Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler and Epiphanic Whatness

(Looking at that, shouldn’t it be “Laissez les bons temps rouler”? It’s been a while since I’ve taken French, but that doesn’t seem to agree).

There I go, picking a thing to death again.

Today’s Fat Tuesday. A time for dionysian debauchery and apollonian aesthetics.

I think I’m officially old. I have no interest in going to parades, drinking myself silly, and pushing other adults and little kids around to get some beads. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’d totally push little kids around if Harry Connick, Jr. were to be handing out chocolate or CD’s or something. And if he were singing to me? I’d pity the fools that would stand in my way.

I went to a small, non-Orleanian parade my first year back. Redneck town, redneck parade. I stood on the street in a small town surrounded by drunk adults and other crazy people and watched as a really fat guy played the foot game. The foot game is where you try to anticipate where the bead, tootsie roll, dubloon, etc., is going to go and you smash your foot down on top of it to ensure no one else can take your two cent tootsie roll or your fifty cent bead or your cheap ass plastic frisbee thing that gets chewed up by the dog the second he sees it.

The really fat guy was playing a very aggressive version of the foot game and ended up hurting a little girl who looked to be six years old. He smashed her hand, all 300 or so pounds and at least 40 years of him up against a little girl who couldn’t have weighed 60 lbs and was less than four feet tall, if that.

That was my last Mardi Gras parade. I did enjoy the crawfish boil afterwards, and probably didn’t think much about the little girl while I was stuffing my face with crawfish and boudin and daquiris, but I’m thinking about it now, and I wonder if it is coincidental that it happened to be my last parade.

The season officially ends tonight at midnight, but it’s the beginning that I find more interesting, especially with the Fiction Class. The Carnival Season begins with the night of Epiphany. Supposedly, that is the day that the Wise Men found the baby Jesus and he was recognized as the Son of God. For this reason, it is called the Epiphany.

According to Rust Hills’ Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular (a very insightful book on craftsmanship, by the way), epiphany is “from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning ‘appearance,’ derived from epi, meaning ‘to’ plus phaineium meaning ‘show.’ Thus, ‘to show to.’ And ‘epiphany,’ now without the capital E–means any such luminous, divine manifestation” (19).

Now, onto James Joyce. Joyce had an unfinished manuscript called Stephen Hero, something he tossed and rewrote in favor of the famous Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen became his protagonist in the novel (which I haven’t read and must rely on Mr. Hills’ journalistic integrity to summarize for me), and he works on translating Thomas Aquinas‘ notion of claritas (which I don’t exactly understand and I can’t find a good link on it at the moment) as “‘radiance’ and defines it as the ‘luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure'” and that “claritas is quiditas, or, simply, ‘the whatness of a thing'” (Hills 21).

Now, completely disregarding all of the Latin hullaballoo and references to long-dead saints, the summation of that is that epiphany is the whatness of a thing.

In writing, what this means is that an object or character has an epiphany when its whatness is revealed. When the core of the object or character is visible by the discerning reader, an epiphany has taken place. I would go so far to say that the revelation of this whatness, this epiphany, is ultimately required in good fiction because it is the basis of connectivity and relationship between reader and text.

And, contrary to popular belief, epiphanies are not singular moments. While it may look like the climax of a story takes place in one singular moment, the truth of the matter is that one can track back through the actions and see that the character, based on his character (whether it’s a moral core or a lack of one) had no choice but to do that the things that he did, because to have done anything else would not have brought him to this moment of bare-assed whatness.

And that moment of whatness is the epiphany, that bare-ass whatness as I so classily label it, is the moment when man is the closest to that “luminous, divine manifestation” (Hills 19).

And now I’m thinking the only decision left to make, as a writer, is if you’re willing to allow your character to be seen in all of his whatness glory.

But I wonder if we could even cover it if we tried.

Now playing: Loreena McKennitt – The Gates of Istanbul
via FoxyTunes


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