By appropriating what is said in Black Skin, White Masks — It can be generalized that those who are colonized, have “no culture, no civilisation, no ‘long historical past'” (34) and it is the master’s or colonizer’s language that “is the key that can opens doors” (38). Stephen Dedalus faces a similar dilemma that eventually got resolved towards the end. Understandably, the English language is an acquired tongue of Stephen but he has learned and found the value of a language that frees him from the entanglement from the nets of “nationality, language, religion” (210). These nets would have stopped his ‘flight’ above the Irish issue that is seen myopically by many of his peers who are unable to view themselves beyond the veneers of the present. As Stephen puts it, “Ireland is the old sow that eats its farrow” (210), basically-speaking, the current condition of his country has to do, way back in the long history of Ireland when Stephen accused the country of giving up its own language and took another (209), hence losing their culture and history (since language facilitates the creation of history).
As mentioned earlier on, the acquiring of a language used by colonists opens the world to the person. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Portrait is full of Latin — the language of the learned. Stephen, it seems, is ready to embark on a journey that is beckoning him, to become an artist with his arsenal of languages, to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (262) as he starts by finding his own voice as seen in the changes of the novel into the journal form – his own voice, towards the end .
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!