Introducing the Power Issue

Great stories have sticking power. Certain books stick with me, and I stick with them; I keep them constantly handy. One of them, still around after all these years, has a bold green-and-yellow cover with the words “The Definitive Text.” That’s James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and for me, it was definitive in revealing the surprising potential of storytelling. Portrait presented a coming-of-age tale just as I, more or less, was coming of age. This was the education of Stephen Dedalus. But what profound milestones, what vexing circumstances, what consciousness-shaping themes, defined that education: family, faith, rebellion, flight, and, of course, art and the sometimes isolating work of the artist. Very big things indeed. And beyond the contours of the tale, there was the artistry of Joyce’s language—meandering and sentimental in some places, sharpedged and forceful in others. Consider the opening lines of Portrait: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” I just fell in love with those lines—somehow at once innocent and knowing, and just as funny as anything. There’s a lot that’s innocent, knowing, and revealing in the essays that populate this issue. They provide a reminder of the many varieties of power and of the many avenues into power—spreading a political protest, photographing a disaster, contemplating a memorial, performing a dance, teaching a history class, interacting with a patient, making a meaningful fashion choice, and more. Just maybe, the effect is what Dedalus, as channeled by Joyce, calls “a thoughtenchanted silence.” The silent act of reading can be powerful. So go ahead and feel the power.

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