The (Now)-Created Conscience of My Race

The shift in viewpoint from Stephen Dedalus to Leopold Bloom is an interesting one in terms of what it means for the message of the novel as a whole. If Dubliners is an experiment in showing the world through the eyes of many different characters in short stories, and Portrait of the Artist is an experiment in portraying the world as it appears through the consciousness of a single person, then in making the leap from the mind of Stephen Dedalus to the mind of Leopold Bloom, Joyce is succeeding in his goal to “forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (Portrait 244). He extrapolates his technique of narrating the subjectivities of a single person (who is a literary depiction of himself, Stephen Dedalus) to another person whose mind is not his own.

And in expanding his literature to narrate the happenings of a mind outside of his own, Joyce finally makes true art, in that he can embody this “uncreated conscience” in a work of art. In other words, making the leap from himself to another character is the symbolical leap from the artist as a young man to the artist as his fully evolved self. In incorporating the element of the Odyssey, Ulysses announces itself as a novel of the human race, which might be a reason why it is such an important book; Joyce tries to squeeze into words all of what it means to be a person with perceptions. I believe that this is at least part of, if not the entire goal of the aesthetics that he describes through Stephen Dedalus.

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One thought on “The (Now)-Created Conscience of My Race

  1. jww92

    You make an excellent point here. In giving the narrative over to Leopold Bloom, Joyce distances himself from Stephen. Bloom (like, I think, most of the protagonists in “Dubliners”) is the product of an artistic consciousness which has expanded beyond the solipsistic limitations of Stephen Dedalus in 1904. On this point we should refer to Gilbert (p. 102-103): “Indeed, Stephen Dedalus, as we see him in the ‘Portrait’ and these early episodes of ‘Ulysses,’ could hardly of himself have created a Leopold Bloom, that lively masterpiece of Rabelaisian humour and rich earthiness. From what we learn of the hero of ‘Ulysses,’ it is easier to believe that a Leopold Bloom, enlightened and refined by a copious, if eclectic, course of philosophy, logic, rhetoric, metaphysics, and drawing upon the resources of his own prodigious memory, might have been the creator of Stephen Dedalus, his ‘spiritual son’.”

    I don’t believe that what we’ve read so far can support that second statement, but the truth of the first already seems quite clear. We sense Stephen’s grand imaginative potential, and his sketches of individuals (Cyril Sargent, his Uncle Richie) are marvelous, but they remain sketches, tethered to his own limited life experience. I believe you identify the importance of the movement from Stephen to Bloom when you say that Joyce is “expanding his literature to narrate the happenings of a mind outside his own.” (Although we must remember that he has already achieved this with remarkable variety and persuasiveness throughout “Dubliners.”) And in this way an old promise is perhaps fulfilled: “The personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak. The esthetic image in the dramatic form is life purified in and reprojected from the human imagination. The mystery of esthetic like that of material creation is accomplished. The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” Or perhaps not. It is difficult to say at this point just how indifferent and invisible the personality of Joyce will be. Leopold Bloom may exist outside the personality of Stephen Dedalus in 1904, but he originates in that of James Joyce in 1914.

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