Professor Chris Buttram
25 October 2007
STEPHEN AS AN AESTHETIC THEORTICIAN:
Theoretical and Practical Considerations in A Portrait and the first part of Ulysses
Examining Stephen as an aesthetic theoretician proves to provide an interesting journey through James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the first part of Ulysses. Always a character of contradictions, Stephen is no less so as a theoretician. Taking Thomas Aquinas as his philosophical base in A Portrait, Stephen tells his companion Lynch: “So far as this side of esthetic philosophy extends Aquinas will carry me all along the line” (477).
Pulchra sunt quae visa placent
Stephen is far from hesitant in expounding upon aesthetics. His conversation with Lynch follows their escape from a game of ball with Cranly and Davin. “Let us eke go, as Cranly has it” (470), Lynch says. Immediately and uninvited, Stephen begins boldly: “Aristotle has not defined pity and terror. I have. I say…” (Ibid.). Overcoming Lynch’s objections, Stephen persists in explaining his theory of kinetic versus static aesthetics:
"Beauty expressed by the artist cannot awaken in us an emotion which is kinetic or a sensation which is purely physical. It 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, prolonged and at last dissolved by what I call the rhythm of beauty" (473).
Here – now at an intrigued Lynch’s request – Stephen defines art as “a human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end” (474). Stephen is asserting that beauty does not excite the emotions, but awakens the intellect. As will become clearer as this paper proceeds, Stephen’s entire aesthetic theory stands upon this statement.
"…[E]sthetic apprehensions of all kinds, whether through sight or hearing or through any other avenue of apprehension. This word, though it is vague, is clear enough to keep away good and evil which excite desire and loathing. It means certainly a stasis and not a kinesis" (474).
Here, immediately, Stephen stumbles in his understanding of Aquinas, for whom beauty and goodness, remember, are logically identical. As Aquinas puts it: “A beautiful thing and a good thing are the same in subject” (26). For Aquinas, things perceived by the senses and apprehended as beautiful by the cognitive faculty are, like anything else, good to greater or lesser degree: “Every being which is not God is a creature of God. But ‘every creature of God is good,’ as it is said in the First Letter to Timothy 4:4: God truly is the maximal good. Therefore, every being is good” (25). Thus, goodness for Aquinas is something that God has and that created beings share in and desire to grow in. As Brian Davies, O.P, puts it: “…[G]oodness is what is aimed at or sought… good things are things which are wanted or attractive… a good X is an X which has whatever features are desirable in that kind of thing” (85).
Integritas, Consonantia and Claritas
In A Portrait, even as Stephen breaks – intentionally or unintentionally – with Aquinas in regard to the relationship between the transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness, he continues to draw material from him to further define beauty. Continuing his conversation with Lynch, he lays out three “phases” for the apprehension of beauty: “Aquinas says: ad pulcritudinem [sic] tria requiruntur, integritas, consonantia, claritas. I translate it so: Three things are needed for beauty, wholeness, harmony and radiance. Do these correspond to the phases of apprehension? Are you following?” (479). Looking to a butcher boy’s basket, Stephen illustrates integritas as “selfbounded and self-contained… You apprehend it as one thing… You apprehend its wholeness” (479-80). Consonantia, he continues, is the secondary apprehension of a thing “as complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of its parts and their sum, harmonious” (480). Finally, claritas is related to “the scholastic quidditas, the whatness of a thing. This supreme quality is felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination” (480-81), he tells Lynch.
"Stephen interprets this ontological priority as though it were a question of temporal sequence. But ontological and temporal priority are not the same thing: one must have light before the act of vision can take place, but the light does not come first and then the act of vision. Granted that there is light, one sees both the light and the object which the light illuminates not in stages but simultaneously" (46).
As an ontological characteristic of a thing, beauty rests not in the “eye of the beholder,” but in the beholden object. Thus does Stephen’s placement of art and perception over beauty ring hollow, since a thing is beautiful even before its perception as such. As Noon puts it: “Stephen confuses, it would seem, the Scholastic analysis of the act of apprehension with this act itself” (45).
