THE QUALITY OF EXPERIENCE IN PROUST AND JOYCE
Richard W. Amero
In Remembrance of Things Past and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Marcel Proust and James Joyce are concerned about the artist's relation to his craft and his relation to society. Artist-heroes in both books share many of the traits and experiences of their authors. The artist-heroes shed light on the problems of the artist in the modern world as they cope with and are shaped by their experiences. The characters are, nonetheless, conceived within the context of novels and are not transcriptions from personal diaries.
To take Proust first. His major concern in Remembrance of Things Past is to show that Marcel, his artist-hero, has lived a creative life of profound personal and social value. Throughout the novel's seven books, Marcel observes, records and interprets the experiences of his life. It is through Marcel, as narrator, that the events are organized, whether these events happened to him or to others.
Like everyone, Marcel experiences life as a changing show of appearances. Random as these appearances may seem to be, Marcel determines to find the themes and tones that hold them together.
As an author, Proust views subjective Marcel objectively. He does this by using devices which interconnect the novel's parts, extracting from them a unifying message. For example, Proust shows that love, cruelty, snobbery, and the imperatives that motivate sincere artists are the same however different they may appear in particular manifestations. Unifying principles are deterministic. They control the thoughts and actions of people whether these people are cognizant of them or not.
Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past after he had acquired a broad knowledge of the world and extensive insights into the causes of his own behavior. Retiring to his cork-lined room and daily weakening, he labored to prove that his life had meaning. Through Marcel, his artist hero, Proust returns to his beginnings and all points in between, not so much as he experienced them, but as he wished his artist-hero to profit from them. Marcel is not the biographical Proust, but a reflective and an artistic Proust who reexperienced the past in the light of Proust's present knowledge.
Proust bestowed on Marcel real people and events that, in fictional form, Marcel sees and interprets. Proust's life was not as well organized as Marcel's. By selecting, combining and controlling the incidents of his life as he incorporated them in Marcel's experience, Proust produced a work of art, which he could not have done if his intention had been simply to tell his own story.
If during his reading of Remembrance of Things Past, readers think of the real Marcel Proust and not the fictional Marcel as the author, his reading gets complicated. He must then sort out a hierarchy of impressions and place each impression where it belongs. From his childhood on, the fictional Marcel was passive. Because of parental indulgence, he developed an inclination to submit to whatever happened to him. He and his world became topsy-turvy. Given to romanticizing his surroundings, he was not able to protect himself from the discovery that his conceptions were false. As a result, he stumbled from adventure to adventure, expecting much and getting little.
Marcel could not enter effectively into society because he did not understand what society was. Inspired by his imagination rather than by fact, his desires beclouded his perceptions. Reviewing the experiences of his life, at the end of the novel, in a state of quasi-mystical exaltation, Marcel thinks he has pierced through the curtain of appearances. Physically frail but mentally alert, he finds that the major and minor characters in his fictional life, including himself, have lessons to teach that he can now understand.
Viewing characters, events and places from different periods of time as they are remembered in the present, Marcel discovers his suffering was not in vain. His retrospective perception holds together the discontinuous events of his life in a unity of experience and knowledge.
Marcel understands how and why he and others around him have behaved the way they did at the time and in the space given to them. He does not claim a comprehensive knowledge of other peoples' lives and circumstances. He does claim that human beings are bound to their past and, more tenuously, to the past of their ancestors. If he equates love with disease and suffering and imputes its aberrant forms to heredity, others are at liberty to draw different conclusions from the results of their own experiences. Marcel's parents had established an excellent rapport, but, according to Marcel's theories, they could not have been in love because they did not agonize over their meetings and separations.
Proust and Marcel join in the act of creation. While Proust invents the recurring themes and impressions, it is Marcel who experiences them. Marcel grasps the ramifications of his responses to stimuli from their beginnings to their ends. He understands why and how, within the limitations of his character, he behaved as he did. His knowledge of other people is less certain. While he perceives how biological and social changes affect people, he recognizes that his evolving opinions stem from his fragmented angle of vision.
