Having read a version of the diary he kept as a 15-year-old, the appreciation and curiosity I hold for Dermot Healy’s life grows. Thrilling. Rousing, also. Enlivening. . . So many adjectives to relay the essential shot of reckless wellbeing that his writing has given me. A reminder of things past, and times to come, one hopes.

I finished reading The Bend For Home with a discreet sense of closure. The funeral cortege passes up the hill, alongside those two lakes. Healy sees off, imaginatively, Mother. She who has given so much, and suffered not less. — Fuck it, the ‘d’ on this keyboard requires the left index finger to thrust. It is reticent, aware of the part it plays. D. — But ‘reckless wellbeing’, yes voila. A kind of devil-may-care and debonair style by which he live(s)(d), dropping morals by the fistful, leaving care by the wayside, and yet passing through things with ease, with an unspoken verve, forever pleased to taste the mortal drop, King of the liver, to drive on the swerve – bend – homeward. Bound to a thirst for movement, for sneaking. He sneaks about his plot, Cavan.

Indeed Healy conjures that place so well that I am tempted to pass by there, have a gulp up the Half Acre, on my way to Derry and the hills of Donegal. I shall go there soon. People say that it is a sense of place, localised, which country people and certain writers are striving for these days. A cachet of esoteric nuances – fields with devils, lamps of houses on main streets that extinguish at a precise hour, these small details to vivify the aching green of the land, all that is west of Dublin, a swarthe of livestock to elude the straining hand of ____ . Of   ?

I hesitate to speak of Healy’s style, for competency, I suspect, comes only with age. One must wait.

[10 mins break. Smoke a nice fag]

Spent five months writing a Masters thesis, of which one half – one text –  had to do with an ‘I’ that knew well, at times, the key to the codes, endless, of the reckless wellbeing on which I ruminate. This theme engulfs me. It is, for all ‘I’ know, me. One lives for it, and its loss that sickens. There is the sense that I always, in no matter what endeavour, seek the way to find it again. To strum its string, walk along the wire. Fall off, and balance again. And fall off, again.

I suspect that this way is more often than not one of descent. In other words, this way is ever elusive, invisibly visible, leading and misleading at the same time. Like the first pint he drinks in a club, and like the mad flicker of a street lamp before it dies. Alive and dying. That is the key to decipher all of the codes . . . If only we knew.

Please forgive, as ever, the wayward, feminine, lofty Celtic mind . . . That history I felt feeling me, a long time ago. Good night.

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Literature Review

As I am still at a rudimentary stage in terms of research, this literature review will take a cursory glance at the texts which I deem relevant for the thesis topic. As a general introduction to theoretical debates on Ireland, the collection of essays Theorizing Ireland, edited by Claire Connolly, will prove helpful (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). The collection includes two essays which I intend to draw upon in formulating the theoretical frameworks through which I could envision the project. They are; “Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea”, by Seamus Deane, and “’ . . . maybe that’s just Blarney’: Irish Culture and the Persistence of Authenticity”, by Colin Graham. The essays critique, respectively, the course that Irish literature took during the Revival, and the trope of the ‘authentic’ that has accompanied so many debates on Irishness.

By no means do I intend to study the texts in isolation, that is to say as separate entities which are not bound up with the literature occurring around the time of their nascence. In other words, it will be necessary to read certain texts by other Northern Irish writers, so as to widen the scope of my acquaintance with their literature. I will have to select these texts carefully, since time, once benighted, vanishes promptly. That said, I believe that the texts of Ciaran Carson, Deirdre Madden and Glenn Patterson would be particularly helpful in this regard. In terms of critical texts, John Wilson Foster and Patrick Ward have compiled, respectively, Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture and Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (Irish Academic, 2001 & 2009), both of which, like the work edited by Connolly, offer general companion frameworks for envisioning the thesis’ theoretical basis.

Writing a thesis on texts set in a northern Irish city, it would be impertinent to elide that region’s fraught political context, its ongoing postcolonial dialectic. As such, David Lloyd’s Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Postcolonial Moment, a text which has become somewhat canonical, will give insight to a postcolonial hermeneutics, particularly given that it features a closing essay on Seamus Heaney (Duke, 1993). The topoi of the Derry region will occupy a prominent position in the thesis’ development. While experimental ‘field trips’ to the city will inevitably occur, there are a variety of critical texts which might aid me in situating Derry within northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. The collection Irish Studies: Geographies and Genders, edited by Mart Lee and Ed Madden, is one of the texts which offer insight in this regard (Cambridge, 2008). Also, studying the writings of the Situationists will provide an interpretative lens for the wanderings around the city that the novels’ protagonists experience. Lee and Madden’s investigation of geography and gender will lead-in to a wider reflection on the implications of gendered beings, things and narratives in Deane and O’Reilly. A dissection of those gendered constructions will be aided by texts such as James Cahalan’s Double Visions: Women and Men in Modern and Contemporary Irish Fiction (Syracuse, 1999). The work of the ‘French Feminists’ and the psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva might provide much of the critical vision in this regard.

