Dude, What is Art?

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Dude, What is Art? is James Joyce's second novel. It is essentially his first novel - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Duck - rewritten in under two pages with a car chase scene and a flamethrower.


The sun glared through the window as Stephen turned the ignition key. Pulling his sunglasses from the glovebox, he flicked them open and placed them on his face. He revved the engine a few times to get a feel for the accelerator before slowly edging his humvee out of the school parking lot.

Stephen stopped at the exit. His eyes searched the road for a gap in the traffic. Across the street he heard the sound of cricket bats as water balloons were hit at passing birds : pick, pack, pock, puck: like drops of water in a fountain falling softly in the brimming bowl.

A flicker in Stephen’s rear view mirror caught his attention - Heron’s grey Mercedes was creeping towards him. The car’s luxury tyres, chrome mudguard, sparkling licence plate, concealable headlights, powerful windows-wipers, sturdy roofrack and even its radio antenna awakened in Stephen a desire and a vague sense of longing.

Stephen took off his glasses and shook his head to awaken from the spell. Replacing them and turning back to the road in front, Stephen attempted to merge his car in the common tide of other vehicles. To simply try to merge by himself was harder for him than any fasting or prayer, and it was his constant failure to do so this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at last a sensation of spiritual dyness together with a growth of doubts and scruples about his ability to drive. Eventually, a gap opened in the traffic and Stephen turned onto the road. Heron followed. A short way ahead the lights went a sickening yellow, compelling Stephen to stop. He glanced around the cars surrounding him. How characterless they looked. Every car was a Morris Minor. They cried out to Stephen - Why don’t you become one of us? Be Irish and drive a Morris Minor! - but Stephen did not want to drive a Morris Minor. Stephen wanted to meet in the real world the insubstantiate image his soul so constantly beheld.

A gentle drizzle began to pitterpat upon Stephen’s windowscreen. Stephen’s eyes widened. He peered through his side window. Heron smiled back through his own open window, and ostentatiously began pouring fuel through a tundish into his flamethrower, making a watery sloshing sound. A bead of worried sweat rolled down Stephen’s temple, and his lungs were damp with concern.

Heron lowered the barrel of his flamethrower and aimed at Stephen’s head. His soul cried out in an outburst of profane consternation as he realised the lights ahead were still red.

Admit, Heron cried out, Admit that Byron was no good.

Stephen shook his head and smiled in his rival’s face, beaked like a bird’s. But deep inside his soul Stephen knew he was feigning. Old father, old artificer, he prayed, stand me now and ever in good stead.

Stephen’s breath came faster and a wild spirit passed over his limbs as though he were soaring sunward. His heart trembled in an ecstacy of fear and his car was in flight. His car was soaring in an air. An ecstasy of flight made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs.

Nooo! screamed Heron, No fair! You put wings on your car! Cars don’t have wings! It’s against the laws of Ireland and the church!

You talk to me of nationality, language, religion, Stephen replied, I shall fly by those nets.

And he soared.