James Joyce Essay

By Simon Tam

I could say that James Joyce expanded my mind, that he taught me to see things previously obscured by society. I could say that James Joyce lifted a veil from my eyes and allowed me to see the secret of life. I could also say that James Joyce inspired me to ardently support Irish nationalism despite my Asian heritage.
I could say those things, but then I’d be lying.
I did not have an epiphany concerning authority in life. I did not feel a need to constantly satisfy physical desires. I did not find God and religion the only worthy things in life. I did not dedicate my life to art. In fact, I did not come close to following in any of Joyce’s footsteps. I do not have any interest in any of Joyce’s views throughout his literature (specifically A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). From that statement, one could assume that Joyce affected none of my thoughts and had no impact on me whatsoever.
One could say that, but then they’d be wrong.
James Joyce caused me to think about my life, but not in the traditional manner. It is true that I do not have any interest in Joyce’s views because I disagree with them. However, it is that disagreement with his views that caused me to think about my own views. In other words, only by disagreeing with Joyce and stating that “No, I do not share those values,” that I found out what my values were on those issues. My difference with Joyce, though, wasn’t to the extreme of poet Matt Cook at which I would say, “He was stupid/ He didn't know as much as me/ I'd rather throw dead batteries at cows than read him.” Instead, my difference only bordered at simple disagreement.
For Joyce’s first epiphany for Stephen Dedalus, I realized that I did not particularly find heroism in reporting a faulty authority figure. Authority was always to be respected in my view and exacting revenge wasn’t a monumental ideal personally. Justice I thought was a good cause for Stephen’s action but upon reading the boys cheering for Father Dolan’s punishment I immediately disapproved. At that point I discovered I prided justice over revenge.
Stephen’s sudden infatuation with the flesh and the seven sins I thought was a vile and disgusting urge. The thoughts that came from Stephen’s mind were not attractive to me in the least bit. My conclusion from this was that indulgence without excessiveness was to be desired for, not the complete lack of inhibitions.
The church and clergy has never been appealing for myself but it was only after reading Joyce’s, and consequently Stephen’s, thoughts on the matter where I isolated my discomfort. The purity with which Stephen approached his life was too sterile for my tastes; my thought of balance came up again. I found myself appealed to the notion of balance between morality and reality.
Art has always been a large part of my more mature years as I attend an arts orientated school. Art is included in each year’s curriculum and practice in it is not foreign. Despite this, I have never felt an overwhelming desire to completely consecrate the arts. Art is an important aspect of life, yes, but not to a degree at which I would drop out of college to pursue it independently. Once again, balance between art and non-arts is needed.
I would prefer to say that Joyce did not affect me in the slightest but credit must be given where credit is due (else I would be lying). Joyce caused me to come to a conclusion for my way to approach life: that balance is important in all aspects of life.

By Simon Tam
Northwest School of the Arts
Charlotte, NC