There is not a great deal of critical writing on either Deane or O’Reilly. While this may at first appear restrictive, I believe the existent lacunae can help me to develop, if not a personal, at least a less critically-indebted interpretation of the primary texts. Given that I was able to locate a number of critical essays on Reading in the Dark in online journal databases, O’Reilly’s text might suffer more than Deane’s here. Among the essays I found were; “Oedipus in Derry: Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark” by Daniel Ross (New Hibernia Review, 2007), “History Lessons: Postcolonialism and ‘Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark’” by Liam Harte (Irish University Review, 2000), “‘Reading in the Dark’: Sensory Perception and Agency in the Return of the Native” by David Sweeney Coombs (English Literary History, 2011) and “Dark Fields of the Republic: Seamus Deane’s Sundered Provinces” by Joe Cleary (boundary, 2010).

Since both Deane and O’Reilly seek to merge biographical and fictional events, it would not seem misguided to consult the corpulent body of work on how autobiographical narratives are constructed, and how fiction-interjection can disrupt or sustain such narratives. The following are some of the texts which might be of value in this regard; Deirdre Heddon’s Autobiography and Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Kathleen Ashley’s Autobiography and Postmodernism (Massachusetts, 1994), Paul John Eakin’s Fictions in Autobiography: Experiments in the Art of Self-Invention (Princeton, 1988) and the collection of essays edited by Liam Harte, Modern Irish Autobiography: Self, Nation and Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

The flow and rupture of intergenerational transmission fundamentally affect experience, with the ineffective transmission of parental heritage having traumatic repercussions in both Deane and O’Reilly. Leigh Gilmore has produced a volume dealing with tropes of this nature. Her Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony (Cornell, 2001) is a study which I will consult to better crystallise the formations of generational temporality and belated testimony that form an integral part of both texts.

A Refraction of Reflections

There is a notion unquantifiable stirring me. Whispers at my very heart. Stirring since I awoke. It happens like this, on certain days, when the luck is in, for what can enliven more than this utterance of the wonder, paean to the melody of days, fomenting always and rising still?

A blog charting the peregrinations – academic / intellectual – of a six-month period. I was at first suspicious. All a bit superificial, no? And 250 words? That’s not even pithy! Now, six months on, while scepticism remains, it has been diluted enough to allow for a reasonably thorough – if such a non sens is permitted – exploration of the new shots a blank screen can yield. I used the blog on my own terms, preferring to take an approach foregrounding musings and thoughts that were of more immediacy and relevance than, so I saw it, the hard graft of academic writing. I wrote in a variety of registers and, bizarrely, having now gathered the remnants, the resultant alloy seems to form a kind of turgid manifesto. A manifesto of what? To that question, for all I surmise, no response offers itself.

Let’s return to the beginning;

. . . when who should trundle along to the table opposite, but a bare-boned man, auld fella’, sixties perhaps, teeth missing, eyes a-gaping. ‘Studying for the exams, are ya?’, says he. I looked up, bemused, threatened even, my textual harmony broken up by his interest, until, little by little, we began to converse, and, gradually, my words became his and his words became mine. ‘That’s right, now’. . . .

A wry smile greets the next line. Jesus lads, and I was only reading Baudrillard last week;

Such is the colonising power of technology these days, that we might even term anyone who dares to propose something on strictly human terms, as Subaltern! No?

Satire! We were reading Swift at the time;

One of the most beautiful things to observe of pro football is the strict hierarchy that defines it. The football club, as a ‘mother-organism’, brings together a disparate group of people. Let us examine a typical in-stadium matchday set-up to fully grasp this strange unity. We have, firstly, the owners and executives of the clubs, all rightly rich and all occupying various exclusive boxes, modern day equivalents to thrones-of-kingdoms. Kings of football, of the beautiful game, owners elect and keeping the football world in a state of just equilibrium, with their sound financial fair play – Fair play, lads! These exclusive, much sought-after boxes constitute the central site in the stadium-kingdom, affording optimal panoramic views for the long-time sovereign. It is precisely in this state of primed grace that our omniscient Napoleon of the north reigns over the baying, but ever faithful, mob. Our Napoleon of the north is, let us not forget, separated from the rest of the crowd by bulletproof glass, a timeworn help to the fastidious football-emperor. ‘The glass that would have saved Kennedy’, goes the very famous dictum.

After the ‘men on high’, high in their exclusive boxes, we have, low down, hugging the grass of the green earth, the player-hero on the pitch. This highly talented individual is known across the land, Sun Mirror and Stars, confirmed daily by his own saving valour as a man of the highest order, calm in calamity, brave in battle, altruistic in attitude. He is, also, in near-perfect physical condition. Indeed, it is not unusual to mistake a particularly strapping midfielder for the high Hercules himself; such is the faultless, prestigious, overwhelmingly gracious and never rapacious heroism on show. He amasses vast sums of wealth for abiding by the strictest of wellness regimes. He plays, typically, one nerve-wracking match per week; although, almost unbelievably, it is possible, parfois, for the player-hero to brave the dark pitch up to, and including, two times per week!

