Friday, August 04, 2006

Joyce Conquered

My fear of James Joyce is officially over. I finished A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the other day and it wasn't bad at all. In fact I even liked it. I can't say that I loved it, though there were sentences and paragraphs that took my breath away. I found the book as a whole to be uneven. I enjoyed the beginning when Stephen was a boy and just off to school. He didn't fit in and I felt really sorry for him. But I loved how he would make up stories in his head because I used to do that too (okay, sometimes I still do it). I felt really close to Stephen when he was a boy and confused about his father's change in fortunes. I felt his anguish when he had a crisis of faith. And I cheered for him when he decided that he did not want to be a priest even though that was what was expected of him. I particularly liked the walk he took in which he wonders if he made the right choice. Who hasn't felt the same way at one time or other? In that section is a wonderful passage:

--A day of dappled seaborne clouds. The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and coulour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycouloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?
Good questions for readers to ponder--do we find more pleasure in our books than in the sensible world? Is there more pleasure in the language of prose than in the language of the everyday? Once Stephen enters university, I lost touch with the character. There is something that happens, a change in the way the narrative is written or intimacy of Stephen's thoughts, I'm not sure what. But I suddenly felt so far away and everything went flat. Perhaps it's because of all the intellectualizing that goes on, though I thought the aesthetic theorizing interesting and hope to be able to compare it with Proust. I am glad I read Portrait. I will definitely read more Joyce, maybe Dubliners, but not for a while since Joyce and Proust interfere with each other and I want to be able to focus on Proust for now. Having conquered one literary fear, I need to root around for another one to take on.