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Peake, Charles / James Joyce, the citizen and the artist

Chapter 5: Ulysses: the moral vision,   pp. 322-340 PDF (1.6 MB)

Page 340

340 Ulysses: moral vision 
our own experience in theirs, and thus to share the complexity of Joyce's
vision instead of leaping to hasty and oversimplified moral judgements. 
 From early in his career (what follows was written soon after his twentyfirst
birthday), Joyce held that ' tragedy is the imperfect manner and comedy the
perfect manner in art': 
An improper art aims at exciting in the way of comedy the feeling of desire
but the feeling which is proper to comic art is the feeling of joy. Desire,
as I have said, is the feeling which urges us to go to something but joy
is the feeling which the possession of some good excites in us. . . . All
art which excites in us the feeling of joy is so far comic and according
as this feeling of joy is excited by whatever is substantial or accidental
in human fortunes the art is to be judged more or less excellent. ~ 
A writer cannot be held to the formulations of his youth, but it seems typical
of Joyce that he should have aimed, in Ulysses, at the highest excellence
in what he took to be ' the perfect manner in art', for there is nothing
more substantial in human fortunes than our daily experience itself nor any
good of which we are more surely possessed. Ulysses is a comedy not in the
sense of being a work designed to make the reader laugh (though it continually
does that) or looking steadily away from whatever is harsh, painful or pathetic.
It is comedy in that it includes so much — death and birth, remorse
and self-congratulation, ambition and stagnation, pride and shame, isolation
and companionship, love and hate, a variety of moods and relationships, the
human qualities which most excite condemnation or disgust, the ordinary occupations
which seem commonplace, trivial or unpleasant — and yet finds in it
all cause for what Joyce calls ' joy'. Before his eighteenth birthday, he
had foreseen the possibility of such a vision and such a work: 
Still I think out of the dreary sameness of existence, a measure of dramatic
life may be drawn. Even the most commonplace, the deadest among the living,
may play a part in a great drama. . . . Life we must accept as we see it
before our eyes, men and women as we meet them in the real world, not as
we apprehend them in the world of faery. The great human comedy in which
each has share, gives limitless scope to the true artist, today as yesterday
and as in years gone.'8 
' ~ Gorman, 97. ~8 CW, 45. 

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