Sunday, December 9, 2012


"This is the moment I call epiphany . . . when the relation of the parts is exquisite . . . its soul, its whatness leaps to use from the vestment of its appearance.  The soul of the commonest object . . . the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant.  The object achieves its epiphany." -  James Joyce

The typical story requires a conflict.  Two men are rivals for a girl, a treasure or a corporation.  They are evenly matched and only the author's deceptive clues will tell you who is the good guy and who is the bad. The action can seesaw until eventually someone wins.

James Joyce dispensed with this formula and created short stories to reach a moment of revelation or epiphany.  In place of winnings and losings his stories dealt in nuances, illuminations, and sudden spiritual manifestations.

Joyce used epiphanies as both a way of seeing or hearing and a way of showing and writing.  Some are fragments of overhead conversations of strangers.  Some are accounts of dreams and others are brief dialogues betweeen Joyce and individuals he knew.  Some are uncategorizable.  They are poetic-prose statements or transcriptions of actual life.  He defines epiphany as the quididtas the whatness of a thing.

Life fades into the sunset or a silence prevails.  Often no one wins or loses and many characters do not reach self-knowlege in the moment.  They do not even realize how hopeless they are.  The stories reach their conclusions only in the minds of the reader,  Or, the whatness of a character is revealed like a light bulb over his head.

After Joyce introduced the concept, the meaning has become elastic.  Writers have attempted to use subtle effects of this technique to reveal character, attitude and emotion.

Epiphanies are used for short mood pieces because there's not enough action to sustain them.  The realization story may include urgency and a sense of something or the pain of discovery and self-realization.


Late in the afternoon, a married woman hurries to meet her lover. The breeze shakes flowers from the cherry trees that bloom in the garden.  He is waiting for her and they make love with frightened haste.  With a gesture reserved for women who know that they are beautiful, she tugs her dress over her head and tosses it behind her like unwanted memory   -  Shulamith Wechter Caine

Creative Write:

1. Create an epiphany based on a quiet encounter with something that has always been out of reach.  Something always seems to have just turned its corner as you have turned your own.  This could be a moment in memory or pieces of a scene which needs dream and imagination to make whole.

2.  Build an epiphany for a character leading to an emotional realization.  Begin with fragments of overhead conversations, a ringing bell, or an emotional incident.

3.  Create an epiphany within a prose poem like the example above.

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