Completing the fluid triptych, we have ourself, the supporter, far greater in number than owner-king, executive-servant and player-hero combined. An average stadium-kingdom in our English league will welcome up to 50,000 of ourself weekly (or twice-weekly or parfois even thrice-weekly if the Sky god comes calling). ‘Our Father, who art in Sky’, goes the song en vogue. The fan, being upright, is quite dedicated (ourself included), paying £50 weekly to see the player-hero in the flesh. The fan has, of course, already proved his loyalty, having recently acquired the team’s jersey in the team’s state-of-the-art shop, for another donation of a precise £50. A typical yearly fan income mirrors that of the average subject in the realm; i.e. in the realm of £30,000 – £50,000. So, the fan earns in a year what the player-hero earns in a week. As previously stated, a strict hierarchy bestows on each kindly subject a proper place in the Sky-realm.

In November, The Woman’s Daughter by Dermot Bolger, where the Dubliner flaunts a particulalry clever wielding of narrative form. I borrowed ideas from Patricia Coughlan for this post. I am as of yet unsure whether her “Bog Queens” bullets were a tad excessive;

To begin with, it is first necessary to outline the form that Bolger’s story takes. There are two separate but (formally) interconnected narratives. While both occur in the same place (the Dublin suburb of Finglas), the narratives are separated in time by an interval of roughly fifty years. So, already, there is a complex set of narrative elements at play; identity of place is fused with disjunction in time, so that a plethora of potential links and refractory dissonances are thrown up amongst the words on the page. The narrators are two undifferentiated male figures and, given the interweaving narrative structure, are treated as if they are the same male figure. Bolger has the narrators’ relationship to particular female figures as the primary narrative arc. However, unlike the narrator(s) these female figures are named as Bridget and Joanie, respectively. We thus have a seemingly undifferentiated male narrator and two nominally distinct female figures. [. . . ]

Following Bolger’s critique, the masculine quest can, arguably, only function if the male figure consciously or unconsciously disavows the validity of other selves. These other selves, if understood on an empathetic (as opposed to a narcissistic) scale, will eventually come to impact upon the desired distinctiveness of the questing ideal male self. Having outlined the parameters within which the quest can occur, Bolger goes on to take them further apart, by revealing that the male figure is ultimately left unfulfilled by his quest, possibly even aimless. The narrator, arriving at middle-age, confesses that ‘somehow I have always remained that boy still claiming purity, still on the threshold of some great event’ (124). We may construe his claim to ’purity’ and desire for a ‘great event’ as refracted versions of the masculine quest. What is of relevance is not only the narrator’s admitted failure to arrive at the end of his quest (he is ‘still on the threshold’), but also his inability to leave it behind (he has ‘remained that boy’). His confession presents us with a disturbing image of circularity; not one of perpetual renewal (as in the protean nature of seasonal change) but of perpetual return, leading to a repetition which is stagnant instead of fertile, impotent instead of virile. In this light, I contest, the male figure could be construed as in fact, almost absurdly, inhibited by his own quest. In other words, it is paradoxically the very path that is supposed to bring fulfilment that renders it impossible to achieve.

It is man who is prey to the quest.

It takes at times such craft to fashion a text viable in its complexity. I tip my hat – and glass- to the efforts that accumulated over the recent months. A pleasure indeed to make one from the many. A less formal register here;

“Remember, you were there too.”

The first line of Raymond Scannell’s play “DEEP”. I recently had the pleasure of its acquaintance, recently, the days drifting past and through well and thoroughly gone now, the days gone. Recounting the heady nights of the house-rave scene in 1990s Cork, an overlay of music and spoken text, “and because Scannell paces so fast that you almost wish there was a pause and rewind”, back, to remember, relive again the fleeting moment, totality of all that vanishes. [. . . ]

Of course, we may pare and pare, sharpen and shorten the pencil, but that does not say that there is a kind of pure style somewhere in the depths, in the dark DEEP peer and weep. An Irish Times review describes the swooning surge-swell roll of the DEEP piece very well, noting how the player strikes up a rapport with “an entity known as “the beat”, which retreats, reappears and accelerates through a floating, poetic narrative”. . . Any true style, that of a Beckett or a Baudelaire, floats, glides, can never be anchored.

DEEP in the shallows.

Was there an actress in the room, a mad actor in the attic? Performing the body;

Indeed, the nature of acting is quite bizarre, absurd almost, like this sentence: actor becomes character who is, still, actor, who strives to be character but who is never not actor (!). In other words, the spectator is seeing two instead of one. The spectator is seeing character and actor, instead of only character. The spectator is seeing double. This is one part of the ‘splitness’. Herbert Blau, director and theoretician of performance, has characterised this double presence as “ghosting”. His term might be applied to the actor behind the character who, in performing the role, is ‘not there’ but also ‘there’. So, as Mark Fortier asks, “Is theatre a place of presence or what Blau calls ‘ghosting’?” (43). What really is going on in theatre? Who knows.

