Freedom’s Cycle and Flight: Joyce’s Iliad
As Joyce’s work of Ulysses was an obvious representation (bluntly stated by himself) of the Odyssey, we can look at A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (published in 1916) as a predecessor of this novel, the Iliad. If the Ulysses (Odyssey) of a man is where his mind is matured and begging for peace-of-mind, A Portrait (Iliad) takes on the immaturity of a youth’s rebellious beginnings, begging for excitement; Joyce’s Freedom Cycle. This cycle progresses from oppression, to rebellion, and lastly the outcome of freedom, whatever it may be. Oppression Stephen fears would be set forth by the Jesuit lifestyle and church, Irish customs of society and politics, and his own language. Rebellion is executed in participating with a prostitute, the outright rejection of political figures, even at a family Christmas dinner, with the skepticism of Jesus and the molding and transformation of the words he hears and reads (which can also be shown in Joyce’s style.) The rebellion that Stephen arranges is for the freedom of his own thought, to back away from anyone and anything that set a limit and instead set it for himself or live in the eternity of his own, which can be seen in Joyce’s last novel Finnegans Wake. In its whole A Portrait is a K’nstlerroman that takes on a philosophical standpoint.
For a beginning Joyce knows that we are born with freedom, and to express that, he puts more than surface detail into Stephen Dedalus’ name:
-What is your name?
Stephen had answered: Stephen Dedalus.
Then Nasty Roche had said:
-What kind of name is that? (6)
It is true that Stephen’s name is obscure and out of place in society. In fact, his first name proves that. Stephen, in the Bible, is the first Christian martyr (Startup 10). As a result of his thoughts, Stephen, the martyr, is dragged out of the city in which he preached and stoned to death. Joyce knows the upcoming roar his literature will provoke, and the martyr artist is the only way to approach the situation. Stephen Dedalus will die for his beliefs rather than give them away to conventional thought. Dedalus, Stephen’s last name, is a take off of Daedalus, an artist and inventor in the Greek mythos (Bloom 5). Daedalus’ cunning (which Joyce later uses as a way to gain ‘immortality’ in his writing) took him out of the Labyrinth with his crafted wings (Jhan). Joyce refers to the tyrannous society as Minotaur, the overall ignorance of it as the Labyrinth, and the artistry of freedom as his wings. Overall, Stephen will die and live to the fullest carpe diem for his art.
Joyce takes freedom of expression to another level to go along with his plot. He uses much stream-of-consciousness writing, the first writer to employ it as often as he did. The beginning of the book starts Stephen as a child hearing a bedtime story. The wording used is not what is actually being said but what Stephen perceives and understands. It flows smoothly, as taking in a new world calmly. As Stephen reaches boyhood, the novel becomes shifty. The style is, as it was, a reflection of Stephen’s mind. Now that Stephen is older, he has the fear and knowledge of life instead of the flowing mindset of his nursery scene. Both Stephen’s racing thoughts and free associations, jarred with Joyce’s sudden scene changes, produce the effect, even unwillingly, of an adolescent mindset, recreating the juvenile battles of Troy in the Iliad.
Joyce writes A Portrait like an impressionistic painting. The reader sees everything in an obscurity; good, bad, horridness, freedom, immunity, oppression (Beebe 56). All of Joyce’s passages have nothing but this, especially in his over-emphasis of Stephen’s reaction to the hell sermon, which, in its abstruseness, is Stephen’s seeing of the subjugations in society’s order. After Joyce jostles forty pages of a priest-spoken Hades directed towards the young men of the Jesuits, he later employs that it was all a suppression; an anti-climatic, jotted down piece of pure mental garbage. To enforce this inferno-factor on the young students, the priest uses excessive five-senses torment repetition which will hopefully turn the individual’s thoughts into an abstract and mechanical thought (Levenson 39). Keep in mind that all of the fire thrown at Stephen turns out to be folly and is of no use except to mature himself from such thoughts.
Earlier in the novel, Stephen also has to confront his rectors. After having been punished by Father Dolan for not being able to write without the glasses he broke, Stephen built up bravery to talk to the head priest. The head priest laughs and puts it off dismissively. This is a step back from Impressionism on Joyce’s part (aside from the chilling effect of the priest) to tell of the apathy of the Jesuit institution. In fact, only one rector sides with Stephen on anything of his own thoughts, in which they discuss aesthetics (Stanley 712). Stephen also rebels by disbelieving in the realism of everything. Stephen begins this by acting out parts of The Count of Monte Cristo, living in a romantic realm of his own creation (Richard). The next petition in Stephen’s rebellion is a visit to a prostitute:
‘Her round arms held him firmly to her and he, seeing her face lifted to him in serious calm and
feeling the warm calm rise and fall of her breast, all but burst into hysterical weeping. Tears of
joy and relief shone in his delighted eyes and his lips parted though they would not speak.
She passed her tinkling hand through his hair, calling him a little rascal.’ (89)
This shows two things: he held up his rebellion to the church to a huge extreme point, and he liked being the rebel. Although her calling him ‘little rascal’ emphasizes a small insurgent, it’s a start for Dedalus. Stephen is the self-conscious artist, using all his resources to fight for what he believes (David).
