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Antiphany

  09/08/05 20:07, by , Categories: Home and personal, Literature

an-ti-pha-ny n. 1: The sudden realization that a vexing problem or puzzle has no solution. 2: The realization that the elusive meaning one has been searching for in a challenging work of art or literature does not, in fact, exist. 3: The realization that the answer one has been looking for is what the individual has consciously known all along.

I invented this word to describe an experience I had this week. The first time I read Daniel Clowes' Ghost World, I was puzzled by the ending. In the last scene, Enid boards a bus on a line that had long been discontinued. This struck me as vaguely mystical and mysterious, but I had no idea what it meant. I was certain there was some symbolism in it that I had missed. I reread the story recently, and I realized that there is no mystery. It's just a bus. A character briefly mentions earlier that the line has been activated again. The only special thing about Enid's action is in her growth as a character, which is significant enough.

This revelation put me in mind of another antiphany I experienced some years ago. In high school I participated in forensics, and one year I competed in the poetry interpretation event. For my reading selection, I chose "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot. My forensics coach always praised my interpretation of it, and thought I demonstrated an excellent understanding of the poem. I always thought I was a fraud, because I really didn't understand much of the poem. Again, I thought it was full of mysterious symbolism that was beyond my grasp.

Years later, after I had a lot more experience with poetry in college, I read "The Hollow Men" again. The poem was very familiar to me, and I felt like I had a pretty good appreciation of it. When I really thought, though, it occurred to me that I didn't actually "get" the poem any more than I did when I was in high school. The only difference was that now, instead of focusing on aspects of the poem that I did not understand, I was relying on those things I did know: the poem's mood, the sound of the language, and the feelings it evoked in me. All of these had affected me subconsciously the first time I read it, and showed in my interpretation of the poem. I was surprised to find that, years later, all I had learned about appreciating poetry was to use the tools I had been naturally inlined to use all along, albeit unconsciously.

Update: After writing this, I decided to Google "antiphany," which yielded 13 results. I was delighted to see my blog at the top, but was then disappointed to find out that the pseudodictionary also has a definition (I think mine is better, though). Other results revealed that the word is also the name of what must be an extremely obscure band (only 3 references to them), and that there are several people who clearly don't know how to spell antipathy.

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