Musings were of a rawer tinge afterwards;

How awe-full it would be were the wit and heat and excitement and looks of a meeting, for instance, of two Dubliners, captured, as it happened, in words or in colour! How truly great it would be were Rilke on hand, on a stool in the corner, to poeticize the most luscious night of lovemaking of one’s life! How convenient, also, were Caravaggio there to colour-in the all-giving, all-promising azure sky one sees on a Sunday in July in Perpignan! This is, alas, woe to us, what life, the Real, cannot do. It cannot translate events, as soon they happen / vanish – happening is vanishing – into permanence. It cannot give the Realness / reality of our lovemaking a place in the pantheon of ‘thingness’, forever. Our lovemaking ends, it vanishes, and with this vanish too its own possibilities of achieving permanence. . . I live, and so I am a part of life. Is there an exit? There is, of sorts; one which does not let us out definitively, but rather allows us to pause proceedings, take some air, breathe. This exit-which-leads-back-in is, I surmise, what constitutes art. It is a prestigious and highly exclusive domain, for not everyone can find that ‘exit’. Not everyone can stop doing things. In its dialectic with life, the Real, and transience, art attempts to give presence to our tragic ephemerality. [ . . . ]

An artwork is a tinting of the Real. It is a transformation of the Real. It is a rendering of what is. An on-going palimpsest. It is a throwing onto the canvas of the perception-experience encounter. It is a tracing onto the page of movement in the world.

Lots of leggy movement in Kerry, according to a story by the man whom Gerald Griffin Street is named after (!);

We may call Griffin a collector of folk-tales, in a similar vein to Douglas Hyde or Lady Gregory. He is known to have sought out remote parts of the Irish ‘interior’. . . < One must listen to the natives, hear their stories, the superstitions in the old times! The lore of auld biddies, the quare doings of the peasant people. The gombeen man, Mickeleen-Jack and his illicit poitín still. The like a’ which ye’ve not see in Dublin for many a long year! > <Not until that scaming Dedalus arrived, says he, bleedin’ scoundrel if ever there was one. Begob, t’was the soot’s luck that he saw the Citizen blowin’ his trumpet, scuttered in Davy Byrnes. Bloomin’ delightful, says he> . . . . First published as part of the Munster Popular Tales collection, in 1827, Griffin’s story centres on the fascination that a disembodied pair of legs holds for the people of north Kerry. [ . . . ]

Monday, 13 / 1 / ’14 . . . I was perusing a copy of the Irish Examiner, when I came upon this; an article telling of a mysterious pair of footprints imprinted, for over a century, in the grass of a field in Glenamuckla, a townland in north-west Cork. The footprints, like the legs, allegedly derive from a local murder, and similarly vanish only to reappear with a gyring disdain for finishing linearity. Priests blessed the scene and locals even physically removed the footprints, all to no avail. The haunting trace is eternally remade, re-presented on the Glenamuckla landscape. Even the placing of the article is reflective of its subject. Incongruous, it appears strange and unfathomable on the fifth page of an Irish broadsheet newspaper. A story about footprints in a field? Riddle me that!

James Chandler came to Cork;

As is always the case with a compelling lecture, I sat through the hour engaged, at times engulfed by what he said. Trains of thought with minute beginnings are edged on, with eloquence and clarity of expression, towards clustered ciphers of meaning, quiet revelations, thoughts brought to dazzling light.

I use the word ‘thought’ here as a double reference. The Thought of the speaker, propellers at work, can strike a match, give life to various currents, waves, and eddies in the listener’s thoughts. A certain freedom accompanies these latter waterworks. While the person speaking, having rehearsed what he will put across, is more or less confined in terms of what he will say / think, the listener, merely sitting there, has the chance, is even obliged to let the words put out into the air breathe, to allow them their full measure in manifold connotations, to open up to Thought proposed with thoughts, inside, now exposed. – Exposed to the coalescing that inevitably occurs when a thinking consciousness encounters Thought discoursing. So, the impromptu performance, in so fixed a structure as a guest lecture, can be found entirely on the listener’s side. In this way, Mr. Chandler’s words set off myriad triggers within my imagination. A fruitful kind of gathering then occurred, lasting the hour long, where my own cultural frame of reference, dispersed and so imprecise, was brought to bear on the scholarly rigour of a guest lecturer.

Many thanks to the Palace Bar;

Upon a rereading of a majority of the Dubliners stories, I have again been struck by the overarching presence that Dublin, as topos, occupies within the cluster. It is the collective home, whether loved or not, in which the various lives and incidents occur. The city, as the stories unfold (both within each narrative and across the wider glow of the whole collection) takes on certain characteristics. By times teeming, unyielding, ruthless and claustrophobic, Dublin nonetheless offers adequate occasion for revelry – be it of the romantic, poetic, or congenial tinge. Dublin, cast in a light which gives glimmer to its many hues, comes alive with the complexities and contradictions of a living being. It breathes; to the extent that, by the end, I wonder whether in fact the entire collection is not one long, veiled apostrophe, by a Dubliner, to the city he would soon leave, for good.

