James Joyce On Beauty

In his novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce uses the main character, Stephen Dedalus to explore many themes associated with an artist who is becoming his own individual and encountering the real world. One such theme that is studied is that of beauty. Dedalus is an aspiring poet and so, he gives his thoughts on the three things that are needed for beauty. Those three being wholeness, harmony, and radiance.

Wholeness is apprehending an object with its context. Here, space and time play a factor, as does the sound that may accompany an object and the surroundings in which an object is found. The object is viewed as complete by understanding all which is brought by the immediate perception of the individual.

So, in order to understand a piece of writing, we may need to know what was happening in the personal life of the painter or the social and cultural times when the painting was made. This is especially true if you want to fully comprehend Joyce’s Dubliners. This collection of short stories chronicles the changing times of the Irish middle class.

Harmony refers to analyzing that perception. Observing and seeing the different parts that make up the whole. How each thing harmonizes with the other in order to present a complete picture. If one thing is changed, then the picture is changed.

This would be the attention to detail. Individually a scene may not make sense at first or may not be considered good, but when combined with other scenes something truly good can be created. After this, the individual scenes can be viewed as special and important, once the large picture has been established.

Radiance is the whatness of the thing. The purpose of the object. How clearly it is represented or created. It is the artist’s imagination brought to light.

The point of the picture is of extreme importance, the radiance, perhaps the most difficult thing to create as an artist. The recreation of what is in your imagination. Without such a recreation the picture feels hollow but if one is able to transfer what is in the imagination to paper, then it is like intuition, it just feels right. It is in that feeling that you understand the beauty of the piece that your viewing.

Together with the three, wholeness, harmony and radiance, create beauty according to Joyce.


Youtube: Learned Living

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