In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In the fifth chapter of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen is having a detailed conversation on aesthetics and beauty with his friend Lynch. He is in the process of defining his aesthetic theory, and is explaining how this came about: To finish what I was saying about beauty, said Stephen, the most satisfying relations of the sensible must therefore correspond to the necessary phases of artistic apprehension. Find these and you find the qualities of universal beauty. Aquinas says: ad pulcritudinem tria requiruntur integritas, consonantia, claritas. I translate it so: three things are needed for beauty, wholeness, harmony, and radiance.1 Stephen is quoting Thomas Aquinas and is defining art in very intellectual terms. The rationalistic division and partitioning of aesthetic experience has been very much the norm in Western thinking on beauty and at this juncture, the quotation mirrors this through a suasive rhetorical sleight of hand. The word ‘apprehended’, a term that is bound up with sensuous experience of the world, is denuded of its corporeal dimensions through its sub-division into the Thomistic tripartite qualities of ‘integritas, consonantia, claritas’. The division of a single quality into intellectual abstractions means that the mind/body duality was enforced through a redefining of perception. Thus, the mind is the agency of perception, while the body becomes one of the objects of perception; the mind is the active creator of our sense of beauty, while it is no longer an active participant in its agency. As Umberto Eco puts it: The beautiful object is an object that by virtue of its form delights the senses, especially sight and hearing. But those aspects perceivable with the senses are not the only factors that ‘Can excrement be art . . . if not, why not?’ Joyce’s Aesthetic Theory and the Flux of Consciousness EUGENE O’BRIEN 197 express the Beauty of the object: in the case of the human body an important role is also played by the qualities of the soul and the personality, which are perceived by the mind’s eye more than by the eye of the body.2 This sense that the mind, and not the body, is the sole actant in the apprehension of beauty has a long intellectual history. Since, in Plato’s view, the body is a ‘dark cavern that imprisons the soul’, then the ‘sight of the senses must be overcome by intellectual sight, which requires a knowledge of the dialectical arts, in other words philosophy’.3 While it is Aquinas who is cited, there are definite hints of Cartesian dualism at work in Stephen’s early formal discussion of beauty. The Australian ecofeminist Val Plumwood makes the point that Descartes, as part of a project of making the body less of an agent in thinking, took the ‘mental activities which involve the body, such as sense perception, and which appear to bridge the mind/body and human/animal division’ and reinterpreted them in terms of ‘consciousness’, which he saw as a ‘purely mental operation ’.4 Greg Garrard, in his overview of ecocriticism, sees this as a Cartesian hypersaturation of mind and body, and he traces the mind/body split back to Descartes, who denied to animals not only the ‘faculty of reason, but the whole range of feelings and sensations that he had associated with thought’.5 In this chapter, I will argue that art, and specifically that of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, offers a corrective to this dualism, and that Joyce’s aesthetic theory, which is worked out through this book, is a holistic one which values all aspects of experience as part of the aesthetic. I will also suggest homologies between Joyce’s thinking on art and that of a number of philosophers and thinkers. The politics of such a view have strong implications for a criticism which sees the world not as an object to be used and mastered, but rather as a partner in aesthetic apprehension and experience. Martin Heidegger critiques the Cogito from precisely this perspective of a disassociated certainty, noting that: ‘the absolute “Being-certain” [Gewisssein] of the Cogito exempted him from raising the question of the meaning of the Being which this entity possesses ’.6 Maurice Merleau-Ponty would agree, noting that ‘consciousness is in the first place not a matter of “I think that” but of “I can”’.7 Both thinkers see the detachment of the mind from the body and the environment as flawed...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.