The Esthetic Theory and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus defines beauty and the artist's comprehension of his/her own art. Stephen uses his esthetic theory with theories borrowed from St. Thomas Aquinas and Plato. The discourse can be broken down into three main sections: 1) A definitions of beauty and art. 2) The apprehension and qualifications of beauty. 3) The artist's view of his/her own work. I will explain how the first two sections of his esthetic theory relate to Stephen. Furthermore, I will argue that in the last section, Joyce is speaking of Stephen Dedalus and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as his art.
First, Stephen states the theory that art should invoke esthetic emotions. These emotions are confined only to the intellect and are incapable of manifesting themselves in a physical manner: "The esthetic emotion is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing." (Pg. 149). An example of esthetic emotion being static can be found in Keats' poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In this poem, the scene on the urn of two young lovers just about to kiss is frozen in time. Their feelings of anticipation, excitement, and innocence are still felt by the urn's viewers even though their act can never be carried out. Human emotion, like the picture on the urn, is static. Also, anything that induces a physical reaction, such as flinching, cannot be art. This is because it has nothing to do with the intellect, but an animal reaction caused by nerves. Stephen's experience with visiting prostitutes for the first time exemplifies this theory: "His hands clenched convulsively and his teeth set together as he suffered the agony of its [a dark presence's] penetration." (Pg. 70). He was drawn to them for the reason of desire for physical stimulation. In that point of Stephen's life, he realized that his desires, and anyone's desires, are only animal reflexes: "We are all animals. I also am an animal." (Pg. 149).
Given that beauty is only intelligible and not physical, "It [beauty] awakens, or ought to awaken, or induces, or ought to induce, an esthetic stasis, an ideal pity or an ideal terror, a stasis called forth." (Pg. 150). Stephen then gives a definition of art, "Art - is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end." (Pg. 150). That art is formed from the "Gross Earth," meaning the artist's experiences. Art does not start as something beautiful, but from experiences that are rough and raw. What transforms these experiences into art is how one can recreate the esthetic emotions felt by the artist. An example of this is when Stephen sees the "Bird Girl" when wandering on the shore of the Irish Sea. He experiences such enlightenment of only the soul and mind: "Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life. A wild angel had...