A new vein of scholarship is asking whether Stephen’s failure as a theorist was intentional on Joyce’s part. Admitting Stephen’s theoretical shortcomings as pointed out by Noon and others, Cordell D.K. Yee writes: “His failings as a theorist are as great as, if not greater than, his failings as an artist” (68). According to Yee, Stephen’s first error was choosing Aquinas’ philosophy for his theoretical foundation, since he never wrote a tract on art. Yee argues that Joyce was aware of this and had Stephen deliberately misuse Aquinas. Not only did Stephen misuse Aquinas, Yee writes, his argument’s long-windedness and contrived nature in A Portrait additionally mar it. Thus Yee posits: “If Stephen’s theory is not actually a theory, then it must be something else” (69). While Yee analyzes Stephen’s theory through various theoretical lenses, it might be helpful here examine key textual inconsistencies in both A Portrait and Ulysses.
"A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon her flesh. Her thighs, fuller and softer than ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down… But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face" (Ibid.)"
Stephen sees the bird girl as art in context: He beholds integritas in the wholeness of her body, consonantia in its fitted parts, and claritas in her girlish humanity. But his reaction is to cry “Heavenly God!” (434). Then “[h]is cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him” (Ibid.). Even if his reaction is not specifically sexual, his flaming cheeks, glowing body and trembling limbs connote a kinetic reaction. It seems that Stephen’s own actions contradict his ethereal vision of static art.
"With woman steps she followed… Spoils slung at her back. Loose sand and shellgrit crusted her bare feet. About her windraw face hair trailed… When night hides her body’s flaws calling under her brown shawl from an archway where dogs have mired…Buss her, wap in rogues’ rum lingo, foro, O, my dimber wapping dell! A shefiend’s whiteness under her rancid rags" (39).
Certainly no bird girl, the cocklepicker’s wife’s femininity, and the fact the woman’s husband – and others – enjoy it while Stephen doesn’t, still causes his lonely sexual drive to war against his theory of “applied” Aquinas: “Morose delectation Aquinas tunbelly calls this, frate porcospino” (Ibid.), he thinks bitterly. Excusing himself thus, on account of Aquinas’ alleged rotundity, Stephen engages the “[i]neluctable modality of the visible” (31). He looks through and past the woman’s imperfections and finds beauty in her, and in this beauty is her truth and goodness: “Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch me, touch me” (41). Thus moved – kinetically – Stephen creates his art in contradiction to his own theory: “Turning his back to the sun he bent over far to a table of rock and scribbled words” (40).
Breaking from the Conventional Moral Order
Given his desire to show how the ordinariness, ugliness and even badness of Dublin could be aesthetically beautiful, it is highly likely that Joyce had reason for redefining the relationship between beauty and goodness. Returning to A Portrait, Stephen in conversation with Lynch notes that good and evil “…excite desire and loathing” (474), while “[b]eauty expressed by the artist cannot awaken in us an emotion which is kinetic…” (472). But Haskell M. Block also points out Joyce’s perceived need for complete artistic freedom: “The artistic temper, he felt, must be exercised in an atmosphere of complete freedom, and the artist as a creative agent is subject only to the laws of his art” (179-80). For Joyce as Stephen, the end result of this stark separation of beauty and goodness results in his autobiographical exodus and the famous non serviam of A Portrait:
"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" (519).
Thus, while Stephen’s non serviam seems innocuous when understood as separating beauty from goodness, it has real consequences when applied to church and state, normally the upholders of societal morals. Yet Stephen believes he is simply following Aquinas to his logical conclusion. Since both the Church and Stephen are relying on Aquinas, somebody has it wrong.
"A desolating pity began to fall like dew upon his easily embittered heart for this faithful servingman of the knightly Loyola, for this halfbrother of the clergy, more venal than they in speech, more steadfast of soul than they, one whom he would never call his ghostly father: and he thought how this man and his companions had earned the name of worldlings at the hands not of the unworldly but of the worldly also for having pleaded, during all their history, at the bar of God’s justice for the souls of the lax and the lukewarm and the prudent" (454-55).
Here Stephen’s indictment is not of the dean’s craft; after all, in his thoughts he praises “Ignatius’ enthusiasm” (449). But doesn’t find the requisite enthusiasm in the dean. In him, Stephen sees a lack of enthusiasm; furthermore, he sees a lack of the artistic drive in all those serving “as the founder would have had him, like a staff in an old man’s hand, to be left in a corner, to be leaned on in the road at nightfall or in the stress of the weather, to lie with a lady’s nosegay on a garden seat, to be raised in menace” (450). In pleading “at the bar of God’s justice,” they have in Stephen’s eyes lost their apostolic artistry and become servingmen. Thus does Stephen the artist soon-to-be-free pity the dean as he goes about his craft.
