I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

ETHICS AND BROADCASTING

Rage for Profit

There was a drumbeat for RTÉ blood-letting coursing through Irish newspapers in the latter part of 2023, a heady staccato of accusations in bold headlines: bad management and weak governance at the national broadcaster, secret pay deals, scandalous spending, hidden slush funds … debacle, furore, fiasco, farce! This was probably the worst emergency to have rocked the station since it took a severe thrashing from the government of Jack Lynch over its 1969 documentary investigating illegal money lending in Dublin. Again RTÉ became an embattled organisation, mired in controversy. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rounded on ‘its culture of arrogance and entitlement’....
The Irish regulator is one of the first in Europe to take on a watchdog role to stop tech companies building profiles of children to manipulate them for profit by artificially amplifying hate, hysteria, suicide stories and disinformation in their social media feeds. We still have little understanding of how ‘recommender systems’ work to select content that is most likely to outrage, so that enhanced indignation will engage users for longer periods on particular platforms.

CRITICS

The Devouring Mind

Maestros & Monsters: Days & Nights with Susan Sontag & George Steiner, by Robert Boyers, Mandel Vilar Press/Dryad Press, 256 pp, $24.95, ISBN: 978-1942134886 Many critics – and critics are my subject here – spend their lives adding tile after tile to the mosaic of a False Self. A university degree, a glittering essay, an article, a book, a prize: each contributes another precious tile. The mosaic, assembled, depicts an armoured giant, towering above the contingencies of biography and culture. But the tiles are loose, the mortar crumbling. The mosaic is always about to collapse, revealing the bare wall –... So did Sontag and Steiner get along? Don’t be silly. It’s hardly worth saying that the two were alike not just as critics but as psychological case studies. Two False Selves, two mosaic-builders, busily building. If there is one true thing about a False Self, it’s that it loathes and despises other False Selves, perceiving in them the falseness it can perceive in itself only at the cost of its existence. Their mutual loathing probably had much to do with the sense that there was room on the scene for only one such person.

Dublin Review of Books

UNIONISM

Beyond Defiance

Adam Fusco
Northern Ireland’s Protestants have long relied on remembering 1690 while disremembering the important part they played in 1798. With contemporary unionism in crisis and Protestants under demographic pressure, some new ground is being broken by writers who wish to rehabilitate classical republicanism, while others ponder the possibilities of forging a liberal unionism that could appeal to an electorate beyond the Protestant community.

CONSUMPTION

The Gate Keepers

Ian Maleney
‘There are two forces forming our tastes,’ Chayka writes. ‘The first is our independent pursuit of what we individually enjoy, while the second is our awareness of what it appears that most other people like, the dominant mainstream.’ It seems obvious to me that this kind of binary is unsustainable nonsense, a simplification of what it is to be a person in the world. But the mode of argument here is to endlessly repeat the central point rather than complicate or deepen it.

POLITICS

Just Ourselves

Bryan Fanning
The larger political parties have in recent decades courted young urban progressives where once they had sought to appeal to social conservatives, rural voters and religious Catholics. These shifts appeared to ignore a significant minority who might be sceptical of the new progressive consensus. Now, to some extent, a course correction may be under way with a tonal shift to the right in Irish politics on culture war and immigration issues.

IRISH HISTORY

The Causes of Quarrels

Niamh Reilly
There are fascinating parallels between Anna Parnell’s The Tale of a Great Sham and Andrew J Kettle’s The Material for Victory – two recently republished memoirs of key protagonists in Ireland’s Land War of 1879-1882. Both accounts contain unvarnished critiques of shortcomings of the Land League movement, revolving mainly around failures of leadership and execution of strategy. Moreover, the initial publication of both in book form was thwarted in different ways so that either manuscript could easily have been lost to posterity. Parnell was prompted to write her memoir around 1906-07 because she was very dissatisfied with how she and... Anna Parnell meticulously appraises the problematic elements of the Land League's No Rent Manifesto, the worst of which was its promise of bottomless funds from America to cover all necessary supports to tenants, who were assured: 'If you are evicted, you shall not suffer.' As she puts it, ‘the language used was directly calculated to cause extra trouble for those who had to administer the funds’ and bore the hallmark of people who believe that ‘anything that they never tried themselves is very easy’.

