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Ezra Pound Vorticism and James Joyce's a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By | April 2013
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A Critical Review on an extract from Ezra Pound’s essay ‘Vorticism’ and its correlation to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

When reading Pound’s essay ‘Vorticism’, it is clear that he was trying to emphasise the originality of the source from which forms of art came to an ‘artist’ who embodied vorticism in all it’s splendour. Joyce’s self-portraiture style novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, envisages ideas of vorticism throughout, which can be confirmed, perhaps, by Pound’s attempt at his own self-portraiture in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, which Richard Ellman writes; “Many of the difficulties of Pound’s own attempt at self-portraiture in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley a few years later come from his desire to achieve Joyce’s variety of tone”[1]. One could also see the link from Pound stating, “Vorticism is art before it has spread itself into flaccidity, into elaboration and secondary applications”[2], and the way in which Joyce writes A Portrait. The alien layout of this piece of prose and the lack of speech marks with dialogue are but a few things which make this work such a difficult read, especially if one is expecting a novel when reading it. To appreciate and accept A Portrait in its finest and truest form, one must read it as a piece of art, rather than just a piece of literature. As Pound said, A Portrait is that piece of art before it has spread into flaccidity; it is the psychological and empirical thoughts, written straight onto a blank literary and artistic canvas.

In the essay, Pound mentions something which juxtaposes a quote from Joyce’s A Portrait, mentioning a small child going to an electric light switch, “ ‘Mamma, can I open the light?’ She was using the age-old language of exploration, the language of art.”[3] This juxtaposes what Dedalus says in Joyce’s novel; “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...

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