A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Themes and Colors
Soul and Body Theme Icon
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Soul and Body Theme Icon

The gap between soul and body means a great deal to Stephen during childhood and adolescence. As a child, Stephen notes countless particular sights, sounds, and smells, and interprets them with great tenderness and seriousness: they seem to lead him deep into his memories and his understanding of the world. In this way, body and soul are naturally connected for Stephen as a child. But Stephen also shies away from many social activities, preferring to keep to himself and attend to his thoughts and daydreams: he distinguishes between extroverted activity, in which his body interacts with others, and introverted activity, in which his soul communes with itself.

Stephen’s religious education reinforces the soul-body split. He has been taught since early childhood that premarital sex is a grave and shameful sin, so he perceives his adolescent sexual longing as a sort of insubordination of body against soul – an appalling perversion he must keep hidden at any cost. His secret lust, vague ambition, and keen poetic vision create a strange and weighty inner world that does not often correspond to the shrill, dirty, practical world of city, school, and family. Though he often feels burdened by this ghostly inner life, he seeks to protect it from dogmatic external influences: when he tries to control his body and elevate his soul through meticulous religious practice, the formulaic religious teaching ultimately fails to leave any permanent mark on his inner life.

The culmination of his religious crisis seems to mark the reunion of soul and body: the senses, “the call of life to his soul,” turn Stephen away from the priesthood, fuel his artistic ambitions, and restore his inner world – the senses of the body, the same senses that fuel his lust. But when Stephen arrives to university, he carries the split into his rather antiquated aesthetic theories. He brags that he will “try to fly by [the] nets” of nationality, language, religion; but before he can become truly free, before he can repair the antagonism between soul and body, Stephen must create an aesthetics of his own. This new aesthetics, embodied by Portrait itself, will be one that does not privilege unity over dispersion, thought over feeling, or purity over reality.

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Soul and Body Quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Below you will find the important quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man related to the theme of Soul and Body.
Chapter 2, Part 1 Quotes

He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how: but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

As his summer back at home comes to a close and September arrives, Stephen's new gang of friends disbands and he's left to wander alone. As he's passing a group of other children playing, he becomes irritated by the noises they make and their "silly voices," remarking that they reinforce his sense of being different from others.

At a young age, Stephen already has a uniquely vibrant life of the mind. Instead of wanting to engage in the triviality and simpleness of children's play, he's bent on pursuing an intensely spiritual ambition--to find in the external world something that mirrors the most private and internal, "unsubstantial image" which his soul always beholds. He wants to attach the intangible and inexplicable passion of his soul to a real object in life, for this would not only support and satisfy that passion, but it would also give that passion a real, objective existence which he could observe in the outer world.

From the way this passage is narrated, we may reason that Stephen wouldn't actually be thinking in these abstract spiritual or philosophical terms, but rather that the narration is working to explain Steven's unconscious thought processes and motivations. For we read that Steven does "not know where [or how] to seek" the image of his soul's deep longing, but rather that an elusive, instinctual "premonition" leads him--almost unconsciously and beyond his control--towards something in life that will become a mirror to his soul.  

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Chapter 2, Part 2 Quotes

He was angry with himself for being young and the prey of restless foolish impulses, angry also with the change of fortune which was reshaping the world about him into a vision of squalor and insincerity. Yet his anger lent nothing to his vision. He chronicled with patience what he saw, detaching himself from it and testing its mortifying flavor in secret.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Having recently moved to Dublin due to his family's financial complications, Stephen is beginning to see some of his idealistic thinking about life being challenged by his changing circumstances.

Angry with his youthfulness and sense of powerlessness at the hands of his "foolish impulses," Stephen is embittered by the way his new environment has altered his previous view of the world. He seems angry at the sheer fact that his circumstances have radically changed, but also that he didn't anticipate beforehand that such change might occur. For Stephen, the youthful sense that what's good in life is somehow guaranteed to last has been shattered. He's left disappointed, paradoxically, in both the way he thinks and for how the world has forced his thought to change. Essentially, he's troubled by how his external circumstances are able to shape his internal life, which he likes to view as pristine and unchangeable.

Yet Stephen is committed to objectively "chronicling" his "vision." Despite his youthful disappointment, he still displays a certain emotional intelligence: the desire to detach himself from his visceral anger and objectively observe his surroundings. 