URBAN LIVING

Literary / Capital: Dublin

At St Stephen’s Green in 2024, sandwich-snatching seagulls, mangled-footed pigeons, office workers and the growing numbers of Dublin’s tented population comingle on a weekday lunchtime. The twenty-seven-acre park was originally built in 1680 on the outskirts of a city that was, according to a 1635 city assembly, ‘groweing very populous’. The opening of Grafton Street shortly after the turn of the eighteenth century ensured that the park attracted a sophisticated clientele, such that it could be described in Richard Lewis’ 1787 Dublin Guide as a scene of elegance and taste. In depictions like James Malton’s of 1796, it is...
How spiritually deadening to live in a city which no longer even talks about ‘waiting’ for economic growth to yield benefits to labour. How dehumanising to know that instead of clearing the urban poor to new homes in the suburbs, the government cleans up their tents. How enraging to hear that your right to shelter is significantly less than your landlord’s right to raise the rent for no good reason.

RECONSTRUCTIONS

Lost Poets’ Society

I teach a class in Irish poetry a couple of times a year and I always begin with Sappho, fragment 31, chanted in a YouTube video by a chorus of voices in the original Aeolic Greek. It causes confusion: at least two students in every group begin their weekly journal with ‘My favourite Irish poet that we studied this week was Sappho.’ And why not? Sadhbh O’Reilly, Sadhbh Dhubh Ní Chonaill, Sappho from Lettermore … Listen, I begin the following week’s class, I was trying to explore what we mean by lyric, I wanted to begin with something passionate and awkward, the seething rage at the no-account man blocking the poet’s access to the beloved, the heart-thumping speechlessness at the sight of her lapping up the man’s patter and laughing conspiratorially, the burning sensation under the skin. The sense that this is something new in the world, something that Homer, for instance, would have a hard time relating to. At least I’ve always assumed the speaker is raging with jealousy but Anne Carson, for one, disagrees: Were she to change places with the man who listens closely, it seems likely she would be entirely destroyed. She does not covet the man’s place nor fear usurpation of her own. She directs no resentment at him. She is simply amazed at his intrepidity. This man’s role in the poetic structure reflects that of jealousy within Sappho’s feelings. Neither is named. It is the beloved’s beauty that affects Sappho; the man’s presence is somehow necessary to delineation of that emotional event. Sappho does say the man is godlike to be in his privileged position, but I’d always assumed her contempt for him. After all, in Carson’s...
Sappho has always been threatened and often marginalised, her work disparaged as inconsequential or emotional, gossipy or bitchy. Yet she was also recognised as a supremely gifted lyric poet. Solon, when asked why he wanted to hear a particular poem by her, replied ‘Because once I’ve learned it, I can die.’

