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 19, Autumn 2011

Issue 19, Autumn 2011

Owning Up

After initial attempts to simply forget the past and focus on economic reconstruction, Germany’s record of coming to terms with Nazi-era crimes has been impressive. The same, regrettably, cannot be said of the US with regard to the history of slavery and racism in the American South.

Flash Fiction

There are things you can do when your husband sleeps with your sister. You can sit in your studio and imagine them together, the toad and the mouse. Him moving over her. Her on top of him. You can hear dark skin slap against honey skin; you can hear moans. But he is your toad and she is your mouse – your Diego and your Cristina – so you drown those thoughts because they bring more tears than a blood-letting.

The Kids Are Alright

The story of Minnie with her heart “as big as a whale” is the old story of the beautiful and somewhat innocent young woman who falls for a useless cad, one who gives her things that she ain’t needin’ and by whom she is thereby destroyed, or, as in the popular Betty Boop animated version, severely chastened. The Betty Boop version dealt metaphorically and indirectly with the issues the song disguised behind hepster slang. As a result both were huge successes and the gifted Calloway was the first artist to break the colour bar of the major broadcasters.

Mind And Mystery

In a BBC Four documentary (Pol Pot’s Executioner: Welcome to Hell – May 2011), a torturer said that the only way he could have tortured his victims was to regard them as animals, as he was required to do. The practice of dehumanising prisoners by relating to them only as a number was part of this process, as it was in the Nazi death camps. A torturer might be opposed to torturing prisoners but have justifiable fears of being killed and perhaps tortured to death himself if he refuses to do so, which presumably would set up conflicting signals in his brain patterns. But there are those, such as Duche, the notorious Non Pen camp commandant during the Pol Pot regime, who oversaw and implemented the extreme methods. His state of mind must somehow have been able to override a brain state of distress. Harris writes about understanding psychopathic behaviour in terms of brain pathologies. However, there is also Hannah Arendt’s phrase for the Nazi atrocities, “the banality of evil”, and Duche’s ordinariness comes across in the documentary.

Back To Basics

It is one of the weaknesses of Judt’s position – and a symptomatic one – that he never addresses the question of affordability. “Even in social democratic Norway”, he complains, failure to demonstrate that one is seeking work can be grounds for losing benefit. Judt obviously find this a deplorable state of affairs but has no interest in asking why some people might have felt it was necessary – even in social democratic Norway. Indeed throughout the book he exhibits all the fastidious distaste for questions of money one might expect from an old-school professor in the humanities, even going so far at one point as to suggest that the only conceivable purpose of teaching business studies to undergraduates must be to extinguish the naturally altruistic feelings of the young.

Back To The Reader

In the opening interview, Enright expresses her impatience with endless questions about “Irishness”. And that leads her into a telling digression:

Two Kinds of Life

Salter’s entry into the literary world happened at a time when Jewish novelists were moving centre stage in the United States. Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Heller, Mailer – these writers not only dominated American letters in the early sixties but made a point of mining their ethnicity in ways that altered significantly the landscape of postwar American fiction. Exactly their contemporary, Salter never saw himself as Jewish, at least not in any public way. Like Mailer and Heller, he would write about war; like Roth and Bellow, he was a master of dialogue. But he did not, as Anthony Burgess said of Malamud, search for meaning in “the situation of a Jew in urban American society”.

What’s The Plan?

… a near total absence of strategic thinking among politicians. The other is a blind willingness to accept the gifts of outsiders as a means of supporting our economy, with little thought as to the consequences of this policy. Two examples stand out. One is the very successful attraction of mainly US multinationals to Ireland, a side effect of which has been to leave policymakers and capital providers with a blind spot as to the importance of a strong domestic services/industry base. The other has been the ready adoption of the constraints required by the euro-zone, with very little accompanying organisation to deal with the imbalances likely to be produced.

Ill Prepared

From the early months of the Influenza pandemic – in Ireland as elsewhere, attempts were under way in universities and laboratories in pursuit of a therapeutic vaccine for influenza. They did not succeed: this influenza-type infection was undoubtedly lethal, and they knew that it was not a bacterium; but they simply did not know, at this stage in the pandemic, precisely what order of complexity they were dealing with.

My Words, Your Words

It seems simplistic, though, to view the work simply as the act of a bullying editor taking advantage of a struggling writer; the evidence suggests that Carver actively sought Lish’s input throughout his early career and considered much of his work to have been improved as a result. Editing itself is hardly a new phenomenon and has a noble place in literary history – Max Perkins’s paternalistic assistance was crucial to the careers of both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, for example (were it not for Perkins’s insistence, The Great Gatsby could have been called Trimalchio in West Egg), and the many fierce but friendly tussles between Frank O’Connor and New Yorker editor William Maxwell over the former’s short stories are recorded in the pair’s published letters. This kind of back-and-forth is not unusual in publishing, and is an accepted (and by many writers, valued) part of the creative process.