Chapter 2, Part 3 Quotes

While his mind had been pursuing its intangible phantoms and turning in irresolution from such pursuit he had heard about him the constant voices of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good catholic above all things. … And it was the din of all these hollowsounding voices that made him halt irresolutely in the pursuit of phantoms. He gave them ear only for a time but he was happy only when he was far from them, beyond their call, alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

After Doyle--the stage manager of the play in the gymnasium at Belvedere--sends for Stephen to get ready for his appearance on stage, Heron remarks that Doyle is an underclassman and therefore has no right to give Stephen an order. This passage explores Stephen's reaction to such claims to authority and hierarchy.

The spiritual and poetic yearnings of Stephen's thought are constantly checked by his schoolmasters, who say that being a "gentleman" and a "good catholic" are the highest pursuits of the mind. The voices of his teachers--always speaking from a position of authority about what is worthy and unworthy, right and wrong--become "hollowsounding" to Stephen, as they invoke qualities such as gentlemanliness as if they were universal, as if their meaning didn't vary per person, place, and time. His masters, invoking such meaningless pursuits with such seriousness, seem aloof from the much realer and more intense passion which fuels Stephen's mind towards its "phantoms." Contrasted with Stephen's vivid inner life and the severe persistence of his involvement in poetic and spiritual striving, his masters' and Heron's reliance on authority and social hierarchy to forge meaning in their lives seems to Stephen to be vapid and lacking substance.

Chapter 2, Part 4 Quotes

It shocked him to find in the outer world a trace of what he had deemed till then a brutish and individual malady of his own mind. His recent monstrous reveries came thronging into his memory. They too had sprung up before him, suddenly and furiously, out of mere words. … The letters cut in the stained wood of the desk stared upon him, mocking his bodily weakness and futile enthusiasms and making him loathe himself for his own mad and filthy orgies.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen and his father, while visiting Queen's College, go to the anatomy theatre, where his father looks for his old initials on one of the desks. Upon seeing the word "Foetus" scratched onto one of the desks, Stephen has something like a panic attack.

This is a very interesting, but odd and complicated scene. The inscription "Foetus" makes something in the back of Stephen's mind spring to the foreground of his consciousness; he becomes incredibly close to himself in a way that is highly uncomfortable. Stephen discovers something in the external world that he had until that point "deemed [an] individual malady of his own mind." But now that "individual malady" (his own repressed sexuality and "sinful" thoughts) has manifested in the external world, right before his eyes. It's as if part of himself--a part that repulses him--has been ripped out from inside him and thrown into his face, such that he cannot avoid or run from it anymore.

"Foetus," envisioned as haphazardly scratched on a school desk, is a particularly morbid image--and it seems perverse that someone would feel inclined to scrawl it out like graffiti. Perhaps Stephen sees his own perversity in the inscription: he sees his own perversity as outside and in the world, and, therefore, as real--and not simply an isolated event in his mind. (The idea of the foetus also calls forward to Stephen's later ideas about "giving birth" to a work of art.)

In a way, this scene echoes back to the previous quote (the second) in which Stephen desires to find the "unsubstantial image" of his soul. It seems that Stephen has found something that might resemble the intensity of that image, here, in the word "Foetus" scrawled before him--but it's an infernal, anxiety-provoking image that brings terror, not transcendent euphoria. 

By his monstrous way of life he seemed to have put himself beyond the limits of reality. Nothing moved him or spoke to him from the real world unless he heard in it an echo of the infuriated cries within him. He could respond to no earthly or human appeal, dumb and insensible to the call of summer and gladness and companionship, wearied and dejected by his father’s voice.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs shortly after Stephen panics upon seeing the word "Foetus" in the anatomy theatre at Queen's College. Stephen and his father have left the theatre and are roaming the area around the campus.

Stephen's vision in the anatomy theatre revealed to him the severity of his way of thinking; it unmasked the intense extent to which repressed desire, dreaming and imagination--spurred by his spiritual longing and growing sexuality--have overtaken his thought processes. By "his monstrous way of life"--his extreme, desire-centered way of thinking about and viewing the world--he has lost touch with everyday reality. Nothing intrigues him or grabs his attention from the real world unless it directly reflects the "infuriated cries" within him, like the inscription "Foetus" did. He has lost his ability to tarry with and feel connected to the everyday world, which rarely, if ever, expresses the intensity and imagination of Stephen's mind. 

