Monthly Archives: November 2016

Stewart Lee in conversation with Alan Moore

Interesting conversation between Stewart Lee and Alan Moore on the subject of Lee’s newest collection of columns. Gets into genre being at its most interesting when its being broken, and how Lee turned his column into a kind of dialectical performance art, or satire of the tradition of CiF commentary in general, which plays on the response of the commenters.

Advertisements

Wastepaper Basket Part II: Radio Play #1

***Content warning: Usual disclaimer about quality, putting this online because I no longer feel it to be of publishable quality***

Weatherwoman: (cheery and ebullient) –be seeing a cold front crossing over from the east, making its way over Leinster into the midlands, there encountering a front of an indeterminate temperature, the effects of which will resonate for a period of time. Listeners in certain parts of eastern Connacht should be aware that if their homes have recently been touched by death, it is likely that these fronts will deposit a light sprinkling of orange silt on outdoor windowsills. It is advised that both children and the elderly refrain from consuming this powder, regardless of how pleasing it may appear to the eye.   

Finally, Met Éireann have issued a weather warning that the Western winds coming in from the Atlantic are likely to cause in persons of an intemperate disposition, ideations of an unsound sort. It is advised that people likely to be affected remain indoors until further notice and that contact with affected persons, be avoided. 

Oliver: Thanks Linda!

[a jaunty radio jingle is played on a xylophone for five or so seconds. the pause after it concludes is too long.]

Voice: (furtive, as if confiding) Being loved and accepted for who you are is not a guarantee. For those of us who- (cuts off abruptly)

[there is a pause and then Vince Hill’s ‘Look Around’ plays, for about ninety seconds. the song fades slowly out.]

Oliver: (jocular, overly familiar) Now, we have in studio with us, Saoirse Ó Murcú, who has in her hands an altogether, ah ha ha, suspicious contraption, now, why don’t you, for the listeners at home, tell us what you have in in your hands there now Saoirse.

Saoirse: Well this is a camera that I came upon one of the days-

Oliver: Tell me this now, is it a family heirloom?

[they both laugh]

Saoirse: It is not! I just found it recently and I have to say that I’ve gotten great use out of it altogether.

Oliver: Now, I believe that there’s something quite unique about this camera, why don’t you tell the listeners what it is?

Saoirse: Well, this camera has the ability to photograph so-called dark matter and for those listening who maybe don’t have the technical know-how, dark matter is a halation of matter proper, which imbathes us all in an invisibly funereal wreath.

Oliver: So, let me get this right Saoirse because I can see the listeners scratching their heads at home, do the photographs that come out actually display dark matter?

Saoirse: Oh no Oliver, quite the opposite, the photos in fact reveal a nullity-

Oliver: A what?

Saoirse: A nullity.

Oliver: Oh, beg pardon, I thought you said something else altogether (!)

[they both laugh]

Saoirse: The photographs, when developed, reveal a nothingness that is fulminating on its own hypotheticality and the fact of our existence as a romantic contrivance, or an extended circling of the drain, if you like.

Oliver: And I believe you have a selfie that you took earlier on that shows the phenomenon that you’re describing rather well.

Saoirse: I do indeed, I have them for you here.

[rustling sounds]

Oliver: Lovely stuff, lovely stuff…god, it’s true what they say isn’t it, it does look back at you alright. Now, the listeners can get involved at home as well can’t they?

Saoirse: They can indeed and also online, eh, all they just have to do is just enter their emails at the bottom of the form and we’ll be in touch.

Oliver: That’s fantastic, that’s fantastic. Now there’s a listener here, or a texter should I say, who has a response to what you’ve been talking about this morning, he says, ‘Dear Oliver, that woman you have on is guilty of high treason in her enquiry into the divine plan and were it to be up to me I would see to it that she be hanged from her neck until she is dead so that she may atone for her blasphemous desire to penetrate into things beyond her rightful station,’ have you anything to say in your defence to that Saoirse?

[there is an inaudible muttering]

Oliver: Saoirse wishes to preserve her dignity on this occasion, and why not?

[jaunty radio jingle of a few seconds on light horns]

Oliver: Just coming up to high noon now, we have Áine speaking to Father O’Connell, the parish priest in Ballyclough on the tragic events of Wednesday last.

