A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Artistic Development


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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  Artistic Development


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had various themes which covered many areas. The primary theme of the novel is the artistic development of the artist, Stephen, and this relates specifically to the artist’s development in the life of a national language. Stephen experiences many voices of Ireland as well as those of the writers of his education. Out of all these voices emerges Stephen’s aesthetic theory and his desire to find his own manner of expression. Stephen develops his own voice as a way of escaping these constraints.

One of the main constraints on the artist as Joyce depicts his life is the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is both a constraint and an enabling condition for the artist’s development. First, the Jesuit education Stephen receives, gives him a thorough grounding in the classical and medieval thinkers. It also structures Stephen’s life in such a way that it provides him with a basis for his own development as a moral and intellectual person. In relation to his eventual development of a theory of art or an aesthetic theory, Stephen fully draws on this tradition. He uses two central doctrines of the church in this theory. First, he revises the doctrine into a way of imagining the relationship between art and the world it describes. When Stephen develops his theory, he thinks of himself as taking on the role of a "priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life." The second use of Catholic doctrine or tradition relates to its creation of a priesthood, a class of men separate from the world who act as intermediaries between the deity and the people. In Stephen’s idea of the artist, he is priestlike, performing the miracle of turning life into art.

Joyce is in good company when he uses techniques to drive a wedge in the totalizing authority of the church and in other forms of seriousness, even the artist’s own. When Stephen is discoursing learnedly on his aesthetic theory, his friend Lynch critisizes him. He brings lust into the picture of how and why art is created. He laughs at Stephen’s deadly serious use of the scholastics to develop a theory of art. Earlier in the novel, when Mrs. Dante Riordan is condemning Parnell and supporting his excommunication from the Catholic church, Mr.

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Dedalus and Mr. Casey discourages her, describing fat priests, the way the priests eat, and generally joking about the priest’s grasping for power. They win that argument. Mrs. Riordan leaves. It serves a good lesson for the young Stephen, one he never employs himself, but which Joyce certainly makes good use of. Even in describing Stephen’s process of writing a poem to his beloved. He begins in poetic inspiration and ends in lust. Both are used to produce the poem.

It is this both-and philosophy that characterizes the final version of Stephen’s ideas of the function of art and the free life. Instead of the church’s idea of mortifying the flesh in favor of the spirit, Stephen finally decides that the flesh should also be given voice. The novel itself insists on the local as a site for theories of the universal, of the body as the place in which the spirit resides. The final description of Stephen’s theory of art is not in the novel’s narrative it is the novel’s narrative, as it incorporates all the voices of Stephen’s development, orchestrates them, makes them speak to each other, and disables any one of them from an authoritative hold over the free artist.


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