mad in pursuit notebook



"Epiphany" is one of those perfect words that people don't use much. "I had an epiphany." Say what?

A lot of my radio pieces are "epiphanies."

When I was 11, my family moved to Epiphany of Our Lord parish -- so I had to learn what Epiphany referred to among Christians. It's January 6 -- "little Christmas" or the "twelfth day of Christmas," when the 3 kings (or wise men or magi) -- having followed the Star of Bethlehem -- arrived with their gold, frankincense and myrrh. This arrival represents the first recognition of Jesus as Christ -- a "shining forth," or a revelation.

James Joyce* used "epiphany" as a literary term: a sudden revelation of truth inspired by a seemingly trivial incident.

Joyce... regarded epiphanies as inadvertent revelations... when he noted 'little errors and gestures - mere straws in the wind - by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal.' Epiphany in these instances is revelation, but ironical and possibly merciless. But he also recognised that the moment of revelation could be lyrical and radiant.

From 1900 onwards Joyce produced 71 epiphanies, of which 40 have survived ... reprinted by Richard Ellmann, A. Walton Litz and John Whittier-Ferguson in James Joyce: Poems and Shorter Writings (Faber and Faber, 1991). The different kinds are represented. Some are snap-shots of real life, mini-dramas that encapsulate banality and vulgarity; in others, elevated thoughts or perceptions occur in banal surroundings, and are so powerful and so indicative of some higher reality that they take on the character of mystical vision. Some epiphanies are less spectacularly revelatory and significant, but they are harmoniously beautiful... [source]

So I filter through the small encounters of life and say, "Oh dear!" Remembering a second-grade valentine sparks an understanding of 1950's racism. Remembering the years of interactions with "Charlotte" gives me a small insight into what it must be like to grow up with sexual identity issues. Getting a fishing lesson about foul-hooking pulls the curtain back on jealousy and anger. And I see my bus ride home from high school as my audition for adulthood. Epiphanies.


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* James Joyce: early 20th century Irish writer of Ulysses, The Dubliners, etc.

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