Tuesday, 10 November 2015

portrait of the artist as a young man [joyce]

A long long time ago, as a young man, I first read this curious, radical novel. I have no idea what I made of it then. There remains a shadow memory of a study, which looked onto a courtyard, built in the finest 80s red-brick tradition. Perhaps a mud-green bean-bag. Perhaps not. Another time, another world, Joyce’s text all but forgotten. For some reason a trigger activated in the last fortnight and I decided to return to the text of youth. The first thing that struck me, through the first two chapters, was how readable it was; how funny; how game. Still fresh, the ear for dialogue functioning like a butterfly net. It’s an arresting opening, it grabs you by the wrist and drags you into its world. The tone changes in the third chapter. God intervenes. Another note swims to the surface on the back of other Joycean preoccupations. The novel began to slip away from me. “The world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality”. And indeed, this is the case with the book, which chooses to forego the clod, the earth the solid, resorting instead to the speculative and the ethereal. Here, Joyce and I struggled to stay in touch. Then he returned in the closing chapter, with its rambling searching conversations carved out of walks and wonderings with friends and foes. Politics, literature, art and most dangerously, love, return to fly their flags and it feels as though reader and writer have managed to overcome a theological crisis; ready to take on the world once more. Which is not unlike the sensation of being a young man, or woman, when the moment arrives where the question of why our existence might be worth celebrating becomes one that has none of the simplicity of childhood; when the wrestling must be done in earnest before the course is plotted and there is no turning back. “April 26. Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

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