One of Proust's by no means original discoveries is that people in all classes, from the lowest to the highest, create codes, ceremonies and degrees to distinguish the coteries they belong to from others. Thus Madame de Villeparisis, a member of the Guermantes family in lubricious standing, because she lives openly with her lover, has a salon that is lower in the hierarchical order than the salon of the Duchesse de Guermantes. No matter how much they pretend otherwise, guests at her salon would like to become part of the Duchesse's salon.. Aware of the vanity of coteries, Marcel is, nonetheless, as eager as the others to be in the top echelon.
Marcel ridicules the behavior of in-groups by describing the fastidious scruples of "la marquise," who maintains a public toilet. Like Madame de Villeparisis and the Duchesse de Guermantes, "la marquise" is determined to admit to her toilet only people who meet her criteria. Marcel's attitude to coteries is tolerant. He mocks their smug assumptions of superiority, but he is fascinated by their comic dramas. Still he is grateful that his illness prevents him from being on hand to witness them. Dependent as he may be on social stimuli, he can create art only in solitude. As a contretemps to the factitious pretensions of salons, Marcel shows how the wealthy and unscrupulous Madame Verdurin, daughter of the middle class, becomes, in the last chapter, the leader of aristocratic French society by marrying the widowed and bankrupt Prince de Guermantes. If things are not what they seem when they are first seen, they may become so in the course of time.
Proust does not use symbols in Remembrance of Things Past; that refer to a world of meaning beyond Marcel that in some supernatural way are related to his experience. He does use structural metaphors whose implications are glimpsed by Marcel, such as references to Botticelli's Zephora, Vermeer's yellow patch of wall, Vinteuil's Septet, the behavior of insects and birds, and the appearance of flowers. In one of several revelations of the inadequacy of impressions, the changing shadows cast by a magic lantern on the walls of his bedroom confound young Marcel's sense of what is real. Is it the shadows? Is it the wall? In an attempt to show the impressions which nature creates in his mind rather than the objective nature that his eyes see, Elstir paints landscapes as seascapes and seascapes as landscapes. This is another matter from the desire of impressionist painters, such as Renoir and Monet, to capture the optical data of nature before the mind has processed them. In a manner comparable to Elstir's, Marcel's searches for universal realities beyond the senses that metaphors disclose.
Unlike symbols, Proust's recurring metaphors do not express transcendental forces that operate on and within characters. As literary devices they prefigure or anticipate actions actions and emotions before they occur. Proust links Vinteuil's phrase with Swann's love for Odette, the Bois de Boulogne with Odette, hawthorns with Gilberte, and the sea with Albertine. Marcel realizes the linkage when, through the power of association, the first image recalls the second.
As Marcel is the fictional author of Remembrance of Things Past, the metaphors in the novel should emanate from Marcel. This, however, is not always the case. The ideal author may, as James Joyce says in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, refine himself out of existence, but Proust had no intention of doing so. He functions as the objective molder of events that impinge on the subjective consciousness of Marcel, his focus in the novel.
Marcel believes that through metaphors he can bring together events that took place at different times. Remembrance of Things Past fuses together connections between times in the same way that metaphors connecting objects and people disclose unities. Proust's structural metaphors and Marcel's narrative metaphors amplify and deepen transitory experiences.
By dipping a madeleine in a cup of tea, Marcel recalls a similar incident in his childhood. From this tiny act, a detailed account of Marcel's experiences at Combray and of his acquaintance with Swann emerges. Swann's infatuation with Odette establishes the cycle of expectation, realization and disappointment, of jealousy and satiation, which is to be repeated in the experiences of Marcel, Charlus and Robert de Saint-Loup. Marcel's romantic ideas about his neighbors at Combray -- Swann, a Jew and a member of the upper middle class, and the Duchesse de Guermantes, a member of the French aristocracy -- pass through many inflations and deflations until at the end of the novel the two families combine when Gilberte, Swann's daughter by Odette, a former courtesan, marries Robert de Saint-Loup, a nephew of the Duchesse.
