Saluting progress in Ireland and the contributions of artists to liberalisation is not the same kind of action as analysis or evaluation. Can critics, while retaining the idiom of ‘excellence’, find themselves merely ventriloquising the boosterism of marketing managers and administrators?
Citizenship is an arbitrary status that to a large extent determines the material conditions of one’s future. More than class, gender or race, it is the most important factor affecting one’s life chances. Put crudely, some passports come with an array of desirable entitlements; others do not.
At the outset of the Cold War, the Vatican and the United States had a project in common, helping senior Nazis escape justice by providing them with new identities and false papers. Their crimes became irrelevant as the West ‘turned on a sixpence’ to confront its new enemy, Russia.
His indisputable genius ensured that William Shakespeare assumed the status of England’s chief literary emblem, in the same way that Cervantes was chosen to represent Spain, Dante Italy or Molière France. But why was it that he seemed so uninterested in writing about the place?
‘I am not so much a writer who has died, as a dead man who has decided to write,’ the narrator tells us at the opening of a Brazilian classic which owes something to Laurence Sterne’s ‘Shandy’, but with the added psychological depth attained in the 19th century French novel.
The burning of churches and wholesale murder of priests and nuns during the Spanish Civil War provoked an expedition of Irish volunteers, led by the Blueshirt Eoin O’Duffy. Their intervention was to fizzle out in drunkenness, indiscipline and some not very Catholic behaviour in bars and brothels.
On a jaunt to Ayrshire, Seamus Heaney came upon the Robert Burns Visitor Experience. When friends joked that there might soon be a Heaney Experience he suggested ‘a few churns and a confession box’. Roy Foster’s impressive new study provides an alternative route into that experience.
Niamh Campbell’s ‘This Happy’ finds coordinates for today’s slumlords in Ireland’s colonial past. She also edges her readers to the idea that the attempts of the socially dispossessed to transcend class belittlement through the corridors of education might be based on an illusion.
A huge and stately galleon, sailing slowly into harbour and slightly holed beneath the waterline, André Talley has a story or two to tell of his years in the highest reaches of the fashion industry. And for his readers’ amusement, he has a great big axe to grind too.