Conception and articulation of the artist's self in J. Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man & J. Hawkes's Travesty

Conception and articulation of the artist's self in J. Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man & J. Hawkes's Travesty
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   Conception and articulation of the artist’s self in J. Joyce’s  A Portrait of  the Artist as a Young Man  & J. Hawkes’s Travesty . Salwa Karoui- Elounelli 1 .  I   ntroduction   If Modernist and Post-Modernist fictions are said to incarnate a new sensibility to the image and ‘self’ of the artist, it is mainly because those major movements in literature have been noted for their deep and constant revisions of the terms in which art, language, and reality are conceptualized. The new sensibility to the human condition that the artists of the beginning of the twentieth century started to discover in themselves, lies at the basis of the notion of Modernism. 1  The new, Modernist conceptions of art and artistic self as being autonomous, but also capable of creating order and meaning in a chaotic world, are the major manifestations of that new sensibility. With the advent of Post-Modernism, the relations between self and world and between art and world have been more deeply revised as language and discourse have been insistingly brought to the issue. In this paper, some of the significant changes brought about by the Post-Modern conceptualization of the artist’s self and subjectivity are noted within a comparative reading of a Modern and a Post-Modern text: J. Joyce’s  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  and in J. Hawkes’s Travesty . In this reading, the focus will be on the conception and rendering of the artist’s self in each novel, in order to point to some significant distinctions between the Modernist and Post-Modernist assumptions, especially in their views of the self in relation to art and language. 2 . Articulation of the artist’s self in  A Portrait of the Artist  and Travesty   In both novels the structural and thematic focus is on the figure of the artist; it is the 1 . For more details about the philosophical and scientific basis (Nietzche, Freud, Einstein) of the new conception of the human nature that Modernism adopts, see Margaret Davies, “La Notion De Modernité,” Cahiers du 20ème Siècle  5, (1975): pp.9-30.   2 2 author’s own artistic self which is implicated in Joyce’s Portrait and Hawkes’s Travesty , the first being a semi- autobiography and the second encompasses Hawkes’s own conception of the artist and his theory of fiction. A major difference in technique between the two works lies in the fact that Joyce’s method and narrative structure dramatize the stages of development through which the artist goes before  the full assumption of his artistic vocation. Hawkes’s narrative, on the other hand, delineates a character who is not only already conscious of his identity as artist, but who is also- already- in the process of realizing his artistic self and design by driving his car (with his daughter and friend aboard) into a planned crash. The process depicted in Travesty  is not that of a development (as in Joyce’s narrative); it is rather presented in terms of a linear movement in which the moving car and the on- going narrative discourse form a single unity. The structure in Hawkes’s novel is based on a spatial movement in which the textual space stands as an ironic double (or substitute) for the concrete road that Papa is supposed to be travelling. In  A Portrait    of the Artist  , 2  Stephen’s artistic self is articulated as a consciousness and coherent subjectivity emanating from the stages of development through which Stephen the boy goes. The development is determined within the boy’s (and young man’s) relations to family, church, and country. The movement towards disillusionment and detachment (as far as the artist’s connection with those institutions is concerned) is not simple; it involves fluctuations and hesitations within which Stephen experiences illusionary versions of the self (as a saint, a hero from the early times of the church, and as a social reformer 3 ). In fact, the assertion of the artist’s self comes first in negative terms (that is, in terms of what Stephen is not) and is followed by a positive assertion in the moment Stephen faces the prophetic affinity between himself and his namesake, Daedalus: Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy (...) Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves (...) a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being? (168-9) 2 . (New York: The Viking Press, 1964). Further references will be to this edition and will be noted parenthetically in the text. 3 . See  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  p.147: “Every morning he hallowed himself anew in the presence of some holy image (...)His day began with an heroic offering of its every moment of thought or action for the intention of the sovereign...” pp.96-98: Stephen attempts to play the role of the social reformer and ‘leader’ by helping his family solve their financial problems, but in vain: “all his novel entreprises fell to pieces (...) How foolish his aim   3 3 Thus, Stephen discovers his vocation for art in the fabulous echoes of his name; that is, his discovery is made possible within his habit of reflection about language. Indeed, Stephen’s fascination with language, with the relations between its sounds and meanings, is emphasized as an essential phase in his development. The artist’s self is already (before we reach chapter five) suggested to incarnate a particular, honed sensibility to the verbal realm of experience, to the ambiguous nature of language and to the question of its relation to reality. Even in learning to write, we ‘see’ Stephen struggling with the letters he tries to transcribe, in the concrete situation of the classroom: But the lines of the letters were like fine invisible thread and it was only by closing his right eye tight tight and staring out of the left eye that he could make out the full curves of the capital. (p.46) Hence, in Portrait  , the artist’s self evolves out of its immediate social, religious and educational context, and it evolves through its desire to comprehend language (the nature of words, the relations between words and sounds, etc.) as well as through the senses (Stephen’s perception is quite dependent on his sensory experiences at the early stages of his boyhood). As one of Joyce’s critics suggests, the child’s desire to know and discover (the meaning relations: between senses and words, between himself and the universe, etc.), does not only attest the artist’s self, “but also that self in definitive confrontation with its material challenge.” 4  In Travesty , the privileged man (or Papa) presents his aesthetic theory of the imagination as the frame within which his artistic self is perceived and defined (“aesthetician of death at high speed [p.18]”). The artist’s self is also limned through the occasional glimpses, in the narrator’s uninterrupted monologue, of his family and love relationships (with Honorine, Chantal, with Monique his mistress), as well as his negative attitude towards the state of culture (“ours is a landscape of indifferent hunters and vanished lovers [p.62]”). Like Joyce’s narrator- to a certain extent- Papa’s rambling discourse invites us to a glimpse at the artist’s self partly through its sense of and attitudes towards the social and the cultural. Like Stephen, Papa also displays his artistic sensibility by drawing attention to language, to words and names (“Chantal and Honorine- what a pair of names [p.13].” The very narrative structure, being a single monologue presented by Papa as a dialogue (he implies that there is a had been! He had tried to build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life [p.98].” 4 . Augustine Martin, “The Artist and the labyrinth,”  James Joyce. The Artist and the Labyrinth Augustine Martin. Ed. (London: Ryan Pub. Co.,1990) p.22.   4 4 conversation going on between him and Henri, but we have access only to Papa’s discourse), thematizes the issue of the nature of narrative fiction in its relation to language and discourse. What Hawkes’s narrator mostly draws our attention to is the unsolved paradox inherent in language and that traps the artist in its web and problematizes the Modernist sense of self as a coherent subjective entity. The privileged man dramatizes this entrapment in his own interpretative strategies. At one moment, for instance, he blames Henri (his friend the poet) and all poets for their tendency to distort in their lives (in situations of extreme fear, according to Papa) the meanings they articulate in their poetry: That is precisely the trouble with you poets. In your pessimism you ape the articulation you achieve in written words. You are able to recite your poems (...)You consider yourselves quite exempt from all the rules of behavior that constrict us less- privileged men (...) Yet in the last extremity you cry moral wolf. (13-14) From papa’s point of view, Henri’s choice of the word “murder”(a word full of the echoes of conventional moral judgement) to refer to the ‘artist’s’ design betrays the poet’s entrapment in a process of an absurd, distorting imitation of his own claimed privilege as ‘creator’ of words and meanings. But ironically, this is Papa’s own situation; the imitation of his theory of “this utter harmony between design and debris [p.17],” that Papa is pursuing through the driving and the narrative discourse itself, is inevitably a distortion of the artist’s conceptualized image. Through the destructive and murderous design of his artist, Hawkes draws a poignant picture of the view that creation is distortion (even a violent one). In Hawkes’s fiction, the distortion of the conventional relation between art and reality, and of novelistic conventions, can be discerned in the mode of parody pervading the writer’s works. 