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CMJOYCIRENSFW The Writersinger

The Letter, Issue 54, Autumn 2013, Pages 46 - 62



Jacques Laberge

From Chamber Music to Finnegans Wake through the Sirens’ episode in Ulysses, we have the revelation of aman who cannot really be a writer without being a singer. Joyce is a mixture of Henrik lbsen and Richard Wagner. At the end, he identifies himself to the tenor Sullivan considered by him better than any genius in literature, painting, or sculpture and defines his last book as ‘pure music’.

Keywords: Ibsen, Wagner, Lévi-Strauss, Didier-Weill, Sullivan

The works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Richard Wagner (1813- 1883), and Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) made a special mark on the life and work of James Joyce. What do they have in common? Drama, theatre, and, especially, voices. On the basis of this drama, Joyce will invent a kind of writing that is meant to be heard. On Shakespeare, Joyce tells us in Drama and Life, written in 1900, that his art is, properly speaking, ‘literature in dialogue’, literature being ‘an inferior art-form’. It is in Henrik Ibsen that one finds, according to Joyce, a form of drama that 'transcends the critics: the artist forsakes his own self and sets himself up as a reverential mediator of truth before the veiled face of God. ….when the art of a dramatist is perfect, criticism is superfluous. Life is not be subjected to criticism, but to be confronted and lived’.[2]

Forsaking the self cannot but suggest to a reader of Lacan the lack of a unifying image of the body associated with the lack of unification through meaning. We can, furthermore, understand this identification with the writer-god Ibsen as a kind of identification with the repairing sinthome. From being an heroic figure in Stephen Hero, Ibsen disappears in A Portrait of the Artist, this being one of the most striking differences between the two books. Ibsen’s death enables Joyce to write not The Portrait of an Artist, following in the footsteps of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (1881) or Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait ofDorian Gray (1891), but, with the decisive switching of the definite and indefinite articles, to entitle the book A Portrait of THE Artist. The artist, a god-like one, is Joyce himself.

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