Proust adheres to the epistemological notion that experience cannot be fully understood by itself, but must be linked to something else. The knowledge then produced is one of relation. Thus Marcel's opinion of the demi-goddess Oriane, Duchesse de Guermantes, goes through shifts of evaluation as he senses her likeness to a gamut of birds, ranging from a swan in his youth, to a peacock in his young manhood, to a vulture in his middle age, when he recognizes Oriane's cruelty and rapacity.
Marcel's metaphors are products of his imagination. They give emotional color to his experience. They summarize what he feels about life. They cannot be structural metaphors because then they would have no bearing on Marcel's search to understand himself. Wallace Fowlie, professor of French at the University of Colorado, claims to find hints that Marcel is like Orpheus, Swann is like Jupiter, and Oriane is like Melusine, a naiad disguised as a human. If these correspondences exist, they are resemblances that Marcel sees as he reconstructs his past. They are not the archetypal causes for Marcel's, Swann's and Oriane's actions. Imagination is not a trustworthy guide to reality as it glorifies and distorts people and conditions. Thus Swann agonizes over an Odette and Marcel over a Gilberte, a Madame Swann, a Duchesse de Guermantes, and an Albertine who do not exist.
Readers must seek out metaphors, symbols and images as they are buried within the text. They generally represent the transfer of an idea or feeling from one source to another. Thus, without realizing he does so, Marcel transfers his idea about the romantic nature of an ancient aristocracy to the Duchesse de Guermantes and transfers his feeling for hawthorns to Gilberte and the sea at Balbec to Albertine. This is not a stylistic imposition upon the novel, but an explicable psychological phenomenon.
Somewhat more strained, but undeniably poetic, is the connection Marcel makes between a restaurant at Rivebelle in the last part of "Within a Budding Grove," and an astronomical adventure with the waiters resembling angels, the cashiers astrologers, and the tables planets. Marcel goes on: "Moreover, there seemed to be some irresistible force of attraction at work among these divers stars, and at each table the diners had eyes only for tables at which they were not sitting." In an analogous manner, Marcel, attending a performance La Berma in Phedre, at the beginning of "The Guermantes Way," thinks of the interior of the Opera as a gigantic aquarium where "the radiant daughters of the sea were constantly turning around to smile upward at the bearded tritons."
Language, or the verbal power of images, does not control Marcel. He controls language because he relates images to himself. This descriptive process is different from that prevalent in modern novels and poetry in which writers add a qualitative level of verbal progression to their works to illumine the meaning of a story or to show an author's ingenuity. An example is the recurring snow image in The Dead, a short story by James Joyce. The image parallels and extends the mood of the story, but is not a necessary concomitant of the action.
Controlling metaphors act as a deus ex machina enhancing or diminishing the importance of human beings. Edgar Allen Poe, in The Fall of the House of Usher, used the controlling image of a fissure in the earth to duplicate a fissure in the mind of the protagonist. James Joyce, in Ulysses, used controlling themes taken from Homer's Odyssey to supplement the experience of Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom. Carping critics might argue that he made his characters puppets to an impossible destiny that interfered with their chance of apprehending their own lives. Such apprehension comes to Marcel through his own cognitive processes, not through extraterrestrial intercession.
In his middle age, when passions had subsided, Marcel recognized that he had lived a life of disillusionment. He discovers that, having undergone the throes of jealously and of unrequited love, he can understand the idea of suffering by recalling its pangs. With him the experience of recollection takes on additional connotations because it is unusually intense. His desire to perceive and preserve beauty enabled Marcel (and coincidentally Proust) to explain himself. The vision thus evoked or created, even though it contained elements of evil, was a source of tranquility.