[the atmosphere shifts to one of an on-the-scene report]

Áine: (mannered, slow tone) Father O’Connell, calamitous. Destructive. Atrocious. Disastrous and overwhelming. These are all synonyms for ‘devastating.’ Could you, Father O’Connell, in your own words please, address each of these adjectives in order, choosing the one that you think is most adequate for describing the particular way in which the fabric of this community has been subject to rending, and again, in your own words, why the other four words do not wield the matter as you see it?

[as áine has spoken, there are sounds of the priest sneezing, once, extremely nasally and liquidly into the microphone. he blows his nose, again, obtrusively, twice.]

Father O’Connell: Good jesus, you’re really putting me in the hot seat there now. Ah, well, I suppose ‘calamitous’ has its merits, but it’s the kind of term you’d want to hold in reserve in case something worse happens in the next while or something. Em, ‘overwhelming’ doesn’t quite measure up, because of the extent to which the people of this community have really come together in the wake of the tragedy…is ‘devastating’ out of the running altogether yeah?

[pause]

Yeah, righto, em, ‘atrocious’ wouldn’t quite work for me, it conjures in my mind’s eye a tsunami or something…just leaves us with ‘disastrous’ I suppose. It’s been disastrous.

Áine: Father O’Connell, thank you, your words will be a great salve to the families of the victims of last week’s tragic events. While you’re here I wonder if you’d be willing to say join our listeners in a prayer or two?

Father O’Connell: I would of course.

[pause. Father O’Connell snorts and expectorates.]

Father O’Connell: Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. Let your kingdom come, this is done on earth as in heaven. And lead us not into temptation, but the day that is before us, amen.

[reverential pause]

Áine: Father O’Connell, thank you so much.

Father O’Connell: Thanks for having me on.

[no jingle, just an expectant silence of fifteen or so seconds, during which a sharp inhalation can be just about discerned once or twice]

Oliver: (ebullient) Four score past the noon hour now, so we’ll be joining Liz for our traffic update, how are things out there Liz?

Liz: (deeply solemn) Well Oliver, I am reliably informed that from an aerial view one can see the vehicles clogging the aortae of Dublin’s urban hinterland as an obscure species of inorganic gelatin, clumped together in granules of pus which, when placed in close proximity to one another, congeal into themselves yet further, a sure symptom of an infection of which we humans are the cause.

Oliver: (echoing Liz’s downcast tone) Sorry Liz, I’ll just ask you to repeat that there because the connection we have at the moment isn’t the best, did you say that the cars on the road are essentially granules of pus, of inorganic gelatin, and are symptoms of an infection of which we humans are the cause?

Liz: (the same again) I did indeed Oliver, that is essentially what I said exactly.

Oliver: (reverts to chirpiness) That’s great Liz, thanks for that.

Liz: (responds in kind) No problem Oliver, have a good weekend.

Oliver: You too, you too. Oh wait, sorry Liz, just while you’re there, have you ever seen the film Memoirs of a Geisha?

Liz: I, haven’t, actually. I read the book though, loved the book.

Oliver: Did you, yeah? Well you’ll have to give the film a watch so.

Liz: I will, I will. Though it’s rare enough that the film is better than the book, the book is always better.

Oliver: Well it’s something to do over the weekend, enjoy your reading. Or viewing, rather, or watching? Would you say viewing or watching?

Liz: Sure, I dunno! (pause) Viewing, I suppose.

Oliver: I think you’re right there Liz, I think you’re right there. Alright, listen, Liz, thanks again for that, enjoy your weekend.

Liz: Thanks again Oliver, you too!

Oliver: You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome. Ha ha ha, oh dear oh dear.

[there is a long pause]

Oliver: (tortured) ohgodohgodohgodohgod

[pause]

Academic: (venerable) This week on Into the Archives, we, just short of the 85th Annual Congress of the Living Light of the True Lord Jesus Christ, take a look back on the occasion of the first Congress, in 1932.

Eamon de Valera: (scratchy with the aging of the recording, in a mode of public address) We have come to a point in our national history, where we, having asserted our national sovereignty, may now assert our spiritual collectivity, and togetherness, and be clasped closer still to the bosom of our mother church.

Academic: The occasion was a great opportunity for the new Free State to present itself on the world stage. The occasion of the Pope’s visit and his extension of forgiveness to the fairer sex for their having sinned against the light were just two among many of the happy occasions during the week-long ceremony. Tune in this Friday at sunset, where we will play some never-before-heard recitations of the 1932 Maynooth catechism from the Rutland Street National School.