US POLITICS

Attack, attack, attack

During his tenure as president, Donald Trump used his office to grant executive clemency to more than 200 individuals charged or convicted of federal criminal offences. That may seem like a lot, but it is fewer than many of his predecessors: Bill Clinton, for example, pardoned more than twice that number. However, Trump’s use of this power differs in some respects from that of previous presidents. Usually, recommendations for clemency come through a special office in the US Department of Justice. In Trump’s case, the vast majority of pardons came from personal recommendations made by an ad hoc group of staff in his administration, and most of the pardons and commutations that he granted went to people with whom he had personal and political connections. Some of those are now active and playing central roles in the current campaign to re-elect the former president. One of the most significant of these is Roger Stone. I met Stone when I was filming a profile of Donald Trump for the BBC almost twenty-five years ago. At that time, Trump claimed to be considering running for the US presidency as a Reform Party candidate, and Stone was acting as his chief political adviser. I was introduced to him on Trump’s private plane – ‘Trump Force One’ – on our way to film in Atlantic City. Like Trump, Stone was deeply tanned with an orange glow, and, like Trump, his hair seemed fixed in position and unable to move freely. But, unlike Trump, Stone had the physique of a dedicated body-builder. Apparently, his physical appearance was the result of years in which he had followed a strict regime of strenuous exercise, Chinese herbs, breathing therapies and...
Stone also worked for a succession of mainstream politicians, including Richard Nixon. He told me he owned the world’s largest collection of Nixon memorabilia, and even had a large tattoo of the former president’s face on his back. I assumed he was joking, but I later saw for myself that he wasn’t.

FROM PREVIOUS ISSUES

POETRY

Imperishable Song

Joseph M Hassett
The echo of Yeats’s voice in Seamus Heaney’s letters is a fascinating example of the way in which a poet’s words can achieve a form of immortality by virtue of their adoption by successor poets. The same process will certainly also happen to Heaney himself. The third century BC poet Callimachus captured this poetic communion in an elegy for his friend Heraclitus, in which the voice of the deceased poet can still be heard in the nightingale’s song.

REPORTAGE

Ukraine Diary

Francis Foyle
Marta is comfortable speaking Ukrainian, even if it’s not her first language. She’d like her daughter to speak it too, though she doesn’t want to live there once the war is over. The words ‘once the war is over’ were mine. People are traumatised, in the grip of circumstance, not completing thoughts. They’re readying themselves for the least bad future, if still hopeful for anything.

Blog

The Strasbourg Case

Michael Lillis writes: In the summer of 1972 I...
Taking the British government to court for human rights abuse

BLOG

Father’s Day

  Dermot Hodson writes: Of the dark past A child is born; With...
Celebrating fathers and sons with Stephen and Simon, James and John

BLOG

A Visit to the Deathhouse

  Enda O’Doherty writes: Zadie Smith, in a NYRB review...
Franz Kafka died in a clinic just outside Vienna 100 years ago today

SEEING IRELAND

A Century of Art

Irish Art 1920 - 2020: Perspectives on Change, Catherine Marshall & Yvonne Scott (eds), Royal Irish Academy, 448 pp, €38, ISBN: 978-1911479826 Irish Art 1920-2020: Perspectives on Change is an excellent collection of twelve intersecting perspectives that examine Irish art and design as it has evolved over the long twentieth century into the present. The timely collection ranges from engagements with the revolutionary era and a postcolonial state dominated by confessional and patriarchal values, to the challenges of modernism, and the wider vistas of the diaspora, the international style, and globalisation in the contemporary period. The editors obviously considered the need for a book of this nature to demonstrate how the scholarship and understanding of Irish art and its foundations has expanded, how the field of contemporary art has diversified, and to track arcs of influence or at least sparks of connection between historical practice and shifting conceptions of art in the rapidly changing environment of a multicultural Ireland. The multiplicity of voices featured in this book covers an impressive range of themes in early twentieth century and more recent art practice that deal with identity, modernity, landscape, corporeality, technology, race, migration and globalisation. the structure of the collection is described by the editors as ‘a kind of a map’, and by extending invitations to a number of contributors from Irish art historical and museological fields, the aim was not to be comprehensive but to offer fresh interpretations and approaches within the hundred-year timeframe and as a stimulus for further debate. As such, the book makes a valuable contribution to the publications on Irish art and culture that emerged in the new century, not least Art and Architecture of Ireland, Volume 5,...
The local codes are, in fact, those of the serial nature of Ogham script. The charge of the ‘geographical distance’ exemplified by the work is hard to reconcile with its presence in Cobh, an historic point of departure for countless emigrants. Cobh is as synonymous with emigration as Ellis Island or Holyhead.

