Reframing A Portrait of the Artist


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James Joyce’s attempt to develop a literary aesthetics is well known, while less attention has been paid to the philosophical pursuit of significance in his first novel. The phenomenological perspective of Edmund Husserl, contemporary to literary modernism, elucidates and unites Joyce’s idiosyncratic themes, and helps us understand their philosophical import in a novel that eschews authorial point of view and discursive passages that “stupidly explain.” A complex and challenging Portrait emerges: conceived as a variant on confessional literature, it evolves into a radical investigation of the dimensions of experience, time, and consciousness. Seven perspectival frames are applied in an analysis of Joyce’s development, the work’s inception, and a close reading of the text. The reframed Portrait is both more socially potent and more likeable than hitherto suspected: a novel that invites us to reflect critically on experience, without preconceptions, and to contemplate possibility.