If you were forced to read this novel in school, then you may have missed its relevance with respect to your own relationship to pornography.
It's in this novel that Joyce's literary alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus, takes on Aquinas and Aristotle and even the Catholic Church. But he also says what Art is. Even if you were not floored by his later, more highly developed innovations with stream-of-consciousness, you've got to care about his definition of pornographic art, kinetic and didactic art, and esthetic arrest.
Much of the damage we do in life is because we don't know better. We're unconscious. Joyce lays it out for us in Portrait, and if you get what he's trying to tell you, it's possible that you may awaken - become conscious - and therefore free.
It is for this reason that I've called on world-renowned mythologist, Joseph Campbell, to break it down for us. Sit tight. The video, which is really audio covered by stills, lasts 16 minutes. But if you've never heard Campbell speak in person, as I did several years before his death in 1987, or experienced one of his lectures on video, you are in for a treat. He taught comparative literature at Sarah Lawrence for over 30 years before being "discovered" by the rest of the world, most notably Bill Moyers who dedicated an entire TV series to his work (The Power of Myth) and a little known film director who credits his reading of Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces with the main idea behind Star Wars.
When I heard Campbell speak about James Joyce that day, Robert Bly, Helen Frankenthaler, and Rollo May were also on the program. Each one contributed something to my understanding of art in contemporary society. But it was Campbell who knocked me over with his discussion of Joyce and his phenomenal understanding of Portrait. And get this - not once did he rely on notes. Much of what he said that day is contained in the 16-minute clip below. (You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free - right? Let's hope so.)