Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’
November 12, 2014 | by Paul Murray
Dubliners at one hundred.
It was a priest who first convinced me to read Dubliners. On the face of it, this might seem strange. Joyce had a lifelong hatred of clergymen, and claimed the sight of one made him physically ill; in “The Sisters,” the opening story of Dubliners, he chose a senescent priest as the first, and arguably most disturbing, of the many images of decay and paralysis that pervade the book. But in the Dublin of my teens, the priests were running the show; it was even possible for priests to be celebrities, and it was the most famous of these who took my class on retreat at the end of Transition Year, in June 1991.
Joyce writes about a religious retreat in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which an unnamed preacher terrifies the boys with a lengthy description of the torments of hell. Ours wasn’t like that. There were beanbags and unlimited biscuits; the celebrity cleric, who had become famous in the sixties as the Singing Priest and latterly hosted a hugely popular radio show, spoke to us like we were his friends. Even though the retreat consisted for the most part of the usual list of prohibitions—don’t do drugs, don’t have sex—his gravelly voice and inner-city accent gave him a convincing authenticity. Then, for reasons I still can’t quite understand—modernist literature was not at that point high on our list of temptations—he started talking about James Joyce. According to the Singing Priest, Joyce was one of the greatest hoaxes ever to be perpetrated on the Irish people. Far from being a genius, he was a charlatan, a phony, a false prophet. Furthermore, the priest continued, nobody in the world had actually read his famous novel Ulysses, and anyone who claimed otherwise was a liar.
Well, this came as a surprise. My father was a professor of Irish literature at Joyce’s alma mater, University College Dublin; in his study at home he had multiple copies of Joyce’s books, including Ulysses, as well as innumerable books about Joyce’s books. Had he been pulling the wool over our eyes for all these years? Read More »
June 13, 2014 | by Jonathan Goldman
“Bloomsday,” the James Joyce scholar Robert Nicholson once quipped, “has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.” The celebrations of Ulysses every June 16—the date on which the novel is set—attract extreme ends of the spectrum of literary enthusiasm. Academics and professionals mingle with obsessives and cranks, plus those simply along for the ride. The event can be stately and meticulous or raucous and chaotic—or, somehow, all of the above.
A telling instance came a few years ago, when the Irish Arts Center arranged a Bloomsday picnic in New York’s Bryant Park, under the rueful shadow of the Gertrude Stein statue. (Stein disliked Joyce.) Aspiring Broadway types were enlisted to circulate in period costume before bursting into popular songs from 1900-era Ireland. I spoke to one of the performers, a young Irish actor who had recently moved to New York. Had she read Ulysses? “I plan to,” she said, and in my memory, she adds, “I’m told it’s a grand book by them that knows.” The kicker was when the Irish finance minister, in town for summit meetings, got up to say that his government would take as inspiration the balanced daily budget that appears in Ulysses. The problem? Leopold Bloom’s spreadsheet in Ulysses works out only because he omits the money he’s paid to Bella Cohen’s brothel. No one pointed out the irony.
The admixture of expertise and fanboyism that marks Bloomsday, perhaps unique among literary gatherings, is remarkable—but no more so than Bloomsday’s emergence as a cultural event, one that attracts mainstream attention and participants from well outside the readership of Ulysses, by which I mean to include all those who profess to have read it. A novel written in 1922 and legally unavailable in the U.S. until 1934, a novel hailed to this day as the pinnacle of modernist obscurity and density, one that, as novelist Jacob M. Appel recently put it, “isn’t exactly hopping off the shelves in airports,” has earned an international holiday. Of all the literary celebrations that might blow up, why Joyce, why Ulysses, and why Bloomsday? Read More »
March 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
On St. Patrick’s Day, nineteenth-century illustrations of the Irish countryside.
These remarkable illustrations are from Ireland: Picturesque and Romantic, an 1838 travelogue by Leitch Ritchie, Esq. But don’t be fooled: despite his book’s encouraging title and the meticulousness of these drawings, Ritchie was pretty hard on Ireland. His account, stuffy and imperial, presents a portrait of the Irish psyche scarcely more enlightened than a box of Lucky Charms, shot through with a kind of paternalistic shame:
The Irish are not lazy because they are Irish, but because, in the first place, they are only half civilized … their spirit is broken by ages of tyranny. They have crouched so long under the lash that they can hardly stand upright. They are brave from instinct, but cowards from habit; and the peasantry every day of their lives are guilty of as despicable acts of poltroonery, in their intercourse with the quality, as the serfs of the middle ages exhibited in their encounters with the knights.
