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Discuss the ways in which Joyce, through Stephen Dedalus, explores the relationship between the 'word' and the 'world'.

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Discuss the ways in which Joyce, through Stephen Dedalus, explores the relationship between the ‘word’ and the ‘world’.

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

John 1:1[1]

How do we as readers understand the difference between what ‘word’ and ‘world’ signify? The phrasing of the title question highlights a tension of opposition that requires some clarifying of what we understand by those terms, and even before that we need to be clear on how our interpretation and understanding this opposition operates. There are words printed on this page, transmitted over multi-media networks. Words are spoken out loud for the purpose of communication or expression, and even support and shape our own internal thought processes. A word can be dictionary-defined as ‘the smallest single meaningful unit of speech or writing’[2] but ‘the’ word carries an other emphasis that at once seems more rhetorical and inclusive.  Our conception of the word is in reference to language (and by ‘language’ we encompass all modes of communication and interaction across the full range of sensory perception from the written word, through speech, gesture, and so on) but it also embodies the human processes by which language operates – the application of language and the effects of and/or on that application.

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could be possible respective to the context in which it is perceived. We should note that; according to the title the text is A portrait, which suggests that interpretation is equivocal. Similarly; that the ‘Portrait’ is of the artist as opposed to an artist; signifying that the text is at least to some extent autobiographical (a self-portrait), but also implying a rhetorical figure – one that is in some way resistant to personal idiosyncrasies; is representative and indicative of a logocentric interpretation of ‘artist’. From this perspective Stephen Dedalus becomes an abstraction – even a caricature. Finally we need to take into account the last four words of the title, which shift the emphasis from the ‘word’ to the ‘world’ by affirming the worldly context in which our interpretation should be grounded. The portrait we engage with is a portrait not of an artist, but of a young man. Each of the elements ‘Artist’ and ‘Young Man’ effectively deconstruct the other, destabilizing their logocentric properties by the process of their attachment. Thus the figure of ‘Artist’ is subversively challenged by changing the context from the aesthetic to the actual, and our perception of our ‘Young Man’ has to be modified to take account of his artistic tendencies whilst maintaining his physical stature within the narrative.
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Word count: 2047


Bennett, A. Readers and Reading. 1995. Longman Group Limited. New York.

Connolly, T. Joyce’s Portrait Criticisms and Critiques. 1962. Peter Owen Limited. New York.

Eagleton, T. Literary Theory an Introduction. Second Edition. 1996. Blackwell.

Joyce, J. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Penguin Classics. 1992. Penguin Books Ltd. London.

Holy Bible New International Version. 19

McQuillan, M. Paul De Man. 2001. Routledge. New York.

Morris, W. and Nault, C, Jnr. Portraits of an Artist. 1962. The Odyssey Press Inc. New York.

Nalbantian, S. Aesthetic Autobiography. 1994. The Macmillan Press Ltd. New York

Parrinder, P. James Joyce. 1984. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Startiliot, C. Citation and Modernity. 1993. University of Okalahoma Press. USA.

[1] Holy Bible New International Version. 1983. p1063

[2] Collins English Dictionary. 1990. p1003

[3] Eagleton. 1996. p111

[4] Joyce. 1992. pp 6-7

[5] ibid. p9

[6] ibid. p67.

[7] Ibid. p64.

[8] Ibid. p7

[9] Ibid. pp240,241.

[10] Ibid. p72

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