He had known neither the pleasure of companionship with others nor the vigour of rude male health nor filial piety. Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys, and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

The passage occurs after--upon observing his father drink with his friends--Stephen realizes that he has never experienced such camaraderie or a sense of social bond as the men around him display.

Nothing of the conventional mannerisms and behaviors of the male social world--nothing of the "vigour of rude male health"--inspires and intrigues Stephen. Only a deep, internal and private "lust" that is "cold" and "cruel" in its intensity and isolation from the everyday, outer world--only this mysterious longing animates his psyche.

The nostalgia of Stephen's childhood has withered entirely--and with that, his capacity for "simple joys" that do not invoke the most intimate passions of his soul. His thought is not soothed or relaxed by the trivialities and rehearsed performances of everyday social life; the social world of stereotypical, masculine indelicacy offers nothing to Stephen. His soul, therefore, is something that drifts from one social scene to the next, never at home in a particular place--like the moon which never stays in one place, and revolves around a center it can never touch (also an echo of Shelley's phrase describing the moon as "wandering companionless"--a verse Stephen will frequently think of).

Chapter 2, Part 5 Quotes

He had tried to build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules of conduct and active interests and new filial relations, the powerful recurrence of the tides within him. Useless. From without as from within the water had flowed over his barriers: their tides began once more to jostle fiercely above the crumbled mole.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

After winning money in an academic competition, Stephen embarks on a highly indulgent spending spree. After he's squandered all his earnings, we read this quote.

Stephen's excessive spending was an attempt to achieve an ordered, constant experience of pleasure, satisfaction and psychological stability over and against the extreme lust and inner passions which force him to desire and think in ways that detach him from the everyday social world.

This attempt proves futile. The "mole" or tide-barrier he tries to build crumbles; the tides of his obscure passions are reinvigorated and once again take up their place in his psychic life. There's a sense that Stephen's soul is fated to express itself in such an extreme, tidal form.

Chapter 3, Part 1 Quotes

It was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by sin, spreading abroad the balefire of its burning stars and folding back on itself, fading slowly, quenching its own lights and fires. They were quenched: and the cold darkness filled chaos.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs when we read that Stephen is planning to visit an area where prostitutes typically work. He has recently had sex for the first time (with a prostitute), and now he again wants to visit the prostitutes' quarter of town. After the brief passage where these plans are narrated, we suddenly move to a page of Stephen's "scribbler," where an equation he's writing is growing larger and larger.

The fact that "it"--the equation--"was his own soul going forth to experience" suggests the immediacy Stephen feels the equation has with his psyche. Stephen sees the trajectory, rhythm, and psychological patterning of his own desire as symbolically unfolding in the structure of the equation. The equation goes forth towards experience: its variables are given input values, then it unfolds itself, being solved and simplified. 

The movement of the equation has a notably sexual, phallic structure, which says something about the movement of Stephen's soul or--the same thing--how his desire unfolds. Steven's desire goes forth into experience, expands with the particular values of the world, then reaches an apex where his soul and the external world meet--like when an equation (the soul) is solved given particular input values (external stimuli from the outer world)--and then folds back upon itself and "fades" into a simplified form. 

Further, the passage that precedes this quote is so abstract and dreamlike, and intermingled with references other than mathematics--such as a peacock's tail expanding, the "cycle of starry life," music, the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley--that we might understand this scene to be not depicting a concrete event (i.e., Stephen writing an equation), but rather symbolizing some deep structure common to the different, "real" moments of Stephen's life.

A cold lucid indifference reigned in is soul. At his first violent sin he had felt a wave of vitality pass out of him and had feared to find his body or his soul maimed by the excess. Instead the vital wave had carried him on its bosom out of himself and back again when it receded: and no part of body or soul had been maimed but a dark peace had been established between them.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This occurs shortly after the last quote, just after we read about the equation in Stephen's "scribbler."

Stephen had expected his "first violent sin"--his first time having sex--to lure part of his innermost being and soul out of him and into the physical world, to the extent that his soul would be injured by over-stretching itself ("maimed by the excess"). In the sense of sex, this would be the physical exertion of an internal energy and desire, or "wave of vitality." Stephen had anticipated that this would overextend the contours of his soul, but finds instead that he's left with a "cold lucid indifference." For, instead of expanding within the boundaries of Stephen's soul, the sinful expenditure of the wave of vitality carried him "out of himself and back again when it receded."

This journey out of, and back into, himself, could therefore only leave behind an "indifference," not a pain--for it did not over-flex the borders of his soul, therefore avoiding injury, but also bringing with it no true joy or enlightenment.

