Poland is making rapid strides in catching up on the West but there remain areas where there is still much progress to be made. For example, it is perfectly possible – accepted even – for twenty-eight-year-old footballers to have no published biographies. Biographies are much scarcer in Poland than in the English-speaking world and no one, it seems, is quite sure what the procedure is for dealing with delicate subjects.
Doyle’s fusion of realism and ironic playfulness produces an attempt at counterfactual history in which we still end up where we are. The possibilities offered by fiction are used to imaginatively restore those obscured currents – revolutionary socialism, the working class – to Irish history, only to finally demonstrate that it doesn’t make any difference. Crucially, this conclusion does not just shape our understanding of the past since it also determines our orientation towards the future; namely, as something over which we cannot exercise any control and which we can no longer imagine as being in any way different from the present.
Macaulay was as appreciative as Michael McDowell of the blessings of inequality … He would doubtless have agreed with Archbishop Whately’s view, in his textbook on political economy for Irish children, that if there were no rich people there would be nobody to give alms to the poor. He commended himself on his own charity after the fashion of wealthy lawyers justifying outrageous fees on the basis of pro bono work.
Fairy tales, as the German scholar Max Luthi has pointed out, are one-dimensional, they happen on the surface, the characters are agents who perform actions and express a very limited range of emotions if any. Nonetheless, a central concern ot the tales is human emotion. Specifically they deal with adolescents growing up, finding independence and emotional maturity. But their profound meaning is expressed in images and action, not in introspection or analysis.
The Celtic Tiger years have seen a generation of writers emerge that has found in history a way of thinking about the present. It is unsurprising that four of the most recent high-profile Irish novels produced – from Colum McCann, Colm Toibín, William Trevor and now Joseph O’Connor – are set in the past. Trapped in cycles of bad memories, these novels are excavations, or perhaps exorcisms. Divested of the radical potential of the best modernist art, Irish writing has become a mixture of quietist aesthetics and commercially driven diversion.
Previously Morales insisted that coca was a legitimate crop, a gift from Pachamama, Mother Earth, and that cocaine was a problem for the Americans. “We produce our coca, we bring it to the main markets, we sell it and that’s where our responsibility ends,” he told a journalist in 1991. But as president he cannot afford to take such a myopic stance. Brazil, not the US, is the main market for Bolivian cocaine, where it produces far more violence and social mayhem than in any North American city.
Then there is the certainty that Google will miss books, skip pages, blur images and make other errors, while there is no guarantee that its copies will last. Bits become degraded over time. Documents may get lost as hardware and software quickly become extinct. As Darnton points out, we have lost eighty per cent of all silent films and fifty per cent of all films made before World War II. The best preservation system ever invented, he adds, was the old-fashioned, pre-modern book.
Later that evening, dressed in a hired “white tie”, I called at the residence of General Franco and escorted his granddaughter to the opera, where we sat in the royal box under the watchful eye of her duenna. Later we joined the generalissimo and his wife and family at home at dinner. I recall that we were driven to and from the opera in the caudillo’s splendid motor, a beflagged Hispano-Suiza if I correctly remember. I think I may have been the only foreign diplomat ever to dine with the Franco family.