When Joyce Brings Me to Powerful Quiet

“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.”
From James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I recently read this novel for a class and, in doing some research for a presentation about it, was reminded of this quote and stunned by it. It fits; it makes sense to me, not only in the conclusion of the novel but also in the midst of life universal. Why serve that in which you no longer believe? But those of us “literary” types who are also some kind of “faith-full” tend to struggle because we do believe, but our belief often does not match that which is conventional. In fact, many of us carry on lives marked by the unconventional, and that’s the beauty in it, for us. Again, I’m not speaking generalizations here, but I have found that many of us feel as if we are on the outskirts of the church due to our unconventional thinking, thought which sometimes aligns us tenfold more with novelists like Joyce and poets like Wordsworth than with outspoken Christians; and where does that leave us? Sure, “[we] will try to express [ourselves] in some mode of life or art as freely as [we] can and as wholly as [we] can,” but if we’re also wanting to simultaneously carry on some sort of faith, how do we reconcile the two? This tension is one I have found to be common in literary circles, and I’m more interested in how to reconcile the tension than I am in the abandonment of one or the other.

What do you think? How can we reconcile the two? Do you think the tension is worth working with? What have your experiences been with the “literary” versus the “faith-full” (or perhaps in a lack of tension between them)? 

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2 thoughts on “When Joyce Brings Me to Powerful Quiet

  1. I have always been attached to Joyce precisely because he was so confident in his own skin despite his perpetual going against the grain. As I grow older and my beliefs become more unorthodox and subjective, I appreciate Joyce all the more.

    I share your sentiments, and I think you’re correct in assuming that us literary types march to the beat of a different drummer; and that is both wonderful, since we are not afraid to think freely and deeply, and disconcerting, precisely because we see ourselves slipping into something akin to Joyce’s self-imposed exile.

    I share in your struggles; in fact, I probably struggle a great deal more so. But I’m convinced that community is a wonderful thing, and it is worth sticking around for. You’re certainly on to something.

    Thanks for a quick, pleasurable read.

    1. Yes, Joyce was certainly on to something. I’m grateful that, as you said, community is valuable enough and worthwhile enough to stick around for.

      Thanks for commenting!

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