In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust and Marcel accomplished the miracle of creation out of destruction. While they could not prevent others from repeating their mistakes, Proust and Marcel show that individual lives can have rewarding meanings. People who live in the world should retain enough of their vital experiences so that their minds are not blanks when they can no longer function fully in the world. Proust and Marcel offer people the hope of getting through and looking back. It is not a hope of finding meanings while on the way. Nor can it guarantee that individuals in their old age will discover permanent ideals greater than the movement of their minds through changing mental stages geared to the satisfaction of fleeting pleasures.
Its recovery of memory is not the only reason why readers think Remembrance of Things Past as a masterpiece. They admire Proust for the diligence, imagination, learning and love that went into the writing of the novel. In a world in which artistic achievements are sometimes undervalued, Proust represents an artist who embraced high standards. Sensitive people have learned from Proust that their changing experiences from birth to death are not formless and inconsequential. Access to memories is access to wisdom. An in-depth knowledge of one person's sufferings makes it easier to appreciate those of others. Thoughtful writers have learned from Proust how to convert their feelings into artistic equivalents. In so doing they have gained a respect for their art that thoughtless writers do not have.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce is concerned with the process that led to the making of an artist courageous enough to assert his independence while remaining dedicated to the ideals of his craft. As in Remembrance of Things Past, the artist-hero, Stephen Dedalus, is at the center of the book. It is through his perceptions that other characters and events are interpreted. Unlike Marcel, Dedalus is the only real character in the novel. It is as the title implies a portrait. Dedalus's mother, father, aunt, and friends are only faintly visible in dialogue and description. Dedalus is not interested in other people as people. Joyce suggests the thoughts and feelings of supplementary characters, but he does so tangentially.
Dedalus needs other people to sharpen his sense of the extent he differs from them. He is an isolated figure who wants to remain an isolated figure. Joyce was not as emphatic as Dedalus in making a break with the land and people of his childhood. He remained until he died an Irishmen in exile. He retained enough of the Catholicism he repudiated to use elements of theology and ceremony in Ulysses, albeit in parody. Joyce's attitude toward Dedalus is like that of the mythological Daedalus, architect and inventor, toward his immature and headstrong son Icarus. Daedalus made wings of wax for him and his son to use to escape from a labyrinth he himself had created. Not heeding his father's warnings, Icarus flew close to the sun. His wings melted and he fell into the sea. The Dedalus in A Portrait is immature, conceited and solemn. Joyce had his share of these qualities, but his disposition was broad enough to include their opposites. Dedalus is a fragmented version of his author. Joyce looked on him fondly, critically and with humor. A Portrait has a double focus, one the subject (Dedalus) and the other the artist painting the portrait (Joyce). Joyce may have read himself into Dedalus, but he did so in the genial manner of an artist who plays with his subject.
When a young woman who excites him flirts with a priest, a chagrined Dedalus heaps abuse on her and compares himself to "a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of ever living life." Surely Joyce thought his youthful hero was overacting and overreaching.
On the other hand, Marcel Proust sympathized with Marcel his central figure in Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel was not Proust, but he was Proust's alter ego, a figure Proust made to represent symbolically his life, sufferings and ideals.
Like Marcel, Dedalus is depressed by his situation in the world --- in this case provincial and priest-ridden Ireland. He reacts more decisively than Marcel because he intellectualizes his grievances. Dedalus formulated his opposition slowly, but when, based on the Jesuitical logic he rejected, he completes his formulation, he is ready for a break.
In his youth, Dedalus was a receptacle for sensations. He gradually made distinctions among the sensations. From his reading and debates with his fellow students, he acquired standards of truth and excellence which he used to judge people in the world. As his awareness of drabness, squalor, hypocrisy and injustice grew, his scorn for people living under such conditions increased. He was not one of those who get along by going along.
