A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, books, education, James Joyce, Joseph Campbell, literature, spirituality, Stephen Dedalus, Stephen Hero, Ulysses
“Get people to read Ulysses!” Well, all I have to say is good luck with that. And working your grandmother over in an effort to pique her interest in the book? That’s just cruel.
I’ve got to a point where I no longer care what people read, even Ulysses. And in truth, what I’m trying to do is not really about Joyce and the Book, it’s something much much bigger, much much more comprehensive, as was Joyce’s aim in fact.
It was adumbrated in Nietzche, for he was groping towards something, built up in a guy named Oswald Spengler, coincidentally formulated from an artistic perspective by Joyce, and fully grasped and fleshed out by Joseph Campbell.
Anyway, all big stuff, stuff I may not have the ability to convey, but will die with a smile on my face trying to I suppose.
So ok, back to the book.
I’ve read Budgen, twice, and though he offers a glimpse into the figure of Joyce during the early composition of Ulysses I don’t really think much of him. So many other commentaries I’ve just plainly ignored as scholarly stuff, and as such, dead.
But here is where I go my own way from the herd mentality that sees Stephen as a troubled, brooding, conflicted and failed artist.
Three scholarly type aged white guys have taken me to task for that, themselves maintaining the whole Stephen as immature would-be intellectual thing. But when I’ve asked them why would Joyce, who stuck so very closely to his own story from the unpublished Stephen Hero, through A Portrait and into Ulysses, and who obviously broke through to full artistic maturity himself, drop his alter ego short of that estate and thus leave Ulysses with these gaping loose ends, all I get for a reply is crickets.
Why, I repeat? What artistic purpose would there be in leaving things unresolved? And do people actually think a consummate artist as Joyce was would leave a book he worked seven years at unfinished, unresolved?
That just doesn’t make sense to me, and I wonder why it doesn’t make sense to others too. But I strove to address that very answer in my video “James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Failure of Our Educational System.”
For me, and where I’m going with these videos, Ulysses IS fully resolved. Nothing is left hanging. There are NO loose ends.
Stephen is a fictionalized Joyce, and he is saying this is where I’ve got to and just as importantly how I got here.
Leaving Bloom’s garden towards the end he has finally been accepted by one living adult into his very own, unique, and heretofore extremely isolated version of adulthood. He has found that one friend who might not be capable of grasping the whole import of his message to humankind, at least not on an intellectual, verbal level, but who at least recognizes and acknowledges his right to it and the integrity of a young man’s effort whether he ‘succeeds’ or not.
And that friend, Bloom, is far from a ‘common’ man. Indeed, nothing he says throughout the book is ‘common’. And what’s more, that’s why Molly chose him over all the others who might have vied for her hand, or at least her charms at any rate. As she reminisces: “He wasn’t like the others.”
Throughout the book Bloom demonstrates again and again his ‘uncommonality,’ and, what’s more, Stephen, if only unconsciously, has already perceived that fact.
What? You might ask, how would he perceive that? Well, as we learn in the question and answer chapter just before Molly’s finale, they have actually met on two or three occasions, once when Stephen was six, and again when he was ten, when he to everyone’s surprise invited Bloom back to the Dedalus house, which of course Bloom “respectfully declined.”
So Stephen, who has walked the streets of Dublin for years, could not have failed to take occasional notice of this not quite perfect stranger.
And then, and I’ve never heard or read a single line on this fact: Stephen, who at the very least must of been subconsciously aware of the outsider figure who was Bloom, dreamt in the Martello Tower the night before of meeting Bloom!
Who has ever pointed out that fact?
Really, you might ask?
Reread the last page or two of chapter nine, when Stephen and Buck Mulligan are standing outside the National Library and Bloom—very significantly I might add, the image so telling—passes between the two. Take note of the thoughts or images that briefly pass through Stephen’s mind. And then go back and read episode three on the shore of Sandymount Strand, and especially the lines following Stephen’s thought: “Wait, that dream of last night….”
Stephen, closed to everyone else in his native city, was plain and simply open and ready to meet Bloom.
And Bloom, stuck as he admits on numerous occasions, what does he gain with their meeting and what resolution does he experience?
Well, outsider as he is, one who has lost his only son who he might have, as he says, brought up to be independent, worn down by the city’s indifference, mockery, and even scorn, has allowed his sense of self to slip, has drifted from his essential manhood and as such has risked the loss of Molly.
But something happens when he intercedes on Stephen’s behalf after the latter has been knocked down in the street by the British soldier. Kneeling over the unconscious Stephen, significantly for me at any rate, Bloom sees a vision of his dead son Rudy and it’s as if Rudy is silently saying to him: “I’m alright, dad, I’ll be ok. Don’t worry about me anymore, get on with your life. I love you.”
And that’s just what the two of them do in the three episodes remaining to them.
A renewed purpose in life, and for both, one no longer experienced in total isolation.
And for me, Molly somehow senses this change in her husband upon his return to their bed, and before drifting off to sleep herself compares him to everyone else in her life, including Blazes Boylan, and finds him good enough, remembering how originally she had thought “as well him as any other.”
Resolution, for all three.
To me at any rate.
Wow, that’s it for now, Simon.
Thanks for your words, they helped bring these things out, forced me to at least express these things going on inside my head and heart. Whether I succeed in conveying whatever it is I’m trying to is neither here nor there.
All that matters is the effort!
And now time for a pint, Guinness on your behalf.