Stephen Hero and the pitfalls of heartless brilliance
After seven pages of drafts from my notebook, I decided to scratch all those and just write. After all, this isn’t a literary publication or a research paper: it’s just a place to share my insights and reflections on different objects or people in my life.
James Joyce has been an intermittent topic in this blog. I was introduced to him during my first year of university, in my literature class. We were then tasked to read and analyze ‘The Boarding House.’ Truth be told, I wasn’t too impressed with the story: it was only later when I found out that he had authored two of the top five novels in the 20th century as ranked by critics and editors. It was during this time that my madness for Joyce began: what else could it be called, really? In today’s world, would any young adult willingly dare to read his later works without being a little mad himself?
I have no regrets whatsoever, because reading ALL of his major works gives me the privilege to lambast his works without any hypocrisy. I did read them, after all, so I’m free to hate on them. This is not to say that I think Joyce was talentless as a writer: in fact, I think he remains to be brilliant. Many critics regard Dubliners to be one of the greatest short story collections ever written, and I’m wont to agree with them: ‘The Dead’ alone can make up for the rest of the collection, but the other stories are no pushovers. ‘Araby’ is a great coming-of-age tale, and ‘The Boarding House’ wasn’t too shabby.
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man was also quite good. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it belongs to the category of books I have read more than once, so I have much respect for it. My respect for Joyce has increased after I finished re-reading Stephen Hero: before Portrait came to be, it had Stephen Hero as its predecessor. Instead of the stream-of-consciousness writing that Joyce started to apply in Portrait, Stephen Hero was written linearly, and more formally. Despite being an apocrypha, it does still remain part of his major prose works; in actuality, I prefer it to the rest. While SH is more languid than the leaner Portrait, it explicates upon the philosophy that encompassed Joyce’s life. Because Dublin could not accept him, he had to follow silence, exile, and unbelief. Instead of focusing on the characters, SH focused on the progression of ideas within the plot, and I liked that.
I liked that because it posited questions more directly, and a lot of these were quite thought-provoking. Why, indeed, would Christ be tempted to be the ruler in a kingdom of idiots? I’m just saddened at how his later works turned out, because I frankly believe Joyce could have been universally celebrated. Had he instead focused on writing intriguing and potent stories without relying on gimmickry and the invention of a new language only he could understand, he would be more respected. As it stands most contemporary critics mock his Finnegans Wake: yes, I think it’s utter shit, too.
I think works in general, after all, are only brilliant when they possess some heart in them. Tatami Galaxy was a kaleidoscope of ideas, but it was all about finding oneself despite being thrown into an unwelcoming world; Steins;Gate was, beyond all the science and physics, ultimately a series about filial piety and love. Had S;G been all about physics, I doubt it would have maintained the attention of its viewers until its final episode. It was more about sacrifice for the ones you love and care for.
What would the use of coalescing the languages of the world be if no one understood what you were writing? What would be the use of being so brilliant and yet ultimately soulless? Soullessness, after all, was Joyce’s fatal flaw. His stories had heart prior to Finnegans Wake, although they had become lesser and lesser as he got older. This is an example series should follow: it’s all right to be technically mediocre. Maison Ikkoku was indeed that. It’s a lot more important to tell a story that appeals to the soul of people: the rest will ultimately follow.