Chapter 3, Part 2 Quotes

And remember, my dear boys, that we have been sent into this world for one thing and for one thing alone: to do God’s holy will and to save our immortal souls. All else is worthless. One thing alone is needful, the salvation of one’s soul. What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffer the loss of his immortal soul?

Related Characters: Father Arnall (speaker), Father Arnall
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is spoken by Father Arnall, when he explains the schedule for and religious purpose behind the retreat in celebration of St. Francis Xavier.

This is a relatively placid statement compared to the horror he will preach in his following two sermons on hell. This declaration by Father Arnall emphasizes the immense priority which Stephen's religious upbringing places on sacrificing oneself to God's will and to purifying one's soul. Absolutely nothing else in life has any kind of comparable value.

The following two sermons--on the physical and spiritual tortures of hell--will throw Stephen into a life-changing panic. In response, Stephen will adopt a lifestyle that adheres to the emphasis Arnall places on sacrifice and purity. However, though Stephen will eventually move on from his religion, he will still retain a belief and connection to the power of the soul. While it won't be a soul that sacrifices itself to the Holy Spirit in order to gain purchase on an entrance to heaven, it will be a soul that Stephen tries to ecstatically fill with the reality of life, of external experience, in order to plant within him seeds which will grow into authentic, poetic thought. This openness to external reality will require a different kind of sacrifice: Stephen's willingness to put aside the continuity and stability of his identity in order to fill himself with the foreign realities of the world. Such a sacrifice is not made in virtue of a higher God, but of an ecstatic process of creation which Steven comes to hold in as equally high a regard.

Chapter 3, Part 3 Quotes

But does that part of the body understand or what? The serpent, the most subtle beast of the field. … Who made it to be like that, a bestial part of the body able to understand bestially and desire bestially? Was that then he or an inhuman thing moved by a lower soul than his soul? His soul sickened at the thought of a torpid shaky life feeding itself out of the tender marrow of his life and fattening upon the slime of lust.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage narrates Stephen's thoughts as he walks to the chapel to confess that he's committed sin (fornication).

Here, Stephen is fundamentally questioning the nature of his relationship to his own sexuality. The serpent, serving as a phallic metaphor for the male sex organ, gives an image to the base, earthly, "bestial" quality which Stephen associates with his sexuality. "But what does that part of the body understand," the narrator asks--underscoring the divide between Stephen's physical body and soul--for the physical mechanism of the male sex organ seems to operate separately from the psyche/soul, separately from conscious control.

Stephen wonders, therefore, how he is related to that sexual mechanism which is separate from what he identifies as "himself." "Was that then he" or something "inhuman" moved by a separate, "lower" soul? Stephen is disgusted by this thought--that another source of life, fundamentally different than him, is attached to his body in an almost parasitic fashion, siphoning Stephen's energy for its own foreign, sexual means, and "fattening upon the slime of lust."

Instead of considering the autonomy of his sexual organs to be controlled by unconscious, physiological functions that are instinctual and morally neutral, Stephen assigns the genitalia an infernal quality.

Chapter 4, Part 1 Quotes

The world for all its substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Stephen has confessed his sins and begun to adopt an extraordinarily pious lifestyle. He feels that he has changed his life and worldview altogether in fully embracing Christianity and giving up his lustful desires.

The world has ceased to exist for Stephen's soul, for the purposes and intentions of his own life, but rather stands before him as something abstractly divine and expressive of a reality greater than that of his own, particular and human perceptions of reality. The world exists for him only as a "theorem," as something outside of him, an omnipresent, higher reality which exists for his never-ending contemplation.

Here, the traces of Stephen's earlier perversions of thought and desire seem erased. It would seem that he's whittled his own, internal sense of imagination and desire down to the bone, to be left facing the vast expanse of an external reality more enduring and real than the unstable, tidal fluctuations of his former desires. This doesn't last for long, however. After disciplining his senses (by forcing himself to endure putrid odors, to sleep in painful positions, fasting, and other means), Stephen finds new things to be guilty about, such as his feelings of annoyance and anger. Eventually, his old sense of guilt returns to keep him constant company, though in a new, religiously-oriented light.