Joyce gives over the greater part of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to Dedalus's discovery of the standards which he intends to use to direct his life. Marcel accepts life passively and endures, even wallows, in his sufferings. Dedalus determines at an early age to resist hypocrisy and, injustice in so much as these conditions affect him personally. He is not at the outset a crusader for social reform. Like Marcel, he winds up giving art, or the freedom that the practice of art confers, the credit for his discovery of life in its sordid and sublime aspects. Marcel, whose surroundings are pleasant, see art as an avenue to sincerity and beauty. Dedalus see art as an avenue of release from unpleasant surroundings and as a weapon which he can use to defend himself from a world he despises.
At the end of A Portrait, Dedalus declares himself a free man. He will lead his life without sacrificing this life to the demands of a church, school, family, or political party. Dedalus would not have made this discovery without the aid of literature. It is because of the ideas he acquired in books that he is resolved not to suppress his originality by following middle class paths to success and respectability.
His reading and his reactions to experience have abetted Dedalus's awareness of his difference from other people. Like Marcel, he regards his impressions as more important than the views of others who have not developed the capacity for such impressions. He differs from Marcel in that to him the imaginative experience has wings in a literal sense. Note the ironic use of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Through his experience of beauty, Dedalus can fly to regions of the soul unknown to others that are to him richer than material worldly benefits. This interpretation elaborates and extends the original myth.
Marcel is too passive and too doomed to believe that his wings can get him far. His dreams of Venice, Balbec and the Duchesse de Guermantes carry him to the next station where they are exposed as false. To Dedalus, intermittent epiphanies take the form of radiant visions. To Marcel, visions are more prosaic. They relate sense impressions to one another, the trees of Hudimesnil to the spires of Martinville. In the end Marcel accepts his visions along with their denials. Dedalus must use his visions to fuel his progress. He will not let anyone take from him his visions and the escapes they afford from conventional duties and morality.
Dedalus's view of the clouds as he walks beside a stream is a view of something different from anything he knows in the drab, quarrelsome working class world. The clouds evoke a cosmopolitan and polished world far removed from the provincial and stultifying world of his native Ireland. To Dedalus the clouds are reflections of his aspiring nature. To Marcel, the trees of Hudimesnil, the spires of Martinville, and the Duchesse de Guermantes are objects with whom he is related in some enigmatic manner which he tries to understand.
After he breaks with Irish society, Dedalus must decide what he is going to do. The break has been foreshadowed from the beginning in the ambiguous identification of the protagonist with the Greek Daedalus, who showed Ariadne and Theseus how to escape from a labyrinth and who himself escaped by inventing wings. Secondary to Daedalus, the writers Dante Alighieri, a poet and an exile, and Henrik Ibsen, an exposer of sham, showed Dedalus that his wings may come to him through literature. Following the example set by these progenitors, Dedalus will focus his writing on the shallowness of the society from which he has escaped.
It is more difficult to describe Dedalus's views about art than to describe Marcel's for several reasons. While Remembrance of Things Past demonstrates Marcel's (and Proust's) esthetic philosophy, A Portrait of the Artist does not demonstrate Dedalus's. It relates rather how that philosophy came into being. Because the novel does not illustrate the working out of a philosophy, readers cannot decide if the author wanted them to take Dedalus's ideas about art seriously. Instead of being valid principles, these ideas may be Dedalus's changing notions, subject to modification, that he intends to use as guides in his life to come.
Dedalus expresses his opinions about art in a conversation with Lynch. He bases his argument on a statement by Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century Scholastic philosopher, "pulcra sunt quae visa placent." which he translates as "that is beautiful, the apprehension of which pleases." From this broad statement, Dedalus derives the conclusion that beauty does not deal with kinetic emotions, such as lust or with pedagogy. Beauty is produced by stasis, a condition of rest, "called forth, prolonged and at last dissolved by . . . the rhythm of beauty." Having established the immobile character of beauty, Dedalus defines art as "the human disposition of a sensible and intelligible matter for an esthetic end." In striving for an esthetic end -- or for a condition of stasis -- literature takes lyric, epic and dramatic forms. It is in the dramatic form that the personality of the artist "like the God of creation . . . remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails." Does Dedalus think he can become God?
