Joyce's Portrait of the Artist IV
Bill Long 11/25/08
Seeing the Girl; Finding his Life
In this state of unusual arousal, Stephen realizes both that he is alone and that a girl is standing before him. Girls/females function in Portrait as teachers for Stephen, as emblems of beauty which cling to him and instruct him and lead him in his creative way even if he never really engages personally with them. She is his muse, and one who might inspire his poetry (as one woman inspires his villanelle in ch. 5), though she might be mute or absent from his life for years. So, he sees a girl at the sea, who was alone and still, gazing out to sea. After staring at her for a while, he turns away.
"His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him," p.186.
He "internalized" her:
"Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!" p. 186.
That is what he, the artist, would do. It would be a potpourri of the spirit, a hotchpot of mixed items, a lobscouse of the soul. Sometimes he would conquer, other times fall, but that wasn't the point. He would be true to the freedom of the vision. In the language of next to last sentence of the book:
"I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race," pp. 275-76.
Rather than being wedded to the earth in his priestly singleness, to be tied to the dumb and gross symbols of life here, to an institution (the Church) that held back the people, he would soar to unexplored heights of creativity. Language would be his "artificial" means, the means of his creation. Like his namesake, he would escape the deadening repetition of vain attempts to create a people from Ireland and fly away and create that same people from another place, through words.
More Words On Creativity
Though I have now made the point in several ways, a few more words might not be inappropriate. Indeed, when a person has discovered his/her destiny as artist, s/he just wants to keep sharing the story of the call, the nature of the devotion, the result of the discipline. When the spirit is released from shackles and can soar, the artist wants to bring the whole world along for the flight--for the view is breathtaking and the journey is bracing. So, one of Stephen's friends, Cranly, says to him:
"Yes, I remember it. To discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express its unfettered freedom," p. 267.
He finally separates himself completely from the Church, even thogh he isn't completely convinced that the message of the Church is in error. It may, in fact, be right. But he can't stay as a caged bird.
"Look here, Cranly..You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use--silence, exile, and cunning," pp. 268-69.
He continues a little later:
"I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too," p. 269.
Reflecting on the Artist's Calling
I could say much more about Joyce' artist and his calling, but I would like to reflect in the closing words of this essay on my sense of artistic call. I begin with a brief story. I was eating lunch yesterday with my friend Scott, a 33 year-old plaintiff's attorney for injured people who had just won a sizable victory for the estate of an 86 year-old Alzheimer-affected woman who was handcuffed by police in her nursing home when she became disoriented. Scott asked me about my life in law in the past and present and, as I was narrating my tale, he stopped me and said, "Bill, you are an artist, even though you and I worked for the same 'big firm' for a few years together." He was alluding to the way that I talked about how I wanted to understand and use law--as a language to describe one way of seeing reality and solving problems.
When I think of my sense of artistic all, I think it consists in three principal things: (1) a utter commitment to the mission or vision of the call; (2) a belief that seeing the world through my vision needs to be shared and if shared, it enriches the world; and (3) a knowledge that the tools I use to shape the vision I articulate are words, all kinds of words, words that need to be weighed, caressed, cared for, massaged, invented, carefully used. Words open worlds for me, and worlds are the way that one can reconceptualize the universe that I see once I cross the threshold into that new world. I sometimes think that if we just knew words well enough, and the things to which they pointed, we might not even need much else in order to bring light and harmony to the world. My artistic vision, then, is fueled by words. They open worlds for me, and then they become the tools to describe the world that has been opened. They are among the most precious things in the world and, as such, need to be protected and used with care and delight. They describe the world, a world which is anything but static. Indeed, not until the world is well-described do we really see it. Thus, by selecting and using words carefully, we have a world opened before us that has never really been seen before. My artistic vision, then, is to discover, describe and open the world that I see. Just as I have said that three of the things I do best in life are to help individuals think about their personal and professional lives, and to help groups think, so I truly believe the way I do so is to help people frame and reframe the world they think they know through selecting words they think they know and combining them with other words they think they know to give them a product that is something they really don't know.
So, I resonated deeply with Stephen Daedalus in Portrait of the Artist. I luxuriated in the rich and lambent prose of Joyce in describing him. Indeed, some of his prose is so wonderful that it escapes me, and I am sure I will have to return to it over and over again just to catch its meaning. My artistic task is not necessarily to write a great novel, though I would like to learn how; it is, rather, to render the things we think we see in ways that we haven't yet seen so that we all can see the world in a new and fresh way. The new and fresh is not simply for the novelty of seeing the world anew, but emerges from the sense that the world as people define it now is the result of someone's giving it to them already. The world people adopt is prepared and cooked up by someone else. My question--why shouldn't another picture (mine) be able to enter in and claim some space? That is what I do. And that is why I love James Joyce...