Teju Cole on the Wonder of Epiphanic Writing

Teju Cole in Literary Hub:

The idea of epiphany summons two thoughts, generally. One is religious: the sudden and overwhelming appearance of the Divine into everyday life, as experienced, for instance, by Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and many holy figures through the ages. The other is literary. Epiphany is now perhaps as strongly, or even more strongly, connected to a certain idea expressed in European modernism, and emphasized in its aftermath. The idea is especially prominent in Joyce’s two early prose works, Dubliners—which includes “The Dead”—and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Epiphany, as understood by Joyce, and practiced thereafter, has to do with heightened sensation and flashes of insight, often of the kind that helps a character solve a problem. This is the definition he gave the term, in an early version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “a sudden spiritual manifestation.”

“The Dead” begins at an annual Christmas gathering for friends and family in Dublin early in the 20th century. After the party, we are with a couple, the Conroys, heading to their hotel. And then we are with just the troubled thoughts of Gabriel Conroy, who is ruminating on what his wife Gretta has just told him about something in her deep past: when she was a girl, she loved a boy and the boy loved her.

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