, a shallow thing. He finds his enthusiasm in trying for inner reality, for what may be thought of as the essence of an object or an idea.
- Expressionism sets for itself the purpose of presenting the abstract and the typical; it is fourth-dimensional; it is mystical.
- In general, expressionistic writers seem to despair of life; society, government, industry, religion, man himself, are presented in a chaotic state.
- It is because of this disillusionment with the world about them, then, that the expressionists would create for us a new world.
Joyce might not have enjoyed widespread appreciation during his lifetime but his influence on the art of fiction has been great. “Prose could have at least as much richness of evocation as poetry already possessed and could be as free from limitations of a strict time sequence or a logical ordering of ideas. It too could rely on emotionally sensed coherence more akin to the themes and modulations of music than to the arrangement of objects in space. Virginia Wolfe and William Faulkner are among the many writers whose fiction shows traces of Joyce’s pioneering experiments.”[vii]
[i] Hibbard, Addison, and Horst Frenz. Writers of the Western World. New York: Houghton, 1954, page 1171.
[ii] Ibid., pages 1171-1172.
[iii] Magill, Frank N. [ed.]. Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper, 1989, page 715.
[iv] Ibid., page 914.
[v] Ibid., page 716.
[vi] Ibid., pages 1169-1170.
[vii] Frier, Robert. Adventures in Modern Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1970, page 41.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.