“The Consolation of Objects” takes seriously Nietzsche’s call to embrace what is, to love necessity. Amor fati for him entails the ability “to see what is necessary in things as what is beautiful in them.” Stephen Dedalus, in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, shows us how this love of fate is tied to the object-world. He first learns, in A Portrait, that words are linked to objects, and then learns that both objects and words harbor a secret significance. He learns that objects and things are not always congruent and that they possess radically different ontologies; the “thingness” or quality of being essential or “noumenal” that belongs to the object or word as object is not available for human perception, which must settle for the brute being of the object as given. He tries to understand what lies beyond this given reality, the quidditas (literally “whatness”) or thingness of the object. In Ulysses, Stephen learns a more valuable lesson: what lies in the liminal territory of his apprehension constitutes a knowable element of the object that lies beyond its sensible appearance. The “esthetic image” that illuminates his mind in A Portrait is now understood to be the dialectical image of the object’s withdrawal into being. He learns to accept the promise of the object’s being in the beauty of its necessary withdrawal. The consolation of objects is that they offer artists like Stephen an opening into worlds other than their own, a pathway toward what cannot be known, a half-step toward what all objects conceal.
The Consolation of Objects in Joyce’s: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses
Gregory Castle is professor of British and Irish literature at Arizona State University. In addition to essays on Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Stoker, Wilde and other Irish modernists, he has published Modernism and the Celtic Revival, Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman, and the Literary Theory Handbook. He has edited the Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 1 and the History of the Modernist Novel. With Patrick Bixby, he has edited Standish O’Grady’s Cuchulain: A Critical Edition, and they are currently coediting A History of Irish Modernism (Cambridge University Press). He continues to work on the Bildungsroman and the temporalities of Irish Revival.
Gregory Castle; The Consolation of Objects in Joyce’s: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2017; 63 (3): 267–298. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-4219927
Download citation file: