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Spring Break with James Joyce: Day 4

BLOGGER’S NOTE I’m on Spring Break this week, so I’m taking a vacation from schooling and blogging. Since most of my creative energy over the past several weeks has been academically oriented, I’m leaving you with a half-semester’s worth of my thoughts on James Joyce. Seriously: I really am. Have fun with it!

When I read an early draft of “The Sisters”, I was amazed: It’s so inflated and precious, and it bears so little resemblance to the published work. Comparing passages like the following

As I went home I wondered was that square of window lighted as before or did it reveal the ceremonious candles in the light of which the Christian must take his last sleep.
…and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles in the darkened window for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse.

offers dramatic demonstration of James Joyce’s evolution as a writer. The first is a rather stuffed euphemism—it offends me like bad aftershave offends me. The second is elegantly direct—you really can’t beat the word “corpse” for provoking an direct confrontation with death—and it is a more faithful reproduction of thoughts a young boy might actually have.

DublinersMy reaction to his essay, “A Portrait of the Artist”, was like my reaction to the proto-“The Sisters”, but more violent. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was unreadable; indeed, it reads as if the author assumes I have no business reading it. The style—Romantic, sentimental, grossly overblown (like the self-important, self-indulgent ranting of practically every 20-year-old beta male I have ever known)—is not only off-putting: It seems antithetical to Joyce’s project as an instrument of modernity, of aesthetic honesty and social revolution.

The rejection of this essay was an altogether predictable miracle—predictable because it’s dreck; miraculous because it turned into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 5

March 10, 2005 | Permalink


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