Chapter 4, Part 2 Quotes

It was a grave and ordered and passionless life that awaited him, a life without material cares. … At once from every part of his being unrest began to irradiate. A feverish quickening of his pulses followed and a din of meaningless words drove his reasoned thoughts hither and thither confusedly. … Some instinct, waking at these memories, stronger than education or piety, quickened within him at every near approach to that life, an instinct subtle and hostile, and armed him against acquiescence. The chill and order of the life repelled him.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Having devoted himself to a highly restrained and pious lifestyle, Stephen has been so exemplary in his religious studies that he has caught the attention of the director at Belvedere. This passage occurs after Stephen has been encouraged to join the priesthood.

When faced with the reality of becoming a priest, however, Stephen recoils. He has obsessively submitted himself to his faith and found a kind of peace, distancing himself from his sinful and guilt-ridden past, but the prospect of taking his new way of living to the next level--to the "grave and ordered and passionless life" of being a priest--suddenly unsettles him.

The narrator describes a profound "instinct" in Stephen that is "stronger than education or piety"--that's not a direct product of his religious education--and which propels him to decline any future as a priest. This instinct seems to be something that stems purely from Stephen's psyche or soul--an instinct that isn't mediated by the wishes or concerns of others. It seems that the appearance and heeding of this instinct is the first instance of Stephen's mature independence as a thinker and creative artist.

Chapter 4, Part 3 Quotes

Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? 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 manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Brimming with independence and possibility after declining his offer to become a priest--and growing impatient after waiting an hour for his father to return from a meeting with a tutor at Trinity College--Stephen sets off for a walk, at which point this quote occurs.

Thinking of the phrase "A day of dappled seaborne clouds," Stephen delights in how it harmonizes with the day and the scene he is observing. He then wonders what, exactly, it is about words that delights him so much. Having moved on from his strict religious lifestyle, this is one of the first purely artistic and poetic considerations with which we see Stephen engage.

Does he enjoy the pure rhythm of words, or the metaphorical meanings generated by their "associations of legend and colour?" Or does he not care at all about language in either sense--both of which value words as things that represent external phenomena of the world? (In these senses words would do this by reflecting the "glowing sensible world through the prism of language," by either creating an effect which resembles the cyclic time and pacing of the external world--rhythm--or by associating different elements of the external world in order to metaphorically create meaning.) Does he derive less pleasure from these activities of words--which reflect the external world in language--than from using words to explore "an inner world of individual emotions?"

Whatever the answer is, we see Stephen grappling here, jovially but seriously, for the first time, with a purely aesthetic inquiry, and moving towards his artistic epiphany.

Was [the flying form] a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable being? … His soul was soaring in an air beyond the world and the body he knew was purified in a breath and delivered of incertitude and made radiant and commingled with the element of the spirit.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Occurring shortly after the last quote, and on the same walk born out of Stephen's impatience for his father, this passage describes a breathtaking moment in the relationship between Stephen's body and soul.

Upon seeing a "winged form flying above the waves,"  Stephen asks what symbolic meaning it might have for his life. Here, we see Steven beginning to read his environment as if it were a work of literature--as if it were a book about his involvement, his destiny, in the greater scheme of life.

His initial question about the symbolic significance of the flying form turns into a series of questions which leads him to an epiphanic moment of ecstasy: having aligned his own sense of purpose and destiny with an external event in life (the flying form), Stephen achieves a sense of oneness that propels his soul forth into a flight beyond the sensible world. The body, left behind, becomes "purified" and infiltrated with the "element of spirit." It's as if Stephen's body, devoid of the soul which usually weighs it down and inhabits it, is emptied only to be filled with whatever remains after the soul is displaced: a spirit that expunges all of Stephen's incertitude about the rapidly unfurling manifestation of his destiny, about the unity of his internal vision with the external symbol of the flying form.

Going back to one of the first quotes in this selection (#2), we can see here that Stephen's desire for the "unsubstantial image" of his soul to be reflected in a real object in life has been achieved (and indeed, the "flying form" reflects the mythical figure of Daedalus, Stephen's namesake). The result is a poetic ecstasy that verifies what was formerly merely an instinct of Stephen's--his decision to leave the church and pursue an artistic path.

This was the call of life to his soul, not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Following shortly after the previous quote, this passage occurs after Stephen's epiphany about Daedalus and the sight of the winged flying form.

For the first time in his life, Stephen has seemingly pierced through the veil of external social influences ("the dull gross voice of the world of duties") and forged his own unique relationship with life. The "call of life" beckons his soul in this epiphany--and not the mere hollow, "inhuman" and lifelessly authoritative voice that had encouraged him to become a priest.

