In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus defines beauty and the artist's comprehension of his/her own art. Stephen uses his esthetic theory with theories borrowed from St. Thomas Aquinas and Plato. The discourse can be broken down into three main sections: 1) A definitions of beauty and art. 2) The apprehension and qualifications of beauty. 3) The artist's view of his/her own work. I will explain how the first two sections of his esthetic theory relate to Stephen. Furthermore, I will argue that in the last section, Joyce is speaking of Stephen Dedalus and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as his art.
First, Stephen states the theory that art should invoke esthetic emotions. These emotions are confined only to the intellect and are incapable of manifesting themselves in a physical manner: "The esthetic emotion is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing." (Pg. 149). An example of esthetic emotion being static can be found in Keats' poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In this poem, the scene on the urn of two young lovers just about to kiss is frozen in time. Their feelings of anticipation, excitement, and innocence are still felt by the urn's viewers even though their act can never be carried out. Human emotion, like the picture on the urn, is static. Also, anything that induces a physical reaction, such as flinching, cannot be art. This is because it has nothing to do with the intellect, but an animal reaction caused by nerves. Stephen's experience with visiting prostitutes for the first time exemplifies this theory: "His hands clenched convulsively and his teeth set together as he suffered the agony o...
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...nting his creation (Stephen) and displaying Stephen's experiences in relation to Joyce's life. Joyce fulfills the epical form by displaying Stephen's stream of consciousness and his position of certain issues (religious, political, etc.); then taking his positions and contrasting them with the thoughts and positions of others. Finally, he fulfills the dramatic form which he displays Stephen's relations with other people, such as family, friends, and teachers.
In conclusion, the Esthetic Theory is Stephen's definition of the beautiful and of art. Also, it serves the point for Joyce, himself, to describe and explain his thoughts and perspectives as the artist of both A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man as a novel, and of his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: New American Library, 1991.
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