"The Jesuits’ freedom from self, so deceptively similar to the artist’s ideal freedom from personal involvement with the ideas and other materials he uses, inevitably appealed to the unformed artist; but since it is not at all the same thing as that freedom, he inevitably came to the appalling realization that for him at least it would be disastrous. It appealed also because it presented an alternative of order to the disorder of the child’s home; for the artist, however, order must come from within, and is not to be confused with suppression of the will or abdication of the mind" (Ibid.).
With Stephen having been traced herein as an aesthetic theoretician through his own theory and his experiences in A Portrait and the first part of Ulysses, a number of observations can now be made. First of all, it seems Joyce fully intended for Stephen to separate out moral goodness from the goodness his own theory espoused. As Joyce understands it, Stephen’s and his own artistic journeys demanded a complete and unconditional freedom from the constraints of the conventional moral order. An examination of Aquinas’ own understanding of beauty, however, indicates that a break with true scholasticism came earlier than Stephen intended, with this very necessary redefinition of the relationship between goodness and beauty. Aquinas, unfortunately, does not carry Stephen “all along the line.” The idea that beauty engenders truth and goodness rather than being paired with truth and goodness as transcendentals is as incompatible with Aquinas as it is with the Church Stephen came to abhor.
Block, Haskell M. “The Critical Theory of James Joyce.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 8:3 (Mar., 1950). 172-184.
Davies, O.P., Brian. The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
de Aquino, Thoma. Summa Theologiae. Ed. Innocentio Colosio, O.P., et al. Torino: San Paolo, 1988.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In The Portable James Joyce. Ed. Harry Levin. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Eds. Hans Walter Gabler et al. New York: Random House, 1986.
Morse, J. Mitchell. “The Disobedient Artist: Joyce and Loyola.” PMLA. 72:5 (Dec., 1957). 1018-1035.
Noon, S.J., William T. “James Joyce: An Unfact. PMLA. 79:3 (Jun., 1964). 355.
Noon, S.J., William T. Joyce and Aquinas. New Haven: Archon, 1970.
Yee, Cordell D. K. “The Aesthetics of Stephen’s Aesthetics.” Critical Essays on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Eds. Philip Brady and James F. Carens. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998.
 “Pulchrum autem respicit vim cognoscitivam: pulchra enim dicuntur quae visa placent” (I, qu. 5 art. 4, ad 1). All translations are mine.
 “…[P]ulchrum et bonum in subiecto quidem sunt idem…“ (I, qu. 5 art. 4, ad 1).
 “…[O]mne ens quod non est Deus, est Dei creatura. Sed omnis creatura Dei est bona, ut dicitur I ad Tim. 4, : Deus vero est maxime bonus. Ergo omne ens est bonum” (I, qu. 5 art. 3, sed contra).
 “I shall go up to the altar of the Lord.”
 The Latin word tabernaculum literally means “tent” or “dwelling.”
 “…[O]portet quod Deum consideret secundum modum quem ex creaturis assumit” (I, qu. 39 art. 8, respondeo).
 “Nam ad pulchritudinem tria requiruntur. Primo quidem, integritas sive perfectio: quae enim diminuta sunt, hoc ipso turpia sunt. Et debita proportio sive consonantia. Et iterum claritas: unde quae habent colorem nitidum, pulchra esse dicuntur” (Ibid.).
 In another place, Noon demonstrates that Aquinas views beauty as less static and more kinetic. Noting that the apprehension of beauty is an intellective act, he writes: “The most supremely intellective act of which Thomas can conceive is the Beatific Vision, which as he thinks of it is a highly kinetic and has an abundant resonance in the affective nature” (39).
 “Tunbelly” (potbelly) and “porcospino” (Italian for porcupine, thus round like a porcupine) are references to Aquinas’ reported rotundity. Stephen is arguing that it is fine for him to indulge his sexual appetite if Aquinas indulged his appetite for food.
 Baptism, of course, leads to entry into the Church and to allegiance to her tenets – something Stephen strenuously rejected with his non serviam.