There appears to be a refusal, on Joyce’s part, to fill out the interpretative potential, to give colour to the entire canvas, in the way that a Yeats might have done. Let us consider Dubliners as a case in point. In that collection, the real interest lies in the stories’ endings. Many people have used the word ‘epiphany’ to fathom what Joyce is doing in that instance of finishing a story. But it is at the same time more intricate and less explainable than that. Each story ends when emotional tensions have reached their most marked pitch. When the apogee of feeling arrives, – when a further narrative unravelling would typically occur – the words are there no more. In this way, each of the stories ends as it opens. Each story opens up to an ending. Each ending gives a subtle explosion, from the centre, outwards. In this way, I read Dubliners in a duel play of fearful attraction to this end that won’t begin. Dubliners refuses to conjure a thing ‘whole’; it deals in almosts and fragments. In the end(s), as Joyce’s people reach the edge of their entrapment, touch the cusp of their lives, the textures of the stories receive a frightful tinge, of colours flashing, wound up together in a slowly spiralling comprehension. The events unfold, colours carouse, following and forgetting one another before the vanishing that ushers them down to the ether. The full stop at the end of the final sentence of a Dubliners story is the site of this dispersal, text defying its limits, to reach out, push away and caress the space around the reader.

I grow ever fonder of these whispers;

Perhaps language flecked with poeticism is the only kind to convey the notion? Virginia Woolf is one whose writing steers the caress away from a conscious seizing. She does this to facilitate her subject. At least part of her concern is the submerged – flying and fleeting – shards of our selves. She is interested in thoughts that sway, thoughts that appear so true and yet that vanish spontaneously, only to reappear seconds after in another hue, a newer way to dazzle. Her work cannot be understood, nor grasped; one merely senses it. There is no contact to be had with writing of that quality; one merely steps about it, breathes it in, lifts up its veil that blows. Think of a curtain that is stirred, lightly, lightly, from a breeze entering through an open window. The way it flutters – revealing, cooling, revealing light – is desultory as to evade definition. And yet; such prismatic formlessness! Such kaleidoscopic movement!

Do you see now, why the caress is of the utmost? Notions unquantifiable;

We need to veer away from a spectral way of living things. Why measure, when all cups will o’erflow? Life cannot but exceed the self. This, nonetheless, does not entail a drowning . . . nor even a submerging. Rather, a certain bowing to the excessiveness; a joyous genuflection and a shaking of the flimsy branch . . . Do I grasp, or do I let go? Or can I do both at once? Can I love the flashes as they surely go by? I might inscribe them. I might try with words to kick the light from the dust.

Forgive the obscurity. Such are the zones to which light leads me.

Pecha Kucha

The Textualities conference, organised by the MA students in UCC’s School of Englsh, was memorable for a variety of reasons. The conference was shaped around twenty or so presentations in the Pecha Kucha format. Pecha Kucha entails presenting material with a ‘moving’ powerpoint; that is, the slides dissolve and form anew after intervals of ‘stasis’ lasting twenty seconds. The constrained and fast-paced nature of the Pecha Kucha format led me to diliute the seriousness, and perhaps even the sincerity of my approach. I would favour laughter over reflection. I was of the opinion that seven minutes was not nearly enough of a duration in which to present something substantial. The practical speaker might realize that he would be better served by taking an imagistic approach, where text-on-slides is kept to a minumum. I thus scoured the visual memory bank within for artistic works and popular images which would be of relevance. Relevance and resonance! The process of image-finding, text-compiling, and image-text timing took the best part of a week. However, I must admit that it was the initial compiling of the text that proved the most troublesome part. Once I had cut the text – what I was going to say – to an appropriate length, the process of timing the text so that it would coincide, continuously, with the Powerpoint images began. This process was surprisingly enjoyable. It involved rehearsing the entirety of the presentation – text read as images unravel – over and over again until a satisfactory ‘fit’ between text and slides was met. Of course, ‘satisfactory’ is misleading here. The perfect fit does not exist, contingency is a niggardly despot, and, besides, spontaneity will always offer the better dance. I learned this after having successfully pulled off the Pecha Kucha rigmarole. At least twice during the presentation, I had read the text at a slightly faster pace than rehearsed. There was consequently an occassional gap of a few seconds between the text ceasing and image appearing.

And so silence, in the confernce chamber . . .

A pleasant surprise then to observe how this gap tended to increase, rather than deflate the comic effect. Who could tell the dancer from the dance!

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There is a notion unquantifiable stirring me. Whispers at my very heart. Stirring since I awoke. It happens like this, on certain days, when the luck is in. My luck is in this evening, for what can enliven more than this utterance of the wonder, paean to the melody of days, fomenting always and rising still? The notion, unquenched, has sprung from this memorable line

– – Unless you love, your life will flash by – –

What does one choose to do, in this life? Is it viable to ‘love’? What does it entail, to love so that your life does not flash by? If we attempt to thread our selves through the fabric of this, the ‘love’, we commit, endlessly and over again, to a sincere and sustained attempt to seize our lives, our days for all that they are, all that they offer up. By alighting on this path, we acknowledge our conscious state, and undertake to not let our lives pass us by. The idea of holding one’s life in high esteem might be useful here. To be interested, sincerely and enduringly, in what one does, in what one is. There is a certain grace that accompanies this; a profound faith that yet takes care to remember the inherent fragility of things. This way of perceiving takes care also to notice the prismatic lights and spaces we pass through. With such attentiveness, it might touch upon the religious . . . O luxuriant religiosity! 

And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.

All forms can save, are saving in this state of being. The eye gives unto everything a profusion of hues. A mere matchstick becomes prismatic. So too does a pear; there is no difference between nature and artifice when vision folds outwards. It is carpe diem, but only in the fullest, most calmly effulgent sense.