RADICALISM

Witness for the Prosecution

The Romance of American Communism, by Vivian Gornick, Verso, 265 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1788735506 In a TLS podcast in March 2021 the reviewers Thea Lenarduzzi, Lucy Dallas and novelist Claire Lowdon tried to puzzle out why eighty-something-year-old Vivian Gornick was ‘having a moment’. None could fully account for whey the critic, essayist and memoirist was suddenly in the spotlight. But Lowden in particular appreciated the chance to experience the bracing effects of Gornick’s bold, spare writing. She was something of a secret, a writer’s writer, and a critical favourite without mega sales. Gornick has been bearing witness to the key social... Born to communist parents in 1935, at the height of the Depression, and in a neighbourhood almost entirely made up of working class Jews, Vivian Gornick is a representative of a dying breed – one forged in the crucible of twentieth century history and its twin political forces of socialism and feminism, experienced through a secular Jewish identity. Her ambition to write was quite singular and the form it first took perhaps even more so. ‘I grew up wanting to write the Great American Novel,’ she has said. Some chutzpah.

PEOPLE IN MOTION

Myths About Migration

This year an unprecedented number of elections are taking place around the world. At or near the top of the agenda in many of them is immigration. Hardly any other issue has a more polarising impact. Fear, suspicion and ignorance fill the spaces around it. Xenophobic falsehoods are being widely disseminated. The arrival in Europe in 2015-16 of a dramatic number of migrants from conflict zones in the Middle East was the catalyst for the growth of far-right groups in several countries. Pandemic disruption, related conspiracy theories and the rise of social media all helped to strengthen these. Myth-making aimed...
We are witnessing an unprecedented level of human mobility, and this is set to continue. The total number of migrants today is some 281 million, or just over 3 per cent of the world population. Migrants are present in every country, most of them moving back and forth freely. It is wrong to frame migration, as many do, as a ‘problem’, still less as a ‘crisis’. Rather it is a reality, a fact of life, an essential part of the human condition.

REPORTAGE

Ukraine Diary

January 2nd, 2024 The rain wouldn’t let up last night, this morning really. At 3.10 am I picked up my phone to find a Substack note linked to a piece on Gaza that had a familiar construction: commonly recognised facts, followed by unnecessary adjectives, significant omissions, self-indulgent insertion of personal disgust, all tied together with a quotation from Primo Levi’s If This is a Man. The author broadcast on Russia Today until February 2022. He encourages you to take out a paid subscription. A deceitful, self-serving opinion piece shoe-horns in an exceptional person to lend dignity. What also stung was the...
Marta is comfortable speaking Ukrainian, even if it’s not her first language. She’d like her daughter to speak it too, though she doesn’t want to live there once the war is over. The words ‘once the war is over’ were mine. People are traumatised, in the grip of circumstance, not completing thoughts. They’re readying themselves for the least bad future, if still hopeful for anything.

POETRY

Imperishable Song

One of the many remarkable aspects of the recent selection of Seamus Heaney’s letters (The Letters of Seamus Heaney, edited by Christopher Reid, published by Faber & Faber) is the recurring echo of WB Yeats’s voice. Heaney frequently used Yeats’s vocabulary and diction when writing to fellow poets or others likely to appreciate the echo. The practice began in earnest following his transformational year at Berkeley in 1970-71. Conversations in California with novelist and scholar Thomas Flanagan sharpened Heaney’s interest in the literature of Ireland. As he explained in Stepping Stones, he was ‘still a creature of undergraduate degree’... The echo of Yeats’s voice in Seamus Heaney’s letters is a fascinating example of the way in which a poet’s words can achieve a form of immortality by virtue of their adoption by successor poets. The same process will certainly also happen to Heaney himself. The third century BC poet Callimachus captured this poetic communion in an elegy for his friend Heraclitus, in which the voice of the deceased poet can still be heard in the nightingale’s song.