Teacher: (totally uninflected) Did Adam and Eve obey the command of God?

Young Girl: (unselfconscious, stuttering over words, lisping mildly, in the manner of one articulating a rote learned exercise) Adam and Eve did not keep the commandments and, and committed our ancestor crime in eating the forbidden fruit of Satan.

Teacher: Have we, the children of Adam, suffered because of his sin?

Young Girl: (mispronounces some of the bigger words) Yes, we, the children of Adam have suffered because we are of evil, and, and we are of darkness; and we are of death, and we endanger the aspirations of our own souls and succumb to pain and death, cos we lost our sanctifying grace. 

Oliver: Next, we have in studio our Minister for Fisheries and Children. Now Minister, I was just curious-

[a series of skirmishes of crosstalk occur where both Oliver and the minister speak over each other staccato. they both start talking at the exact same time, and stop speaking again, at the exact same time. One can just about discern that the texture of their gibberish is made up of ‘sorry there,’ ‘if I could just’ and ‘to make the point.’ This happens four times.]

Oliver: And if I could just ask a final question minister, if you’d be willing to speak on certain allegations made in a memo that was recently leaked from your department as to whether or not your building is filled with unopened boxes of job applications for a recently vacant position.

Minister: (ambling, circulatory) Hahah. Well, Oliver, I think that, the important thing to eh, remember at the moment, is that, that is obviously something that did not happen.

Oliver: Minister, pleasure as always.

And it’s just past time to spare, we’ll be handing things over to the Sunday Salmagundi.

[somnolent horns in a regal manner for about fifteen seconds. it dissolves into asynchronous and discordant cataclysm]

Woman’s Voice: Time now for Sunday Salmagundi, a showcase of the finest prose, poetry and essays currently on offer in the land of saints and of scholars.

Second Woman’s Voice: (Speaks plodding, primly) I have always found myself to be spurred by a deep and profound love for the invasive species of the wild boar, sosis scrofula, a recent visitation on this little island in the middle of the Atlantic that we, and now happily, the boar, call home.

I can still remember the first time I made the acquaintance of this noble animal in my back garden. It was a gorgeous summer’s day and my dear husband was just getting ready to attend to the pesky weeds that had sprung up in our garden.   

—Won’t be a mo, he said merrily, already donning his thick gardening gloves, packing his trusty trowel into his sturdy steel bucket with a noisy clang. 

I watched him pulling the weeds up by their roots from the kitchen window, while washing the dishes left over from breakfast. They were the fine bone china plates that my grandmother left me, when she passed away so tragically, only the year before last. I looked at the beautiful patterns that ran along their outsides, made of little Celtic Crosses weaving in and out of themselves, like a mysterious tapestry from long ago. When I see them, I think of the big mahogany cabinet my granny kept them in when I was a little girl, and how big it seemed to me at the time, looming far above my head when I visited her with my mummy and daddy. I didn’t know then how fast the years would pass me by. I can still remember the hazy morning sunlight slanting through the cabinet’s glass door, making the plates shimmer like virtual reality.

I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I didn’t see the boar step out inquisitively from the hedge on my husband’s side, and gear up to charge at him. The first thing I noticed about our little visitor was how quickly he moved, his feet were like little brown rockets, a far cry from the stubby little implements that you’d mistake them for at your peril. His shiny white tusks aren’t just for show either though, as my husband found out when the little fella dug an eight centimetre hole in his thigh.

-Ah! Ah! Jesus, Cathleen! Ahh, Christ, my husband said, struggling to his feet. With his injury, he was finding it difficult to move quickly and ward off the animal at the same time. A big red wound was clearly visible, as the boar had inconsiderately torn my husband’s pair of jeans. The wound was a deep passionate crimson colour, like the first rose of summer.

I could see the boar was locking onto him to make another charge. I tapped at the window angrily to ward him off.

—Cathleen! Cathleen! Jesus, help, oh god, ah,  he said.

Just as the boar was about to make a run and gore my husband’s leg for a second time, he stopped and looked up at me through the window. His eyes looked into mine, and I had then a strange moment of sympathy and understanding with him. Even though we were from different worlds, and the boar was unlikely to have a memory like the ones that filled my head up to the brim like those of my granny’s china cabinet, were we really all that different? It was almost as if we knew each other well, that we were old friends from our school days. 