A look at Stephen’s view of the world as the Labyrinth will help explicate why he feels the urge to rebel. The Labyrinth was a place created because of the outcome of sensuous desire for an unnatural thing. Pasiphae of Greek mythology lusts after a bull, Daedalus builds a cow in which the two could procreate, and the outcome is Minotaur. Daedalus has to build the Labyrinth out of shame, in which no ordinary man could get in or find his way out. After he builds this, Daedalus has to construct wings and escape this horrid contraption, in which fourteen humans have to be sacrificed every eight years. As Fortuna states, ‘The full myth rehearses acts of simony, lust, imprisonment, betrayal, and sacrificial deaths, themes that Joyce returns to again and again in his writing.’ (Fortuna 71) The Labyrinth keeps all of society’s mistakes hidden. Stephen wants freedom from that. Joyce wants to expose himself in this writing and all his others. Joyce wants to pull the floodgates open, leaving nothing back; the reason for his no-holds-barred, uncensored writing. Infatuation with the Labyrinth has carried up to modern ages with such complicated, multi-layered novels as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, where it describes the Labyrinth as a darkly invoking journey of the benighted soul. The passage shown, describing Danielewski’s perceived Labyrinth, has his protagonist trying to figure out what it is (with exception of exempting struck lines and red font):
‘Navidson is not
Minos. He did
not build the lab-
only [discovered] it. The father of that place- be it a Minos,
Daedalus, [. . .] St. Mark’s god, another father who swore
‘Begone! Relieve me from the sight
of your detested form’, a whole pa-
ternal line here following a tradition
of dead sons- vanished long ago,
leaving the [creature] within all the
time in history to forget, to grow,
to consume the consequences of its
own terrible fate. (Danielewski 336)
This text and its oddities of structure show the simple insanity one would go through to solve the puzzle of the Labyrinth. This is another tool of its being. Either way something will try to get out, physical or mental, there’s no way out through logic or societies or prayer. In any way one turns, one will be destroyed.
When it comes to getting out of this Labyrinth of the soul and society, Joyce has answered it quite frankly. Art and only art can withstand the strain of coming out alive, like Icarus falling to his death not knowing how to deal with such power. This dilemma is now the new focus point as Stephen grows and matures. He has replaced the romance of The Count of Monte Cristo with the flight of Daedalus; he has found a mythic, matured fantasy in his flight for intellectual freedom from the trap of society, Minotaur.
Chase pronounces: ‘Language is a Trojan horse by which the universe gets into the mind’ (Chace 165). This is Stephen’s main oppressive Minotaur; his own language. In fact, later in his literary life of Ulysses he states, ‘I am the servant of two masters… an English and an Italian’ (Joyce Ulysses 21). This is Stephen’s and Joyce’s main, paramount task: to overthrow the language or make his own world out of it. The main reason Stephen is so laden with language is that it’s not his soul’s invention. ‘Stephen is a product of his listening and reading, an irrational sum of the texts, written and spoken, which he had been exposed’ (Kershner 238). From the beginning, Stephen picks up words. As a baby, words like ‘moocow,’ ‘baby tuckoo,’ and ‘apologise’ stick out in his mind. He associates these words with himself and then to the surrounding area. Taking all this in lulls Stephen to a quiet rest (Kershner 236). In his adolescence, Stephen now feels insecure. He is unsteady with the world as scandals and upper upperclassmen fly above him without hesitation. Stephen can’t comprehend this stage of his life, so he starts where he can: language.
‘At each significant stage in the development of Stephen’s consciousness, he undergoes
a painful sensitivity to ‘raw’ language, language that seems in some respects to lack
denotation. In structural terms, he is confronted by the signifier in the absence of the
signified.’ (Kershner 233)
Stephen picks up words such as ‘suck’ and ‘smugging.’ He plays with them at a level higher than his Irish folklore years; he now orchestrates the words into different ones, plays with the meanings, and develops it to his own liking. Hence, the naturalization of his own soul with his language begins. He has taken the archetype connotation of what it was and made it his own. Stephen has evolved raw language, or his apparition-esque word system, into his soul. The protagonist, at this stage of his transformation of his language, now takes on transmutation, applying it to his world of aesthetics, connecting both stages of his infancy and youth.
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
The Universe’ (12)
This writing of Stephen asserts two things: the worldliness of everyone together, and his growing need to find something outside of language. From this stage on, Stephen has a growing affection for aesthetics.
The main reason Stephen loves to hold aesthetics close to him is because of the flight from all oppressions; religion, politics, society, and most dominant, language. To turn language into his own does not take away the problem that it was originally constructed without his consent. Stephen must take what he sees and live through that also: not just oral and written thought, not just his sensations between warmth and coldness, not just the difference of how horse urine and the sea smell, not just the bitterness of inadequate meals or the sweetness of Christmas ham. He must transform all his senses to revolve around his renegade soul. The coherent opposites of his feeling (warmth of the prostitute coinciding with the cold trembling at the confessional seat) enforced Stephen to deploy on his aesthetic theory of harmony. This theory insists that harmony doesn’t consist of all goodness but must also swirl into a dark pathos. The reason being is that Joyce doesn’t associate art with reality. Joyce firmly believes, on equal ground with Oscar Wilde, that art should be for art’s sake and any mixing of the opposite will thoroughly spoil the intention.
And so, with aesthetics and language being understood as a thing to conquer, Joyce closes the book with Stephen intending to flee Dublin. Stephen, being on the brink of his epiphany, is still in his Iliad stage of immaturity. He will never actually flee Dublin, but his thoughts of revolution will stay the same. Stephen has found his canvas on which to paint; the eternal flight of Daedalus with the intention of art as soul. With the harmony of conflict and balance at hand, Stephen knows in Ulysses (where his maturity is expunged) it is not the Exodus that matters; it’s the fight in Joyce’s Cycle and Flight.
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