Sunday 28 September 2008

The story of an epiphany

"Joyce said that the epiphany was the showing-forth of a certain truth in circumstances that were not really conducive to the showing-forth of that truth. The three magi on the Feast of Epiphany arrived at a stable in Bethlehem, and instead of the great revelation of the King of Heaven coming to earth, they found a dirty child in a dirty stable. The epiphany lay in the contrast between the truth and the appearance."

This quote is taken from here (brilliant essay about short narrative, by the way). I know, I quote Anthony Burgess again, but this entry is mainly about him again (and besides, I didn't read James Joyce much). Well, I have been thinking about a blog entry like this one for ages, I simply did not know how to work it out. I still don't know how to write it down. An epiphany is, according to Wikipedia, "the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something". We all reach epiphanies at certain points in our life, sometimes when something happens, something when barely anything happens, but our perception gets something. For men of literature like myself (either writers, wannabe writers, academics or wannabe academics), epiphany is often found in written works.

I had my first beginning of epiphany watching A Clockwork Orange when I was 16, a few weeks (days?) before the beginning of school, in a hot August day of 1993. At first, I just loved, loved, loved that movie. But then again, I had started to be fascinated by other movies at that time, so that was nothing else than another bit of fascination like I was developing so often then. Still, the movie haunted me, enough for me to go and buy the book (in November, the time when the action in the novel was set), which I read in a bit more than 48 hours. I was fascinated by it. There was the language, inventive and wild, there were the almost existentialist themes of freedom and responsibility, there was the moral ideology of the whole book. I loved that book. I also started admiring Anthony Burgess a lot. And something happened on November 22 1993, right after I read A Clockwork Orange (and when I was re-reading it obsessively): Burgess died. I remember learning the news (it must have been on the 23rd) right after lunch time, we were going to school my brother and I and stopped to see the neighbours, the TV was on, and on the news they announced his death. It was a cold and winter November day, it felt appropriate. Then in the next year, I read other Anthony Burgess novels, to see what he had written apart from that. I fell in love with them all, sometimes right away, sometimes slowly. Anthony Burgess made me discover real literature, but more than that, he showed me that one's life could relate to art. I was happily surprised, and yet not so much surprised, that he had written the script of Jesus of Nazareth, one of my childhood's favourite movie.

Burgess writing accompanied me in the transition from teenage through adulthood and, more importantly, shaped it. I gradually renounced my faith, my apostasy echoed his own, as my very irrational Catholic feeling of guilt regarding my rejection of Catholic faith (and ultimately of any faith). I might not have been original, but I knew I was not alone. I also rediscovered classical music and, while it took me a long while to get in contact with other cultures, Anthony Burgess influenced my perception of them (especially the British and Italian one). Reading Honey for the Bears and Earthly Powers got rid of any remnant of homophobia I had. Anthony Burgess did not only make me see literature differently, it made me discover life, the truth underneath the shell of reality. It all started with A Clockwork Orange. Why was it an epiphany? Well, the novel was not even his best one.

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