Upon reflection, perhaps it is possible to take this life, to pass it through the rectifying sanctuary of mind, but with a lighter touch. Things are not worth seizing if the grasp is too firm. I need to give my life air, space to breathe. By holding too hard, I suffocate it, squeeze the life from the veins.

Can I seize and caress at the same time?

. . . 

I see Yeats, in his Symbolist urges, as committing a fatal oversight. Adhering to the seizing motion, he forgets about the need to caress his subject. Perhaps this is why such plays and poems proved so useful to the Irish nationalist cause. Nationalism, in the grand collective movement it inspires, fails to perceive things on the essential level that ‘love’ and the caress demand. In other words, nationalism, we might say, cannot exist on the phenomenological level. Subtleties, and remarkable differences are forgotten in the offering up of a figure supreme – Ireland – in its wholeness. So, the figure of Cathleen Ní Houlihan might symbolise a fragmented national spirit and a broken national body; she might fulfil those ambitions, and yet she is herself, as a figure, abundant, whole, sufficient to her task of masquerading as Ireland, as a totality. She could not have poured men onto the streets had she been a mere half-formed thing.

I don’t quite glimpse Joyce in the same light. There appears to be a refusal, on his part, to fill out the interpretative potential, to give colour to the entire canvas, in the way that a Yeats might have done. Let us consider Dubliners as a case in point. In that collection, the real interest lies in the stories’ endings. Many people have used the word ‘epiphany’ to fathom what Joyce is doing in that instance of finishing a story. But it is at the same time more intricate and less explainable than that. Each story ends when emotional tensions have reached their most marked pitch. When the apogee of feeling arrives, – when a further narrative unravelling would typically occur – the words are there no more. In this way, each of the stories ends as it opens. Each story opens up to an ending. Each ending gives a subtle explosion, from the centre, outwards. In this way, I read Dubliners in a duel play of fearful attraction to this end that won’t begin. Dubliners refuses to conjure a thing ‘whole’; it deals in almosts and fragments. In the end(s), as Joyce’s people reach the edge of their entrapment, touch the cusp of their lives, the textures of the stories receive a frightful tinge, of colours flashing, wound up together in a slowly spiralling comprehension. The events unfold, colours carouse, following and forgetting one another before the vanishing that ushers them down to the ether. The full stop at the end of the final sentence of a Dubliners story is the site of this dispersal, text defying its limits, to reach out, push away and caress the space around the reader.

Perhaps language flecked with poeticism is the only kind to convey the notion? Virginia Woolf is one whose writing steers the caress away from a conscious seizing. She does this to facilitate her subject. At least part of her concern is the submerged – flying and fleeting – shards of our selves. She is interested in thoughts that sway, thoughts that appear so true and yet that vanish spontaneously, only to reappear seconds after in another hue, a newer way to dazzle. Her work cannot be understood, nor grasped; one merely senses it. There is no contact to be had with writing of that quality; one merely steps about it, breathes it in, lifts up its veil that blows. Think of a curtain that is stirred, lightly, lightly, from a breeze entering through an open window. The way it flutters – revealing, cooling, revealing light – is desultory as to evade definition. And yet; such prismatic formlessness! Such kaleidoscopic movement!

. . .

Do you see now, why the caress is of the utmost?

We need to veer away from a spectral way of living things. Why measure, when all cups will o’erflow? Life cannot but exceed the self. This, nonetheless, does not entail a drowning . . . nor even a submerging. Rather, a certain bowing to the excessiveness; a joyous genuflection and a shaking of the flimsy branch . . . Do I grasp, or do I let go? Or can I do both at once? Can I love the flashes as they surely go by? I might inscribe them. I might try with words to kick the light from the dust.

Thoughts on “Dubliners”

Envy, I have come to believe, is the default sentiment a contemporary Irish writer must have when faced with the achievement of Joyce. Can one fathom what he built? Not only is he accountable for perhaps the most fêted collection of stories – Dubliners – and the most influential Bildungsroman – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – in the language; in fact, these two sizeable creatures are dwarfed entirely by the monumental scale and blatant, but brilliant excesses of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. As all-encompassing as they are, as canonical as they have become, however, I cannot help wondering whether Joyce’s oeuvre was as much propelled by the time and place into which he was born as any idiosyncratic creative propensity the writer might have had.

– – Caveat; I realise this last thought might bear all the features of a particularly crass throwaway remark. Suffice to say that I am being disingenuous for the sake of a brief and all too inadequate blog post – –

What I mean is, while beset with jealousy as to Joyce’s vast word-smithy, his undoubted talent – this is to understate things -, should the contemporary writer not covet more – and equally – both the period and lieu in which Joyce found himself?  To do brief justice to the former – the period, his time; Joyce’s era was that of the fin de siècle, the horrors of the Great War and the multi-faceted artistic fruits it ripened, les Modernes de Paris, Cendrars Picasso and Stravinsky, the apotheosis of modernist expression which to this day has not been surpassed. Envy, then, to downplay the beat. And where is Ireland in this flux? The little island, during the thirty year period from 1890 – 1920, is in the throes of a rupturing tumult – one cultural, political, and spiritual -, invoking passions of the past and calling up various dreams of the future. Ireland, at this time, is the place of Parnell, the Rising, O’Donovan Rossa, Parnell’s ghost, Ascendency decline, nationalistic ressentiment, the Abbey Theatre, (headed by) Gregory, Synge and Yeats! And so we come to him. The greatest poet in the language is in his prime when Joyce arrives in big-boy town.

