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Measuring the Sadness

Conrad, Joyce, Woolf and European Epiphany


Birgit Neuhold

Joyce was the first Modernist to use the religious term epiphany to describe an unexpected insight, often within a trivial, mundane biographical or fictional context. But prose fiction around 1900 is full of similar concepts under various names: moment of vision, moment of being, anderer Zustand, mémoire involontaire. This book asks three questions: Where does the concept of the epiphanic moment come from? What does it look like? Why was it so valuable for prose fiction around 1900? Finally the study looks at the present use of the term only to discover that «epiphany» has recently had an astonishing comeback – even Homer Simpson has had his epiphany.
Contents: Definition of the epiphanic moment, historical overview – Platonic concepts, conversion, mystical vision – Focus on epiphanic concepts in Conrad, Joyce and Woolf – Key texts Heart of Darkness, Portrait of the Artist and To the Lighthouse – Key concept: modern epiphany – Patch to dress modernist ailments (rift of subject and object, disintegration of the «I», relativity of time etc.) – Momentariness both deficient (transitory) and authentic.