Peake, Charles / James Joyce, the citizen and the artist
Chapter 2: A portrait of the artist as a young man, pp. 56-109
io8 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man beautiful seabird'; later, while he watches the swallows, to the original symbolic meaning are added those of loneliness and departure. But it is mechanical criticism to link these images with every bird or suggestion of a bird mentioned — the eye-pulling eagles, the football ' like a heavy bird', the birdlike name and face of Heron. The eagles are symbolic agents of divine punishment but in a completely different frame of reference; the ' heavy bird' is a simple visual image; and the bird-face is both a visual and psychological image for Heron's appearance and manner, as the ' hooded reptile' is for Lynch's. Swallows, hawks, seabirds, eagles and herons are all birds, but connotatively and symbolically they have very little in common.5' Too much criticism, not only of Joyce, seems to work on the assumption that it does an author credit to show that whenever he uses a given word or image it is always within a consistent symbolic or archetypal scheme, and critics have worked out the most tortuous explanations in order to foist such schemes on various works of art. Fortunately the art of the writer is a much more subtle business, able to use words ' symbolizing' physical objects with or without figurative significance, and able to charge them with a wide range of such significances as and when these are relevant to his purposes. What Joyce is creating is not a symbolic design but a Portrait — an ' esthetic image' in a verbal medium — and the quidditas of the image is not contained in a symbol or a group of symbols but in the total verbal construct. Yet since words are both sensible and intelligible, the image they form is apprehended by the imagination and comprehended by the intellect, and recognized as a creation of the human imagination and intellect out of ' the daily bread of experience'. Experience has been transmuted into ' the radiant body of everliving life'. The artist-priest has apprehended and understood in life more than the layman and has embodied this in words so that the reader can partially enter this vision of truth and beauty, and experience ' the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure'. Words, then, in all their uses and all their interrelationships, create the claritas of the Portrait, the claritas of an image of the young Stephen Dedalus as he was and as in the mind of the mature artist he is seen to have been: ' So in the future, the sister of the past, I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which then I shall be' (U 183/249). The mature artist could not exclude (nor had any desire to exclude) his understanding of the young man's occasional foolishness, fanaticism, and mistakes, and his knowledge that it was as Icarus, not Daedalus, that Stephen flew from Dublin, yet, on the other hand, he did not pretend that this young man was an object of scorn, a deluded aesthete. As Stephen says in Ulysses, ' A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery' (U 179/243). Indeed the whole concept of his vocation as it is first revealed to him is of a call, ' To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!' (P 176), and in the last conversation with Cranly he again recognizes that the willingness to make a mistake is "Joyce's distrust of systematic symbolism is suggested by his attitude towards psychoanalysis: ' Joyce brushed it aside as absurd, saying its symbolism was mechanical, a house being a womb, a fire a phallus' (Ellman-JJ, 393).
Copyright © 1977 by C. H. Peake.| For information on re-use see: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright