I guess everybody is familiar with the old story of the three Wise Men who had ventured to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. After a long, tiring journey, the Magi seemed to have lost their way, but they eventually succeeded in reaching their destination thanks to the help of the comet star that had lighted up and pointed them the right direction. At the end of that journey they were recompensed by the sight of the physical manifestation of the son of God on earth: Jesus. This event is called Epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia: manifestation, striking appearance), that is a moment of a sudden revelation. We can actually give that narration a non-religious interpretation, as the journey of the Magi may also well represent the crisis of the modern age, where men seem to have lost all their certainties and desperately need a focus, represented by the divine illumination of the comet, to direct them to that truth they need to give meaning to their uncertain lives. James Joyce makes his alter ego Stephen Daedalus lecture on the nature of epiphanies during a discussion with his friend Cranly on Aquinas’ interpretation of beauty. An epiphany is ” a sudden spiritual manifestation” which may be provoked by “the vulgarity of speech or a gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself“(from Stephen Hero), it is a moment of claritas that leads to the truth, the quidditas, as Aquinas would sayJoyce experimented the epiphanetic kind of writing especially in his early production and particularly in Dubliners to abandon it gradually. In Dubliners each character experiences one or more epiphanic moments, but Joyce seems to say that this is not enough to awake them from the state of paralysis that dominates their minds, they are all destined to fail. Eveline, for example, the very night she has to leave with her lover, hears an air that reminds her of the last day her mother was alive. She suddenly understands that she has to abandon any hesitation and escape(claritas) if she doesn’t want to end up miserably like her mother(quidditas). When Eveline arrives at the docks,  the illuminated ship that would take her to Buenos Aires for her is a black mass (claritas)  and the joyful whistle of the boat becomes a mournful lament (claritas), she feels that if she left the sea would engulf her(claritas), therefore overwhelmed by a paralyzing fear she refuses to leave (quidditas) and prefers a hopeless present to a hopeful, even if uncertain, future. She just couldn’t do it.


4 thoughts on “Epiphany

  1. I think that our society got stuck at the time of Joyce and Eliot. A society founded on velocity, on the immediate efficiency, on symbols, on emptiness.
    And this should be the society of the XXI century? And we should be the homo sapiens sapiens? We do not deserve even just a sapiens. We are the homo imbecillus. And we deserve it.
    Where should we search our values? We created devices able to give us certainties, able to “think” mooore faster than us and with a precision that our brain should not even… wait a minute. The human brain would be able to do the same things! Even better! I mean, it was our brain to create those devices to simplify our life! Oh. That’s it. “To simplify our life”. That is the problem.
    “Dull roots”. Eliot just hit upon. We are dull. We are the dull generation. We reject our free will, we do not believe in our intelligence, we entrust ourselves to empty machines which dictate us what to do in our lives. “We renounce to our freedom” wrote Stefano Rodotà in “In the man with the bar code is born” (1999). But we accept it. We are aware. This is a topic repeated a thousand of times. And everybody, just like good lemmings: “Oh yeah yeah. That’s right. But now just let me check if there is someone who added me on Facebook.”Added on Facebook? Friends? What are friends? We do not even know that. “The world is in Internet!” no, the world is just beyond the window next to you.
    We give up our uncertainties, our doubts. What is better than risk? To have doubts about what we do, to have not an expected life? To do not know how it is going to end up? A long time ago, someone told me something that completely chaged me: “just think about what you are going to do during the next 5 minutes.” Do not do like Eveline, so. Do not let that 5 minutes become an eternity, a life! But we do not like to have doubts. We want certainties. Fake certainties. Given by this empty society. We want to be comforted. “Dried tubers”? Oh no, at least those tubers lived in the past. We are just worthless sand that surrender at the trend. “The world is no longer a place for heroes” you said in the other post. Well, I will not be that hero, but surely I will not sell at an auction my intelligence.
    What am I going to do? I do not know 

    When people run in circles
    It’s a very, very mad world.

  2. Wow, great choice, this “Mad World” is more melancholic than the version of the Tears for Fears but the text mirrors perfectly what we have been discussing these days. However you won’t have to run in circle if you try to live your life fully, that is: “to fall, to err, to triumph, to recreate life out of life” and you will find open “the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!” (Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.)

  3. Pingback: Where James Joyce Fails, Neil Gaiman Prevails | sairyou.me

  4. Pingback: Have You Been Using ‘Epiphany’ Wrong? | sairyou.me

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