Not, as you can see, ideal reading for St. Paddy’s Day—better to take the pictures and put someone else’s words with them. Here, then, is a more fittingly romantic tribute to Ireland: Patrick Kavanagh’s “Canal Bank Walk,” a sonnet written in 1958. Read More »
December 27, 2013 | by Belinda McKeon
And yet, of course, not impossible: of course, too possible, too much the reality of what we would always have to face one day, one morning waking across time zones, stumbling upon radio tributes, answering the phone to the have you heard, to the gut-punch, to the heart-bolt: he is gone.
Our laureate. As though that could ever be a word which could get at the marvel of him. There is, probably, no single word for the marvel of him. Only perhaps his name, alive today on countless lips, uttered with sadness and fondness and gratitude and disbelief; sparking and flaring across countless status updates, countless tweets, in countless slow nods and headshakes in shops and schools and kitchens and hallways and forecourts and farmyards. I know of a wedding in Wicklow today where his will be the name on the air as the guests wait for the bride to arrive; of a gathering in Rathowen this weekend where his poems will be read aloud in hushed pubs; of a music festival in Stradbally where lines studied at school twenty years ago will be traded like—well, like the kinds of things that are more usually traded at music festivals. (And he would be in the middle of them if he could, you know, marveling—for that was his register—at Björk and St. Vincent and David Byrne, with a sage word about My Bloody Valentine lyrics, with a wink and a buck-up for the young lads from the Strypes.) Read More »
November 12, 2013 | by Jonathan Lee
It is common, when assessing the achievements of a fiction writer, to consider how “well-rounded” his or her characters are. But one of the many pleasures of Kevin Barry’s work, and in particular of his most recent collection, Dark Lies The Island, is that it reminds us how—in fiction as in life—the most interesting people are often lopsided.
In a Barry story, people fuck up and then, after taking a breather, they fuck up some more. A guy walks out of a juvenile detention center and—fresh start!—concludes it’s a grand idea to start selling crystal meth. A boy on a rooftop thinks about kissing a girl, and keeps on thinking about it, and thinking about it, until hesitancy has nuked opportunity. In one of the collection’s most gnawingly memorable stories, “Ernestine and Kit,” the reader is presented with two chatty, unremarkable middle-aged women on a road-trip. The stage seems set for a warm story of female bonding. Only gradually, with slow dread, do we begin to read the cruel slant of their thoughts: they are predators planning to snatch a child.
Although he’s not averse to the occasional earnest moment of romance, Barry’s usual mode is laughter in the dark. Writers producing work in this vein are not, these days, a publisher’s dream. There is therefore something comforting in the way he’s finding an admiring, expanding audience both in his native Ireland and here in the U.S. After years of producing work he was unhappy with (“I wrote these great sententious sentences, clause after clause after clause under a black belly of fucking cloud”) his first major breakthrough came in 2007, when he won the Rooney Prize for Literature for There Are Little Kingdoms. That story collection had been released by a tiny Dublin literary press called The Stinging Fly. His first novel, City of Bohane, appeared in the UK in 2011 and went on to win the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. When Graywolf Press gave the book an American release it graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review and was hailed by the reviewer as a novel “full of marvels … marvels of language, invention, surprise.”
Ale is one of Barry’s enthusiasms. The interview which follows took place over pints at Flatbush Farm, a bar in Brooklyn. He’s a keen, wide-eyed talker who’s always pushing at the limits of what a curse word can do. He injects bright life into a conversation and occasionally ad-libs the kinds of observations you underline in his books. In Dark Lies The Island, breakfast involves “scraping an anti-death spread the colour of Van Gogh’s sunflowers onto a piece of nine-grain artisanal toast.” The summer staff at an old hotel include “a pack of energetic young Belarusians, fucking each other at all angles of the clock.” The sky at night “shucked the last of its evening grey” and “the buck in the kiosk at the clampers had a face on him like a dose of cancer.” Barry’s language drags you into a strange, darkly lyrical world, enacting his own definition of literature as a mode of transport. “It lifts you up out of whatever situation you’re in and it puts you down somewhere else,” he says below. “It fucking escapes you. That’s what literature is.” Read More »
June 5, 2013 | by Sadie Stein