It is compelling, and at times salutary to those who are inclined to give a precedence to either side of the coin, to realise that Joyce, in Dubliners, is writing the same place as Yeats does in his poetry. A good deal of their subject is Irish, irrevocably. For every Catholic / citizen / worker in “A Little Cloud”, “Counterparts”, and “The Dead”, there exists a contrapuntal Celtic / rural / peasant essence in Yeatsian poetics. Or, if one were to take a more obviously political slant, it might be said that Dubliners opens up the lives which the poet, regarding these as a hostile mass, would criticise in poems of the “September 1913” variety. The spectre of Yeats and his denunciations from the artistic pulpit lurk in the shadows of Joyce’s streets.

Upon a rereading of a majority of the Dubliners stories, I have again been struck by the overarching presence that Dublin, as topos, occupies within the cluster. It is the collective home, whether loved or not, in which the various lives and incidents occur. The city, as the stories unfold (both within each narrative and across the wider glow of the whole collection) takes on certain characteristics. By times teeming, unyielding, ruthless and claustrophobic, Dublin nonetheless offers adequate occasion for revelry – be it of the romantic, poetic, or congenial tinge. Dublin, cast in a light which gives glimmer to its many hues, comes alive with the complexities and contradictions of a living being. It breathes; to the extent that, by the end, I wonder whether in fact the entire collection is not one long, veiled apostrophe, by a Dubliner, to the city he would soon leave, for good. 

Of course, it was an apostrophe not without its difficulties . . .

                                                                        . . . 

As I was approaching the end of my rereading of the stories, there came to my mind a particular framework which, it seemed, would bear much fruit if applied to Dubliners. Perhaps ‘spectrum’ would be a more appropriately linear word than ‘framework’. In this sense, one might envision a spectrum, or plane of movement, with the dual polarities of opening and closing at either end. This opening-moving-closing occurs on an emotional level – on the level of feeling. In this way, the movement has much to do with the self and particularly with the various – and endless – opportunities for or moments of acute feeling – affirmation, ambition, anguish, desire, frustration and shock, to draw forth a pithy few. This multitude of emotional states might all have their own spectral location. So, to bring matters to an end, and to trace the movements at their highest pitch, what is often labelled as a Joycean occasion of epiphany becomes, in sooth, a decisive – and perhaps, definitive – movement towards one end of the spectrum. Here, it is worth remembering that endings, in the narratorial sense, are as much about opening again as closing ‘for good’.

To illustrate, briefly:

  • “A Little Cloud” ends with the protagonist, Chandler, in tears. They are tears of a certain kind; droplets which, one suspects, will not yield the kind of cathartic opening which is sometimes associated with crying. His tears will dry, eyes will close, sleep will come, and with his waking another day of almosts and also-rans will play itself out. In the end, his plight seems to close in around him.
  • “Counterparts” ends in joyless terms which recall “A Little Cloud”; but, crucially, it sounds a different pitch. Farrington’s anger is so explosive, his last remarks in the bar so vitriolic, that one senses an end to his plight at hand. His fury has perhaps reached its furthest point, and must end by producing something new, a further opening.
  • “The Dead” undulates as Gabriel’s mood changes, swaying until a romantic reverie which seems to open everything is made to vanish by Gretta’s keening for the love she had lost. Interestingly, here, the ending becomes, for Gretta, a cathartic opening while, for Gabriel, dire truth and foiled desire hide away his hopes.
“The Melodramatic Imagination Revisited”

“The Melodramatic Imagination Revisited”

I recently attended a guest lecture given by Professor James Chandler, from the University of Chicago. His visit follows the publication of a book on the subject of the sentimental and the melodramatic in literature and cinema. The contents of the lecture – entitled “The Melodramatic Imagination Revisited” – thus drew much from the newly published tome that preceded it. As is always the case with a compelling lecture, I sat through the hour engaged, at times engulfed by what he said. Trains of thought with minute beginnings are edged on, with eloquence and clarity of expression, towards clustered ciphers of meaning, quiet revelations, thoughts brought to dazzling light.

I use the word ‘thought’ here as a double reference. The Thought of the speaker, propellers at work, can strike a match, give life to various currents, waves, and eddies in the listener’s thoughts. A certain freedom accompanies these latter waterworks. While the person speaking, having rehearsed what he will put across, is more or less confined in terms of what he will say / think, the listener, merely sitting there, has the chance, is even obliged to let the words put out into the air breathe, to allow them their full measure in manifold connotations, to open up to Thought proposed with thoughts, inside, now exposed. — Exposed to the coalescing that inevitably occurs when a thinking consciousness encounters Thought discoursing. So, the impromptu performance, in so fixed a structure as a guest lecture, can be found entirely on the listener’s side. In this way, Mr. Chandler’s words set off myriad triggers within my imagination. A fruitful kind of gathering then occurred, lasting the hour long, where my own cultural frame of reference, dispersed and so imprecise, was brought to bear on the scholarly rigour of a guest lecturer.

