As you may know, I am suspicious of epiphanies, but I can never quite reject the possibility of lasting epiphany.
I was thinking about this today while rereading a book by Richard Powers, one of my favorite novelists. Powers was working as a computer programmer in the early 1980s when he saw this August Sander photograph, Young Westerwald Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1914. (The dance in question, of course, turned out to be World War I.)
Powers’s first novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, was published in 1985. Powers said this about encountering the photograph in a 2003 interview with Powers in The Paris Review:
“I had this palpable sense of recognition, this feeling that I was walking into their gaze, and they’d been waiting seventy years for someone to return the gaze. I went up to the photograph and read the caption and had this instant realization that not only were they not on the way to the dance, but that somehow I had been reading about this moment for the last year and a half. Everything I read seemed to converge onto this act of looking, this birth of the twentieth century—the age of total war, the age of the apotheosis of the machine, the age of mechanical reproduction. That was a Saturday. On Monday I went in to my job and gave two weeks notice and started working on Three Farmers.”