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Epiphanies and the Clinic

The Letter, Issue 35, Autumn 2005, Pages 35 - 42


Terry Ball


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.[1]

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 which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal' [2] Later, however, Stanislaus explains, 'epiphanies became more frequently subjective and included dreams...'[3] 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 positioning himself as both analysand and analyst. In his 'artifice of writing',[4] as Harari[5] notes, a writing which is dominated by metonymical concatenation, he is both free-associating and interpreting at the same time, interpreting, that is, as described by Lacan in, for example, Seminar XL Both of these 'activities', free-associating and interpreting, are rooted in, lalangue, that substructure which underpins language and in which 'unconnected, free-floating meaningless signifiers are in fact completely permeated by jouissance'[6] and, in both, it is the connection between signifier and signifier, the metonymic effect, which predominates over the metaphoric effect.

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