Chandler took as a starting point the apparently separate notions of the ‘sentimental’ and the ‘melodramatic’. Upon reflection, his lecture, in many ways, presented a genealogy of both terms, seeking to demonstrate in the end how the sentimental and the melodramatic can, in fact, co-exist within a text. In terms of allusions to the field, the focal point around which he sought to pivot was Peter Brook’s influential study, The Melodramatic Imagination. As critics often attempt (with regard to a predecessor’s work), Chandler’s project entails not so much an altering, as rather a nuancing of the ideas that Brooks had first proposed.

In the following, I transcript the elements of Professor Chandlers lecture which, to my mind, were of most value.

Commencing with the ‘sentimental’, the term itself was coined in 1740, during the era following René Descartes and the multitude of scientific materialists who sought to claim mastery over what they conceptualised as an empirically ‘solvable’ world. The mind was separated from the body, was indeed suspicious of the body, wary of the flesh and blood spontaneity that its adversary, pardon the ineptitude, embodied. According to these men, the soul only existed as a vehicle for rational thought. It certainly was not an immaterial intermediary to a spiritual realm. We need only refer to Descartes’ take on the pineal gland to fathom this suspicion for, and bordering on an abhorrence of invisible, non-empirically verifiable phenomena. But I digress . . .

The term ‘sentimental’ owes much of its meaning to the earlier ‘sensorium’; the latter denoting, briefly, the sum of all sensory perception – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch –  as opposed, presumably, to the mind / thought-anchored theorems of Descartes and co. Originally, then, ‘sentimental’ was directly aligned with ‘sensorium’ in mutual hostility to the various “cogito ergo sum”-strand doctrines that abounded in 18th century European discourse. In Chandler’s terms; saving the soul by way of the heart from the scientific materialists.

Chandler’s interest lies in addressing the development of this ‘sentimental’ notion. He turns to literature to aid this inquiry. Specifically, he points to the burgeoning vogue for all things ‘point-of-view’ in English fiction as a sign not only of the ‘sentimental”s presence within literature, but also as an instance of the mode’s historical evolution. He locates Hume as philosophical instigator of this change, and Defoe – unlike Richardson – as (not necessarily primary) literary exponent of its implications. Accordingly, he refers to Richardson’s Clarissa as working differently to Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Roxanna.

In terms of why the ‘point-of-view’ (perspective) technique followed on from this triggering of the ‘sentimental’, Professor Chandler pointed to the relatively exploded narrative voice that arises when narration is spread amongst multiple, as opposed to a singular character. Narration, and all sentiment which accompanies it, is distributed across a number of subjectivities. Likening this to the adoption, by the Romantic poets Schiller and Shelley, of a distinctly multivocal vision and voice, Chandler then linked this new kind of narrator(s) with calls for moderation and deference to tradition in the period preceding the French Revolution and its schismatic effects.

According to his (mightily agreeable!) logic, the dispersal of narrative perspective – outlined above – was the correlative of the diffusing of certain inflammatory – and singular – passions which, for Conservatives, was of such importance as democratic Revolution loomed. These two diluting effects were seen as a necessary antidote to the approaching and dangerously unnatural Jacobin tidal swells. Democracy, as Burke put it, was a euphemism for the most terrible form of government; the Tyranny of the Many.

In gardening terms, the question that possibly defined the époque hinges on the matter of growing space. Does one allow a budding weed to continue apace in its development? Or does one hold fast to the grand old oak tree at the head of the garden? Alternatively, the question may revolve around a burgeoning-diluting dichotomy. Here, ‘burgeoning’ stands for the “inflammatory – and singular – passions” I have outlined above. Revolution demanded the burgeoning flame of passion. Robespierre had a considerable amount of this revolutionary passion. It is less clear whether he possessed the ‘sentiment(ality)’ earlier described. It is doubtful, in fact. Highly doubtful. One would nearly go so far as to eliminate the possibility of any diluted passion (and concomitant ironic sentimentality) residing in a man of revolutionary passion.

– We may say the same about romantic passion. The lover is characterised by his unwavering passions, which often, as it happens, lead him to make some most unreasonable demands. Are there parallels here? –

To put it differently, the word ‘sentiment’ – including what is, as we have seen, the defensive and highly acute ideology it connotes – does not seem able to fit into the same sentence as ‘revolutionary’. “Abide With Me” is unfortunately of no use here. Let’s try to make a term from the two; ‘revolutionary sentiment’. Need I to further clarify things? Upon informed inspection, the term becomes a most farcical oxymoron.

I realise I have discoursed widely in this post. I have substantially wavered from the topic of Professor Chandler’s lecture. I have also failed to address, in any way, one of the two terms I introduced this post with — “Melodrama, you will have your time upon the guillotine”. Suffice it to say that the increasing irrelevancy of the latter part of the post to Professor Chandler’s lecture might in fact constitute proof of the “various currents, waves, and eddies in the listener’s thoughts”  his talk managed to set off.

Well played, Mr. Chandler.