Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Against "Against Epiphanies" (But Not Really)

Charles Baxter’s “Against Epiphanies” infuriated me. This is in part because I vehemently disagree with his thesis and in part because I can’t deny the truth of what he’s saying, a paradoxical predicament. Epiphanies are my modus operandi. It’s how I get through day-to-day life. That overwhelming sense of awakening when you strike upon an insight that has crawled to the surface from some innate place inside you is majestic. So much of my discovery of self has been brought about in this fashion. Baxter puts a lot of emphasis on the end result of these epiphanies demanding that they lead to a final destination that is either true or false, and I think there is an error in this line of thinking as it forsakes the process of discovery. In regards to his own epiphanies, Baxter claims, “They have arrived with a powerful, soul-altering force; and they have all been dead wrong.” Though they may be wrong in the end, insights still take you through the process of discovery, and besides truth is time-dependent as it is. Just because something once seemed undeniable, doesn’t mean that its truth won’t change with time. Keeping the discovery process open without clinging to the end results is one of the healthiest means of exploration.

I also think his argument that, “a belief that one is a victim will lead inevitably to an obsession with insight” is somewhat circular. Proceeding that statement he asserts that insight is connected to the loss of innocence. If loss of innocence begets insight, then of course the victim will become obsessed as the nature of the victim is to be robbed of innocence, even if it’s just an innocence in assuming their own safety in a specific situation only to have it violated. Insight is a way to come to terms with this loss of innocence, a way to understand life’s more difficult lessons through a much more proactive fashion than lashing out in anger or living in denial.

I do however think epiphanies are abused. Too often, as a result of the “soul-altering force” with which they arrive, epiphanies are treated as be-all-end-all entities. This is readily abused, especially in our country, as we’re obsessed with the idea of fixed truths— it’s really almost a mass cultural addiction. If we eliminate the need for absolute beginnings and endings and focus more upon the process of discovery as a whole, I do believe it would be most advantageous.

I really liked this reading. It played devil’s advocate to my devil’s advocate.


  1. I like how you had the passion to react to this piece. My thoughts ran along the same line, however, with less intensity. Epiphanies are there to guide use when we are lost, to help lead the way for a clearer choice. Yes, I agree that sometimes they lead to a wrong choice, but that life. Even though we disagreed with the premise of his article, we can't deny he has the credibility to back his claims, no matter how limited they seem to us.

    JAson Yelland

  2. Simply stated, I enjoyed reading this. You described your anger towards this piece while still understanding the authors intentions.

  3. Your response is logical and clear as to the ways you disagree with the piece. You make no bones about your emotions without allowing them to interfere with the thought process. So few arguments manage to do this.

  4. I think he is just really frustrated about all the expectations that come with writing a short story. It is pretty tiring to always have to offer a truth or epiphany at some point. It can force a lot of writers to stay away from what they know, simply to please the readers. Some of the best short stories I have read, managed to stay away from those expectations.


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