Terry Ball – Epiphanies and the Clinic

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 35-42


By epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.

This is the young James Joyce explaining his theory of epiphanies in his early work, Stephen Hero. This theory, which develops into his aesthetic theory, is based, somewhat loosely, on Aquinas’s theory of ‘the beautiful’ and Joyce likens ‘epiphany’ to Aquinas’s claritas, i.e., clarity or radiance. Stanislaus Joyce describes how his brother, James, used to take note of ‘epiphanies’ or revelations. He explains that, initially, they were ‘ironical observations of slips, and little errors and gestures …by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal’  Later, however, Stanislaus explains, ‘epiphanies became more frequently subjective and included dreams…’ In other words, James Joyce became aware that he had access to his own psyche through these and other formations which were indeed revelations. In this paper, I suggest that, both in his theory regarding his artistic writing and in the actual writing, at one and the same time and in one and the same activity of writing, as he does, he is…

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