Discussions of the self in James Joyce’s
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man traditionally have a generic or a generalized quality: the self is modernist or postmodernist, essential or processive, unified or fragmented, etc.
Pathologies of Desire takes a different tack: it shifts the ground of discussion, locating the self in relation to particular dispositions or traits of the subject, Stephen Dedalus. More specifically, it foregrounds three pathological states (autoerotic, paranoia, and the shame/guilt syndrome) as primary modes of self-aggregation – the unique power of painful inner splits and divisions to precipitate self-awareness, and to make the self self-reflexive. As challenges to self-understanding, anxiety (autoeroticism), persecution (paranoia), and humiliation (shame/guilt) are prime catalysts of those multi-layered linguistic resources that fortify Stephen’s self with the means of comprehending its own angst. The fact that each particular self dissolves to make way for another underscores its purely contingent and transitional quality – it functions as a defense against the singularity of the pain that it generates. Stephen’s ultimate prospect of creating new future selves is thus contingent on his power to liberate himself from the old ones’ oppressive conditioning.