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.

Home Issue 08, Winter 2008

Issue 08, Winter 2008

Everything He Hated

Like Swift and Twain, Roth is aesthetically propelled by anger; it supplies the energy needed for the massive, self-imposed task of dissecting, novel after novel, the suffocating paradoxes of twentieth-century America. Like Lenny Bruce, Roth in his early work used rant as a way of exercising his vitality and crafting an obscenity-fuelled response to a bland, hypocritical national environment. As he’s matured, however, his anger has grown more complex, manipulated as carefully as the shifting voices and points of view that help make his prolific body of fiction both deeply tragic and rich in comic expression.

Eyes On Ireland

McMahon makes an incontestable case that London’s profound lack of understanding of de Valera’s methods, agenda and electoral prospects was itself partly the result of a failure to produce a dispassionate examination of all evidence – most of it in the public domain. Instead, the most far-fetched yarns, usually the work of hyper-imaginative Irish loyalists or gullible British journalists, passed unchallenged from the clubs of Pall Mall into the corridors of Whitehall.

The School of Cool

Tin Pan Alley’s imaginative impoverishment, its slack tempi and banal lyrics, were nothing but expressions of limits and control, as ersatz as they were dispassionate. This kind of thing might be Big Brother’s idea of a good time, but it was pretty obviously just another of the many mind games he practised back in the good old days, when he wasn’t the family member he’s since become. One thing about progressive music was that it came across as self-consciously averse to being commercial. This greatly helped its sales.

Hard Landing

Good, old-fashioned speculation on rising asset values did for the Irish banks. Quite traditional regulatory tools should have been sufficient to prevent them getting into deep trouble if they had been vigorously and rigorously used. But they were not. The will to do so was, undoubtedly, also weakened by the traditionally influential role of the construction sector in Ireland’s political culture.

The Great Advocate

For Yeats, O’Connell was “the Great Comedian”, the crowd-pleasing rhetorician staging a theatre of political melodrama, more concerned with provoking an immediate popular response than with personal integrity or long-term consequences, wholeheartedly professing Catholic piety in public while seducing housemaids in private without any sense of incongruity, not because he was insincere but because he didn’t understand sincerity.

House of Gold

Strabo still found time to enjoy the wine on Samos – an experience shared almost two thousand years later by Byron. But his observation that the wine from the Ephesus region “has been found to cause headache” seems in some sad way to be true to this day. It is unfathomable that a region that can produce such good olives, figs and dates has still not managed to make wine that matches that on neighbouring Greek islands.

Shedding The Ego

It is to literature we have to look to convey an experience for which there are no direct words, notably to its resources within tone and connotation. Heidegger, in the end, saw in poetry a better means than philosophy to express the experience of Being. And, for Existentialist philosopher Merleau-Ponty, philosophical language needs to become more literary if it is to convey something of the experience. Since there are no direct words for the experience, philosophy, for him, needs to proceed indirectly or obliquely.

Can’t Go On

Although Dutch was the majority language in the north of the Belgian state established in 1830-31, it was dominated by French-speaking elites. This was so even in Dutch-speaking regions. There had been some French influence there, in the west in particular, since medieval times; in the eighteenth century, however, “the nobility and the upper middle classes came to regard French as the cultured language par excellence”, with the Dutch language acquiring “a mark of social inferiority”.

Point Zero

In “Dello scrivere oscuro” (On Obscure Writing), an essay written for the Turin newspaper La Stampa in 1976 and reprinted in the collection Other People’s Trades, Primo Levi wrote: “One should never impose limits or rules on creative writing.” And though he proceeded in the essay that followed to do precisely that, the stricture stands, and is perhaps particularly apposite to writing about the Holocaust.

New York Diary

The resourceful street-hawkers of Manhattan were taking part in a race of their own that evening, desperately trying to offload an assortment of soon-to-be-superannuated novelty goods: “Palin, McCain and Obama condoms … get screwed by both parties!” one vendor cried out. “Why no Biden?” I inquired. The entrepreneur shook his head, then offered: “I’ve got McCain ones … old but not expired!”