We must sin if we wish to grow

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


Over the last couple of years, for reasons I’d rather not disclose, I have learnt a thing or two about how rehabs work. An alcoholic or an ice-user, for example, will be asked to examine what it was that first got her hooked. In my case it was Molly’s monologue, the music of it, but I’ve since realised that there was something else in that passage, implied in Molly’s words, that I found deeply attractive. And that was Joyce’s attitude towards sin.

According to Ellman, Joyce’s view of sin was influenced by Hermann Suderman’s play Magda: ‘Magda’s philosophy of life may well have helped to shape Joyce’s. As she says, “And one thing more, my friend – sin! We must sin if we wish to grow. To become greater than our sins is worth more than all the purity you preach.”’

I grew up in a profoundly atheist household and for that reason some might assume I was immune to the concept of contravening God’s laws. But Christians of any kind, even apostates, are never free of the spectre of sin. And growing up with my father, a political activist, was not unlike growing up with a preacher. He lectured so incessantly about corruption and global inequality that it was impossible not to end up feeling somehow complicit. And although my father lived his life as a libertine, a free spirit and an advocate of ‘free love’, in the end it was his sense of guilt and shame that killed him. His suicide note was clear; the weight of his sins was simply too much to bear.

So when I discovered Joyce I found his attitude towards guilt liberating. Sin was an integral part of being human, not something to be excised. We must sin if we wish to grow. And certainly Joyce set forth boldly to sin from an early age, visiting his first brothel at the age of fourteen, an experience that was fictionalised in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At the end of that book’s second chapter, Stephen describes the ‘swoon of sin’ he experiences with a prostitute, ‘surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips.’

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