Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Myth of the Joycean "Epiphany"

I stood outside the house where my father grew up, snapping pictures. A stout woman in a house dress came out and scowled. She swept the porch, practically beating it.

"I'm not a speculator," I said. I explained that my great-grandmother - "Granny Shimo," as everyone used to call her - had bought the house in the 1950s. The woman's face softened in recognition. Evidently, her father had told her about Mrs. Shimo driving a hard bargain.

The woman invited me in. Walking around inside, I found myself imagining my grandfather, Kaz, in various stages of decline. Staggering around the house, bumping into furniture. Passed out on the sofa, drunk and high. Bundled up in a rocking chair, catatonic and shaking, his face ashen. I felt like the boy in James Joyce's “The Sisters,” haunted by the ghostly memory of Father Flynn:

“I imagined that I saw again the heavy grey face of the paralytic. I drew the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas. But the grey face still followed me. It murmured and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region and there again I found it waiting for me."

There's something moving about the crazy old priest, whose beliefs have fallen by the wayside. The “idle chalice” he clasps in his coffin – an eerie reminder of the chalice he broke shortly before his death – crystallizes the story’s central theme of mania and malaise at the centre of the church.

I wished that Kaz's life could be grasped according to some similar symbol or “epiphany.” Joyce is famous for creating these beautiful epiphanic moments where the ideas of his stories converge on their exact focus and the implications of all events become ironically clear.

But nothing came to mind as I peered into the dusty corners of the house. No flash of insight. My grandfather remained a blind spot, as always.

“Where did Kaz die after his stroke?” I asked my father later that evening. I was thinking of that cramped bedroom, the smooth white bedspread stretching out.

Daddy’s eyes twitched like he’d been given a shock. I watched his bewildered expression from the corner of my eye.

What wasn’t he telling me? Did he think I couldn’t handle the truth?

Image from: here

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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.