31 January 2008...3:58 pm

If The Boys Want To Fight You’d Better Let Them

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Bonum Est In Quod Tendit Appetitus
by Emma Rebhorn

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Boston_More Than A Feeling.mp3

There isn’t much conversation in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; most of the time Stevie Dedalus is either listening, judging, or walking around thinking about chicks. We finally get to hear him say something one night (it is always night in Ireland) when he happens upon a dean making a fire. Stephen is moved to speak simply to fill the silence, which gives you an idea of how stunningly awkward the poor Jesuit is.

–I am sure I could not light a fire.
–You are an artist, are you not, Mr Dedalus? said the dean, glancing up and blinking his pale eyes. The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.

He rubbed his hands slowly and drily over the difficulty.

Stephen goes on to answer like any cocky university student:

Aquinas, answered Stephen, says Pulcra sunt quae visa placent.

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Boston_Smokin’.mp3

The two men (because Stephen is really a man by now, as we are learning) go on to spar a little, in a blandly academic way. At one point Stephen says

One difficulty…in esthetic discussion is to know whether words are being used according to the literary tradition or according to the tradition of the marketplace.

Then, in the book that James Joyce would have written if he had been me, the dean says Give me a break, honey.

The question of beauty is never answered: Stephen is urged to stay in school, and then he leaves, and goes to class. My life’s other literary pillar of truth, V. Nab, has various answers to the question of what passes for beauty, but he, like Joyce, finally relinquishes it to the subjective.

If we marinate, lazy and verbose, in Stephen’s (and Vladimir’s and James’s) classical ambivalence, then it’s fair to say that what grabs us–what satisfies our appetites–is where the beauty is. Right now, we love the fallen. We also steadfastly refuse to admit to the existence of a tragic beauty; we say we are staring at Britney because her life is so gross, at R. Kelly because that girl was so young and Tom Cruise because that wasn’t even his couch, but people falling apart has long been a staple of art and drama and recognized as such.

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Boston_Rock & Roll Band.mp3

The object of the artist, someone will finally lean over and whisper, is the creation of the beautiful.

What the beautiful is is another question.

Buy more Boston here, and more Joyce here.

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