These are not the only statements Dedalus makes about art. He had ascribed to words a special value apart from their meaning in a logical statement. In Stephen Hero, the novel that preceded and provided the foundation for A Portrait, Dedalus spoke of "epiphanies." Epiphany may have been another word for symbol. Dedalus experiences several epiphanies as he goes from place to place. They can be triggered by commonplace or even ugly scenes which the person who experiences them can transmute into beauty or "radiance," a word that Dedalus uses as a synonym for beauty. To experience a sensation is not to create, though Dedalus wants to transfer the emotions of the experience into the object he hopes at some future time to create.
The question arises whether Joyce or Dedalus, his lesser spokesperson, accepted the concept of "art for art's sake." Did they think of art as an absolute, remote from life that answered to its own rules?. Certainly Joyce's preoccupation with sounds and puns in Finnegan's Wake to the exclusion of meaning -- or to obvious meaning -- would indicate that he was not averse to the position of a complete esthete. Dedalus is too immature and unformed to have arrived at such a pinnacle. Joyce himself was sufficiently involved in his experiences of urban landscapes and people to want to leave them entirely behind.
In spite of his fascination with the metaphysical arguments of Thomas Aquinas, Dedalus was not retreating into a Beatific Vision. To Dedalus absorption in art offered an opportunity to escape from cramping influences in his environment, but it also offered a means of attaining truth. Here the perceptions of Henrik Ibsen disclose themselves. Joyce was so intrigued by Ibsen's criticisms of the hypocrisy of the leaders of society in Norway that he learned Norwegian to write to him. Prominent though the thoughts of Ibsen were in liberating Joyce from the pretenses of Irish society, Dedalus thinks of him only once in the novel as "a spirit of wayward boyish beauty" that blew through him as he went by Baird's stonecutting works in Talbot. Having arrived at a clear-sighted view of other peoples' obfuscations and rationalizations (but not of his own), Dedalus will exercise his artistic right to shape and interpret whatever materials he wishes.
In his conversation with Lynch, Dedalus holds aloft the esthetic goals of art from lesser propagandistic goals, such as those his Jesuit instructors would have preferred that he create. Dedalus will capture those experiences that are true to him and he will fashion these experiences into a satisfying esthetic shape. While making use of personal insights and experiences, he will escape the "nets" of mediocrity and conformity that bind his countrymen. If necessary, he will go into exile. But, despite his antipathy to his countrymen's slavish acceptance of superstition and stagnation, being true means maintaining his connection with the land of his birth.. He declares honestly and with ambiguous respect: "This race and this country and this life . . . produced men. . . . I shall express myself as I am."
At the conclusion of A Portrait, Dedalus links his mission of "forging the uncreated conscience of my race" with his desire to sublimate his personality in a dramatic type of literature in which the self-conscious process so evident in his own emergence to maturity will not be so obviously visible. Ulysses, with its respectful treatment of Leopold and Molly Bloom is around the corner. By using the word "conscience" instead of "consciousness" in his manifesto, Dedalus and Joyce hint that they will try to restore their countrymen to a state of innocence and beauty they do not now have. Since conscience is "uncreated," when Dedalus eventually "forges" it, it will be different from the existing conscience of the Irish people based on their sense of sin and reinforced by fears of death, judgment and eternal fire.
Dedalus's entry in his diary April 27 and the last words of the novel invoke the assistance of Daedalus, his spiritual father: "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."