Stephen is reborn as something independent of religion, nationality, and family. Acceding in a moment of ecstasy--in "an instant of wild flight" out of himself--to the individual connection he has with the world around him, he realizes the capacity for his creativity, for his soul's inborn relationship with external reality and his ensuing ability to, with an artistic authenticity, speak about it.

Chapter 5, Part 1 Quotes

The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen, Temple, and Cranly, after leaving a conversation with MacAlister, MacCann, and Moynihan, arrive in an alley where other students are playing cricket. Running into Davin there and beginning a conversation with him, Stephen speaks this quote in response to Davin's request that he act more like an Irishman.

Here, Stephen echoes his newly discovered independence and freedom--the sense that "his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders." He declares that the birth of the soul is an extremely mysterious event, but that, when a soul is born in Ireland, the profound mystery of that birth is covered--the independence and uniqueness of a soul's flight from its own mysterious origins is netted in the dull, meaningless conventions of nationality, language, and religion. Stephen wants to avoid getting caught in these traps at all costs.

While Stephen feels that he is being true to himself, his artistic vision, and his theory of aesthetics, at the same time, of course, he is also being rather insufferable here, and discounting others' experiences for not adhering to his own ideal.

The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Walking and conversing with Lynch, Stephen here offers his opinions on aesthetic philosophy.

Proper art, for Stephen, does not get caught up in the binaries of desire vs. loathing, or attraction-to vs. repulsion-from. These, being "kinetic emotions," are improper because they fail to fundamentally change and "arrest" the viewing mind, to send the mind beyond the simplicity of binary thinking into a more transcendent state of reflection. Higher, proper art, does just that (according to Stephen's theory). Because this latter kind of art doesn't inspire a movement-towards or a springing-back in the viewing mind, but rather leads the mind to be "raised above desire and loathing," above forwardness and backwardness, it's called "static." The static arts keep the mind in one place, but simultaneously change its point of view--inspiring a feeling that can only be brought about by pure artistic beauty.

Here, Stephen's new fascination with aesthetic philosophy shines through in his relationship to his peers. The topic of the relation between the mind and the work of art is incredibly important to him. It's not just an empty, intellectual topic for him, but something incredibly real. In a way, all his life he has been concerned with the the mind and art, or the mind and something beautiful outside of it. This fascination dates back to the visceral desire of his childhood to find the "unsubstantial image" of his soul reflected in the external world. Most recently, we see this fascination grip him when he challenges himself to be open to the "flying winged form" as an external symbol of his destiny--an openness which results in a transcendent ecstasy proper to the power of "static" art.

As is usual in Portrait, however, stepping outside of Stephen's consciousness is necessary to fully appreciate the work. While Joyce presents this as one valid aesthetic theory, it is also one he pokes fun at (through the very nature of Stephen's pretentious lecturing) and that he clearly doesn't always adhere to himself. While Stephen seeks to create art that is entirely removed from both that which is appealing and that which is repulsive, in his Modernist approach to revealing life in all its aspects, Joyce embraces the "pornographic," the "didactic," and the purely "proper" art of Stephen's "aesthetic arrest."

Chapter 5, Part 4 Quotes

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the second-to-last entry of the diary which makes up the last section of the novel, and the famous finale to Joyce's first masterpiece.

Here, Stephen courageously welcomes forth the force of life and reality to which (he believes) he must wholly submit his soul in order to create, within himself, the "uncreated conscience" of his race (that is, the Irish). This is an incredible declaration. Stephen approaches reality and external experience as if it is to impregnate him with the seeds of his creation; further, this creation is to serve the needs of his people, of his "race." He must create the "uncreated conscience"--whether this means moral or aesthetic--that Ireland lacks, even as he physically exiles himself from Ireland itself.

Stephen invokes the "old artificer"--referencing Daedalus, the ingenious craftsmen of Greek mythology who is also, seemingly, Stephen's namesake--as a power that can give him strength to fulfill his task. There's almost a sense that Stephen is going to war with his creation--as if he's bracing himself for the brunt of the reality to which he must submit himself in order to bring his art into existence. The symbol of the "old artificer" provides a certain armor for Stephen's thinking--by envisioning himself as a masterful craftsman, and also as being prophetically linked to the mythological character, Stephen bolsters his sense of destiny and purpose, and therefore his approach to the reality which he must ingest and transmute into art.