A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with Overexcitabilities

By Elizabeth Switaj, PhD

The serial publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man began nearly six months before the start of World War I, the conflict during which a young Kazimierz Dąbrowski would be shocked by the sight of corpses on the battlefield. Dąbrowski himself traced his realization that individuals operate on different levels initially to seeing the different expressions as well as to the acts of heroism he witnessed among the atrocities of the War to End All Wars’ sequel. But the shocks of modernity, to which both James Joyce and Dabrowski responded stretched beyond the horrors of war. Accelerating social, technological, and intellectual change uprooted former understandings in the early twentieth century. A consideration of the intertextuality between A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dąbrowski’s theories illuminates the modernism of the latter and the development of Stephen Dedalus within Joyce’s Künstlerroman. Both show the influence of Freud, and both show how disintegration can be positive—a much needed tonic for the seeming catastrophe of the modern. What makes that disintegration positive is a kind of internalized discipline that, characteristic of modernity, redefines what it means to be a hero.


Elizabeth Switaj, PhD, is an academic administrator at the College of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific. She has previously published two collections of poetry: The Bringers of Fruit: An Oratorio, 11:11 Press, 2022; Magdalene & the Mermaids, Paper Kite Press, 2009). Her third collection, At (Ghost) Depth, is forthcoming from Mouthfeel Press, and her sequence, The Articulations, is forthcoming from Kernpunkt Press as part of a tête-bêche. She is also the author of James Joyce’s Teaching Life and Methods (Palgrave 2016). She holds a PhD in English from Queen’s University Belfast and an MFA in Poetics and Creative Writing from New College of California. She previously taught in Japan and China. Elizabeth’s website.