Reading Ritchell’s post on how the artist uses the inherited foreign language to express the subjugated psyches of the Irish reminded me of this poem I came across in Prof Patke’s Irish Poetry module. It’s a poem by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, an Irish poetess who writes strictly in Irish, called The Language Issue. For those who’ve not taken the class before, or who’ve not heard of Nuala, I’d just post a link to the poem so you guys can take a look: http://www.thepoem.co.uk/poems/dhomhnaill.htm . In this particular poem, Nuala expresses the irony that it is only through the translation of her poetry from Irish to English that the Irish language will survive. Instead of resisting against the dominant English language, the artist (or whatever indigenous language he/she uses) must somehow be co-opted by it. Having this comparison between Nuala and Joyce in mind, I find that this colonial baggage/ language struggle runs across most Irish literature (and post-colonial ones for that matter).
What makes A Portrait so different then? What particular kinds of contradictions and problems does a writer like Joyce, who operated within the modernist period and who is labeled a high-modernist writer, face? In many ways, he resembles Woolf (the husband), Conrad and Orwell- who are all at once (and of varying degrees) part of the system and not. If we have the reluctant colonizer (in many of the characters we’ve seen so far in the module), couldn’t we see Joyce/ Stephen as a figure of the reluctant colonized? I agree that there are many ironies inherent within the text and I feel that, given the position of Joyce, this is necessarily so. The ending, therefore, is not entirely problematic for me. Stephen decides that he needs to go into exile in order to leave behind religious and political and family constraints but he also expresses a wish to write in service of his race. There is no way he can deftly negotiate these contradictions, at least not at that point of time when the novel ends. However, does the distance between Joyce, the accomplished artist, and Stephen (as yet fully formed) signify that there is really a way out? At least for me, this novel throws up more questions than it answers them!