If readers do not know what Dedalus's esthetic principles mean in practice, they can wait to find out in Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. The point of view Dedalus has embraced is positive and forceful. It is also pedagogical. Joyce, as the author, has given readers the stages by which Dedalus comes to his mature stance. In making Dedalus the center of consciousness, Joyce tried to create the impression that he had actually "refined himself out of existence." The refinement is not absolute as traces of Joyce's mockery can be seen in the novel when he holds his sanctimonious and arrogant hero up to ridicule. No author can completely disappear from his or her work. It is a matter of degree. Joyce is less present than other authors, say George Eliot, but he is still there.
Still as a work of art, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, can be appreciated as a well-constructed entity in which details of the author's life are irrelevant. Whether the entity accomplishes a stasis; that is whether it provides a moment or moments of illumination is debatable. The novel's purpose is to elucidate the stages by which a fledgling artist comes into possession of his mission. In so far as Joyce succeeds (and he does), the novel accomplishes its purpose. Stasis, or the artist's intense appreciation of moments of beauty, enters into the process, but it does not replace other chronological experiences that lead to the formation of Dedalus's independent mind.
Methods by which Joyce secured economy of detail and concentrated upon essential matters in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are obvious to readers who have read Stephen Hero, the first manuscript version of the novel. Dedalus reaches his goal after he finds that other goals are worthless. The parallelism between Dedalus and Daedalus, his mythical prototype, is not strained. It provides a backup dimension for Dedalus's story, but it is not the only means through which the story is illumined. While walking on the Bull Wall, the northern breakwater of Dublin's harbor, Dedalus identifies himself with Daedalus as an "artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring imperishable being." The cry of a nearby boy as he jumps off the breakwater, "O Cripes, I'm drowned!," mocks Dedalus's reveries by recalling the fate of Icarus, though Dedalus is so absorbed he does not hear it.
Some readers might claim that the novel can be appreciated for its formalistic unity like a portrait hanging on a wall. A portrait is also a subject viewed from a special angle. Joyce did not intend to create a static portrait as his subject develops within a span of time. Cubistic art is supposed to show the simultaneity of events, but no one has suggested that A Portrait is a cubistic canvas. Such a proclamation might be applicable to Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust with its many criss-crossings of time.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man cannot be appreciated for its spatial organization to the same degree that Remembrance of Things Past, with its unfolding of the past through the present and vice versa, can. Contemporary readers appreciate A Portrait because of its closeness to their own times. Remembrance of Things Past being set in La Belle Epoque requires an adjustment of lenses. A Portrait challenges people who act as members of team. Readers agree or disagree with Dedalus because they can apply his rejections and opinions to their own lives. As with H. C. Earwicker (Here Comes Everybody) in Finnegan's Wake, Dedalus represents every young man who finds himself at odds with his parents and society. Among responses the novel produces, the esthetic apprehension of "the most satisfying relations of the sensible," is one. Another is the appeal to a secular conscience, like Ibsen's and Joyce's, that can probe the deceits of everyone, including Ibsen and Joyce, and that can ultimately remedy conditions that turn life a pigsty.
Marcel Proust and James Joyce created artist-heroes determined to practice their art in an unfriendly world. Marcel's wish to recapture the past and Dedalus's wish to create beauty point to the values that Proust and Joyce attached to art. These men sacrificed much to share their thoughts and feelings with others in penetrating works of art. While readers appreciate their work, they regret that to create them, Proust had to experience so much suffering and that Joyce had to be deprived of so many comforts. Both writers were egotistical. They saw themselves as suns around which planets revolved.. Proust savored his sensations as they came to him through landscapes, lodgings, food, art and chaotic love affairs. Joyce nourished himself by reacting negatively to contemptible people and impoverished ideas. Both wanted to show others the truth about themselves and the world as they saw it. In Remembrance of Things Past and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man they offered readers a sweeping condemnation of the crassness and shallowness of contemporary culture and exposed the callous nature of its inhumanity.
March 16, 2001
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