5  The artist’s self is already trapped and determined within the irony of the paradox that creation is imitation which can only be distortion and even destruction. If Papa is capable of appreciating and even devoting himself to one aspect of the paradoxes involved in artistic creation (the paradox of design in debris), he, nevertheless, remains incapable of controlling the contradictions and ambiguities inherent in art and in language. Papa is 5 . The significance of the mode of parody in Hawkes’s fiction has occasionally but pertinently been touched upon by critics such as Patrick O’Donnell (Passionate Doubts . Iowa: Iowa University Press, 1986) and Donald G. Greiner ( Comic Terror. The Novels of John Hawkes . Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1974). The parody of detective fiction in Hawkes’s The Lime Twig  has been dealt with in K. L. Boutrous’s “Parody in Hawkes’ The Lime Twig .” Critique  xv, 2 (1975): pp.49-56. D.W. Madden’s “Versions of the Things. The Extended Parody in the Contemporary American Novel” (Diss., University of California, Davis, 1980) discusses also Hawkes’s parody of the Western novel in The Beetle Leg and the parody of the detective in  The Lime Twig . I tried to discuss Hawkes’s parody of the novel genre and of narrative discourse in “The Practice of Parody in the Fiction of John Hawkes.”   5 5 trapped also in the paradox that informs Post-Modernist art as John Barth has described it; it is the paradoxical situation of the artist in this age of “felt ultimacies”, who “transcends what had appeared to be his refutation” only by turning “the felt ultimacies of our time into material and means for his work.” 6  The awareness of the doubleness, indeterminacy and contradictions of language is not only experienced by the artist as an emblem of his artistic self and sensibility (as in Joyce’s Portrait  ). Rather, in Travesty , the aesthetic theory and the artistic self  per se are articulated within the sliding of meaning and the contradictions of language. In enumerating the connotations of the word “murder” that he rejects (because it does not produce the idea of the “aesthetic death” that he has in mind), Papa lists some of the connotations that are included in his  conceptualized design. The “blood” and “broken glass,” among the listed connotations that are rejected, are associated later with his  aesthetic theory of design and debris. 7  Despite his ability to encompass paradox (design in debris is “the truest paradox” according to Papa), the artist can not totally master the discourse in which his theory is verbalized. Papa is aware of the failure of language to fully realize the artistic self, this is why he pursues this realization in the silence of death (“the explosion that will inaugurate our silence [p.25]” or what he also calls “our private apocalypse”). This is the apocalyptic imagination that Ihab Hassan identifies to be central in what he calls “the literature of silence,” 8  referring to the Post-Modern literature. If we consider the contexts - in Joyce’s Portrait   and Hawkes’s Travesty - within which the artist discovers and develops his aesthetic theory, we can see that both artists (Stephen and Papa) experience the genesis of their artistic selves within their acute sensibility to language. For Stephen the word (the name Deadalus) is only a medium through which he reaches the inherent qualities of his namesake and of his art (his ability to transmute the “sluggish matter of earth” into a sense of artistic self that is “imperishable”). Papa’s artistic self- on the other hand- is discovered after an ‘incident’ (or accident?) in his past life when he might   have hit with his car a girl who was crossing the road with an old poet. He refers to this hypothetical incident as “the formative event of my early manhood [p.125]” that “convinced me of the validity of the fiction of living,” but it is (Diss. University of Tunis I, 1998). 6  . John Barth, “The literature of Exhaustion.” M. Bradbury. Ed. The Novel Today  (London: Fontana, 1977) p78. 7 . See Travesty , (New York: New Directions, 1976) p.14, and p.58. 8 . Ihab Hassan, The Postmodern Turn. Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture  (Ohio: Ohio State U.P., 1987). Trying to account for the “apocalyptic metaphors” in the Postmodern literature which- according to him- establishes silence as a central metaphor for itself, Hassan posits that “Implied in them is something close to a total rejection of Western history and civilization. They also imply a rejection of human identity, the image of man as the measure of all things [p.5].”
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