Flying Beyond the Nets Tonight

Monday Night in the Studio

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. (“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts”)

Ovid, Metamorphosis VIII, 188

With this inscription, James Joyce opened his credo, titled A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Identified as Stephen Daedalus, he took upon himself the identity of the Greek mythic hero who designed the labyrinth in Crete for King Minos, only to be imprisoned in that same labyrinth to keep the secret of its construction secure.  In the Ovid text, Daedalus pondered his fate until he realized that Minos, despite all his micromanagement, could not control the air, the atmosphere separating Crete from the freedom of the surrounding milieu.  So “he applied his spirit to obscure arts” and with his cunning, created the wings that would allow him and his son Icarus to escape the labyrinth.  As James Joyce surveyed the antiseptic influence of Irish nationalism and the Jesuit training that sculpted his youth, he inserted the following words into a discussion between Stephen Daedalus and one of his comrades in the novel:

The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of.  It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body.  When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight.  You talk to me of nationality, language, religion.  I shalll try to fly by those nets.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays Stephen Daedalus as a precocious youth in Jesuit school who grows up to become a young scholar who would ultimately reject taking the orders of the Jesuit priesthood and instead pursue the career of a writer, even if it meant having to leave Ireland to live in Paris.  Invoking the cunning of the heroic Daedalus, he offered the following manifesto to his trusted friend:

Look here, Cranly, he said.  You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do.  I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do.  I wll 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.

. . .

I set out this evening to work in the garage studio, and was experiencing some satisfying breakthroughs in this watercolor excursion.  As I worked, I was suddenly alerted to a very liberating and affirming word posted on Facebook by one of my former students finishing her semester at the university.  The verbal bouquet swept me off my feet as it spoke glowingly of how I had influenced her in the classroom during her high school years.  She will probably never know the power of the words she posted, or how they gave me the needed wings to fly this evening.  Realizing that I could not paint any longer, I laid down the brush and pursued something that had been on my mind anyway–to sit in the newly-furnished room in the back of my house with a pile of books, my journal, this laptop and my mind with the freedom of time and space to explore these Daedalus matters that have occupied my imagination since Thanksgiving break.  One of the problems we face in formal education involves those moments when we get stunned by some epiphany, the bell rings, we go to another class and are forced to change the subject.  We are not granted those vital spaces of soak time or intellectual composting. Those problems occur outside the classroom as well.  Life happens, and frequently we are covered up by daily domestic or business tasks that prevent us from thinking about life and where we are going as we try to navigate.  Tonight, I decided to sit quietly in the back room and let my thoughts move.

The garage studio will still be ready and waiting when I return.  But for now, I have a pile of books at my elbow, a steaming cup of tea filling this room with pleasant aromas, and a serene and grateful heart.  I owe this former student a great debt of gratitude for giving me wings tonight.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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One Response to “Flying Beyond the Nets Tonight”

  1. Xraypics Says:

    How fortunate you are. I envy you and enjoy the reflected pleasure of your happiness. Tony


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