Wednesday, December 29, 2004

James Joyce

December 29th, 1916 is the day that Joyce first published in full his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

It was semi-autobiographical, retelling the evolution of Stephen Dedalus, a young writer (who would later be one of the main characters in the seminal Ulysses). It's a terrific book -- don't listen to those curmudgeons who mock Joyce as too difficult. Dedalus resolves to leave Ireland and "forge in the smithy of [his] soul the unforged conscience of [his] race." I've always been inspired by that line, which I think smacks of the attitude spurned by one of his namesakes, Daedalus.

Daedalus, of course, was the Greek inventor who forged wings for himself and for his son Icarus. Icarus, reveling in the sensation of flight and ignoring his father's admonitions, flew too close to the sun (which was much lower in those days) and fell when the wax his father used to stick the wings together melted in the heat. Stephen Dedalus, too, wants to fly away from his island, but he seems to have more than a little of Icarus in him, too, a brash sort of confidence in his own abilities. How many works of literature have really represented a new-forged conscience for the human race?

Or so I recall. It's been several years since I read the book. Perhaps I will take it up in my week off after I finish this ill-conceived beast.


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