Essay on Einstein's Science and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Essay on Einstein's Science and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:  Correlations Between Einstein's Science and Joyce's Artist            

 

Joyce and Einstein both made enormous contributions to their respective fields, but left us with as many new mysteries as answers to questions. Einstein's theory of Relativity showed us that our conceptual relationship to the world around us is extremely flexible -- that our perception of the world is determined both by our position in and of itself, and our position in relation to others. His theory of physics which had an immense impact on our epistemological endeavors, in that it imposes limits of what and how we can know due to our location in space/time. Aftershocks of Einstein's theory were felt in art, literature and philosophy, and undoubtedly greatly influenced Joyce's literary project.

This seems, perhaps, a strange notion. Nonetheless, it is clearly traceable throughout the course of Joyce's work. It is hinted at in Dubliners, wherein our pictures and conception of the town and the world are determined by the thoughts, beliefs and learning the characters, and finally comes to fruition in Ulysses, wherein we see the same events from several perspectives, and are given very different impressions of those events, according to the mental states of the observer through which we view them. But, in between these two works, we find A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In Portrait, Joyce both furthers and illustrates the relativistic project by carrying the reader, along with Stephen Dedalus from a world in which the final answers are objective and known, into a post-Einsteinian world wherein truth is determined by one's positi...


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...vision, while sliding that fact past the dean in the guise of Aquinas.

One by one, Stephen surrenders dogmatic modes of thought and behavior, until he at last emerges into the Einsteinian world, and surrenders his pretense of objectivity, by changing the narration to first person. While he continues to describe events around and beyond himself, Stephen is, for the first time, applying meaning and emotional content to those events, not hiding it behind the tone of his language for the reader to suss out, but hanging them out with enthusiasm, recognizing that, from his position in time/space, inside the closed system of himself, they are absolutely true and legitimate, regardless of how they may appear from another perspective. It's gravity when Stephen says it's gravity, and acceleration when he says it's acceleration, and it's all true, and real, and his.

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