Nowhere is this more true than in the United States, where the cult of celebrity holds a special place for authors and relentlessly cycles their work and personae through what Don DeLillo calls “the all-incorporating treadmill of consumption and disposal”. Though American literary life has had no shortage of self-aggrandisers the media is agitated most by those who play hard to get. DeLillo and Pynchon are recent examples. But the gold standard of American literary isolation is JD Salinger.
Kiberd argues persuasively that “the nationalism of modern Ireland is portrayed as a neurotic reaction to Englishness” and that “Irishness must be in all respects the opposite of Englishness, and masculinity the opposite of femininity”. In this context Bloom is the outsider who “disrupts the complacencies of all the settled codes with which he comes into contact”.
In August 1880 Parnell acted as Michael Horgan’s best man at his wedding. When he came to fetch the groom he thought him nervous and insisted on his drinking some champagne before setting out for the church. Horgan’s mother used to recall how she sprayed Parnell’s “fair beard with scent”. It was the week before the Irish leader met Katharine O’Shea.
One of the more unofficial Irish representatives in Germany, the Irish-American gunrunner John T Ryan, may have come into direct contact with Hitler in May 1923 when he was running guns for the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War. Hitler was, at this time, apparently known to have pro-Irish sympathies and to be, of course, heavily involved in ex-military, far-right circles that would have had easy access to arms.
As Swift knew, his complex irony can be challenging. He was aware that he had often been misunderstood, to his own detriment. Looking back on his own life, he concluded that “Had he but spar’d his Tongue and Pen, / He might have rose like other Men”. His irony, Hammond observes, “sometimes seems to saw through the branch of religious orthodoxy upon which he tried to perch”.
The environmentalist James Lovelock has argued that climate change is a threat, like war, where political process must adapt to the moment, that it may be necessary to “put democracy on hold for a while”. Though it would be hard to endorse Lovelock’s contention that the problems at Copenhagen were due to a surfeit of democracy, McEwan’s hero, Michael Beard, offers only affirmation of the pessimistic reflection that the inertia of humans “is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful”.
Although the urge to control and condemn was at its most explicit in relation to works dealing with religion and Irish history, it could surface in other contexts. On the prospect of the lower Irish being taught Greek and Roman history, Richard Edgeworth wrote “I have been told that in some schools the Greek and Roman histories have been forbidden: such abridgments as I have seen are certainly improper; to inculcate democracy and a foolish hankering for liberty is not necessary in Ireland.”
De Valera’s policies protected and promoted indigenous economic activity, which was often under the control of a Protestant business class who quickly reconciled themselves to life in the new state, as did most of their co-religionists, who were never persecuted on the basis of their religion or perceived nationality. Sectarianism in Ireland has to be seen in its political and economic context. It is not merely an isolated or mystical aspect of religious “culture”.
John Stanislaus Joyce started out with around £1,000 in capital and numerous family connections but fell through the net of middle class privilege, bringing his family with him. Joyce senior must in many ways have been a representative figure. As the population declined and society was hollowed out, it was inevitable that the resources available to the middle classes would contract. The competition for available space must have been fierce. Survivors, like the back-slapping Blazes Boylans and Buck Mulligans of the time, took no prisoners.