meaning and comprehension in Portrait

Reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I really felt that this was by far the ‘most’ modernist text we’ve encountered in this module.  I found the book quite hard to fully comprehend, but at the same time strangely compelling. The first part of the novel really reminded me of Roald Dahl’s Boy (albeit a very fractured and hard-to-understand version). There is that same sense of a ‘little boy lost’, and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness style really emphasised that for me. What I found particularly interesting is the way Joyce seems to constantly use language as a way not of communicating (either between characters, or with the reader), but as ‘obstructing’ understanding. Whether it is his thoughts as a young boy first entering boarding school, during that painful Christmas dinner, or in his various journeys as he grows older, Joyce’s modernist style seems to make language a barrier that stands between us and true comprehension. As I was reading, I was constantly reminded of the whole signifier-signified dichotomy, because I could never be sure I was understanding what Joyce wanted to convey, fully or at all. Perhaps in a sense the text is Daedalus’ maze, and we’re to try and find our way out.

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