Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Joyce and Epiphany
I've just been thinking about James Joyce's notion of the "epiphany", that moment of illumination that every artist spends his or her time hoping for. In Stephen Hero Joyce writes: "By an epiphany he [Stephen] 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." Photographers too have this hunger to seize what Cartier Bresson called "le moment décisif". Willy Ronis the photographer called his trade a "chasse aux images", during which it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of wily game got away from the huntsman. But I wonder how conscious all this is? Like happiness which can never be sought but which visits us as a gratuitous by-product of whatever thing it is we were doing, the artist's shaft of light just suddenly shines out at precisely the moment when it wants to. The trick of course is to be trained, poised, limber, for the moment when the heavens open. That is what differentiates an artist like Joyce from the rest of us, I suppose.