Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joyce's Portrait of the Artist' — non serviam, I will not serve

James Joyce, aside from his inherent interest as a major writer, is interesting to Robert Anton Wilson fans because of the influence Joyce had on RAW's writings. I have been reading Joyce lately; this year I read Chamber Music and re-read Dubliners, and I just finished reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 

Reading Coincidance was good preparation for reading Portrait, as is reading Wilson in general. Project Gutenberg has versions of the books in various formats; I read mine on my Kindle. (Of course, Gutenberg has just about everything by Joyce except Finnegans Wake). If you are on the fence about doing a Joyce read-through, see PQ's "16 Reasons Why James Joyce is the Greatest Writer Ever." 

PQ observes, in his "The Exasperating, Inexhaustible Simplicity of James Joyce's Portraitthat reading Portrait is a good preparation for reading Ulysses, and I am glad he says so, as I plan to re-read Ulysses next month.

Portrait is interesting stylistically; it begins with the language and point of view of a small child and then shifts into other styles and literary modes, including, of all things, fiery and vivid sermons on the nature of hell.

My favorite portions of the book were the declarations Stephen makes as he forges his own philosophy. Those were the parts I bookmarked.

For example, toward the end of the book, the hero, Stephen Dedalus (a person much like Joyce himself) calls away his friend Cranly and had a discussion with him about Stephen's obsessions, including his views on art and religion:

— Do you believe in the eucharist? Cranly asked.

— I do not, Stephen said.

— Do you disbelieve then?

— I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it, Stephen answered.

— Many persons have doubts,  even religious persons, yet they overcome them or put them aside, Cranly said. Are your doubts on that point too strong?

— I do not wish to overcome them, Stephen answered. 

Stephen rejects pressures to conform to others' demand that he give obedience to religion or political movements:

After a pause Cranly asked:

—What age is your mother?

—Not old, Stephen said. She wishes me to make my easter duty.

—And will you?

—I will not, Stephen said.

—Why not? Cranly said.

—I will not serve, answered Stephen.

Stephen is committing, in the eyes of the church, the sin of pride. Here is a paragraph from one of those sermons earlier in the book:

—Adam and Eve, my dear boys, were, as you know, our first parents, and you will remember that they were created by God in order that the seats in heaven left vacant by the fall of Lucifer and his rebellious angels might be filled again. Lucifer, we are told, was a son of the morning, a radiant and mighty angel; yet he fell: he fell and there fell with him a third part of the host of heaven: he fell and was hurled with his rebellious angels into hell. What his sin was we cannot say. Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful thought conceived in an instant: NON SERVIAM: I WILL NOT SERVE. That instant was his ruin.

Here is Stephen's key declaration to Cranly toward the end of the book, when he has rejected pressures from the church, his mother, the Irish nationalists among his fellow students, etc.:

—Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.

The phrase "non serviam" is used three times in Illuminatus!, to explain the essence of libertarianism (or, if you prefer, anarchism).