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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Review of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

I suppose it must be me: I can’t agree with all the hype and overblown praise I’ve seen for this piece of puerile meandering.
This review is based on a partial reading of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man because I really couldn’t force myself to read more than the first 25 pages (and page 99, to see if it had improved). I decided there were better things to do with my life than spend any more time on it. In spite of its literary reputation, this was not a book I cared to read to its conclusion.
Obviously the ‘stream of consciousness’ approach removes any prospect of plot, structure, story or timeframe. However, the sheer banality of these early pages, the repetitions, use of simple language mixed with unexplained Irish terms without meaning for this reader, and simple failure to care about what the reader wants from a book made this a piece of work I was not prepared to waste more time ‘discovering’. I found it impossible to sympathise, let alone empathise, with the viewpoint character.
Whilst I have no doubt that it was startling in its originality at the time of first publication, such novelty alone is insufficient incentive to attract my time and effort when the rewards are so few.
Touted variously as a poet and great novelist, Joyce is perhaps the victim of the inability of the critics to tell the truth when they come across something they feel they should admire but which they do not really understand. To inflate a reputation beyond the point where the work can sustain such opinion does no favours to its creator.
I would liken this novel to the much lauded works of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Damien Hirst. Pollock’s infantile dribbling of random colours onto canvass and Hirst’s presentation of anatomical specimens in preservative as works of art do nothing for art beyond decreasing its credibility with the general audience. The critics, those commentators who generally lack the ability to create for themselves, elevate such works to greatness, initially from a desire to be heard above the crowd and thought erudite. Once such opinions of worth and value have been attached to art works, of any sort, it becomes the critics’ job to ensure they remain there. Otherwise, the critics’ reputations are damaged when the truth is told. Failure to follow the lead in such matters is seen as a betrayal of the trade and any outspoken observations are quickly suppressed, trashed or vilified so that the initial opinion, no matter how flawed and mistaken, becomes accepted as mainstream and valid. In fact, the critics’ views take on the mantle of ‘gospel truth’ and become almost impossible to deny.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManImage via WikipediaSo, when I describe this book as puerile, uninteresting drivel, my words will be taken as heresy and consigned to the bin of ill-informed, unworthy or malicious gossip, much as the religious bigot would condemn the rational historian for pointing out the multitude of inconsistencies that pepper all so-called Holy texts.
Nevertheless, I will label this work a piece of undeserving experimentation that doubtlessly pleased the immature mind that created it and that fooled readers and critics all too willing to find substance and worth in the Emperor’s new clothes no matter how nakedly he continues to travel the world.
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