The boar then took a run and smashed himself into my husband’s ankle, knocking him to the ground.

—Ohohohogggohrbna, he said.

The boar then beat

his retreat

so I watched him depart

with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Myles: You’re very welcome along to the one programme left on the radio for the serious discussion of the arts. In the studio with me today are the three authors of the latest collection of essays written on Irish Sculpture and Architecture, the book is called Modern and Contemporary Sculpture and Architecture in Ireland and it contains over thirty essays written on various significant works within Irish Architecture and Sculpture in the past hundred and twenty years. The authors are Susan Fogarty, lecturer in University College Dublin’s department of Installation Technology and Plastic Arts, Paula Clarke, Associate Professor in the National College of Art and Design and Simone Webster, a beneficiary of a grant from the Arts Council in public sculpture whose work has appeared in many towns throughout the country as well as in galleries and public spaces both at home and abroad. Now Susan, I’ll start with you, I was curious as to whether you’d be able to provide us with your sense of where Irish Sculpture and Architecture is at this moment in time. What kind of movements can we see in the field, are we seeing a traditionalist outlook, a more innovative landscape, what have you learned from your time spent researching and editing these essays?

Susan: Well Myles, I suppose what strikes me about contemporary Irish sculpture and architecture today is both the extent and scope of its variety. There is a vigorous traditionalist movement within both fields today, certainly, and a lack of shyness or bashfulness about coming from a traditionalist milieu, so that while they remain rooted in the essential practices of the past, it is a moving backwards in order to advance in a way, almost as if you need to return to the basics in order to see things in a new way.. 

Myles: The variety of what’s going at the moment is certainly an interesting part of the book and the essays all come together under thematic titles rather than chronologically…why was that and how do you think it affected the structure of the book?

Susan: Well this was an ordering principle that was decided on quite early in the process, what we wanted to achieve by doing that was to define what was happening at the moment through pluralities, rather than as a monolith. It’s a very diverse and disparate field with a number of points of entry, so we wanted that to come across as strongly as possible.

Myles: Now I’ll turn to you Paula, you write in your introduction about this sense of diversity that Susan has already mentioned, and you put it very well about the, the extent of artistic responses that the plastic arts have generated in Ireland, not just within the sector itself, but beyond it, throughout the arts and throughout the continent in fact.

Paula: Yes, I think that the meeting point or meeting points of architecture and sculpture remain very fertile territory in Ireland; I think we’ve come a long way since the Millennium Countdown Clock, if anyone still remembers that.

[mild laughter]

I still think of the Motherhouse in Dun Laoghaire and this quiet challenge it made to our expectations of sculpture and what it’s supposed to do in its architectural setting, how it allowed people to gather, and to witness, and when the piece had been decommissioned to remember, how it takes on a different life in all of those who were there to see it at the time, how its life cycle doesn’t necessarily end when it is taken down or decommissioned.

Myles: That’s very true, I still remember a wonderful sculpture trail set up in Achill about thirty years ago now and…I’m not quite sure thinking back whether it was funded through IMMA or the Arts Council, or whether it was a collaborative project, but either way I was lucky enough to see it while it was still active, just to see that series of mirrors that they had out on Corrie Lake sitting like petals. Or like lily pads, like lilies drifting over the face of the waters.

The Political Economy of the New Modernists

 

0_f8f35a66-5c0f-4e93-bd4d-aecc410e5ba7

A few weeks ago I saw the inaugural event of the Dublin Book Festival, which was a panel discussion between the novelists Anne Enright, Lisa McInerney and the poet Pat Boran. They were speaking on the publication of a book entitled Beyond the Centre, a collection of 26 essays reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the Irish Writer’s Centre, from the perspective of various figures from within Dublin’s literary scene. It was a great panel, and Seán Rocks did one of the best jobs as a moderator that I can recall seeing. Enright was caustic and witty, going off on how The Irish Times will commission hundreds of articles by female writers about being a woman watching the US election, but none about policy, how she doesn’t think men have a gender, and her recollections of the younger writers of her generation being shunted into the backs of vans at the start of their careers while the Johns Banville and McGahern were driven around in limos.

As someone writing a doctorate which involves an analysis of Enright’s fiction, I was hoping that the things she said would stray into areas pertinent to my work. I knew she was unlikely to talk about quantitative analysis, and the sorts of things that my dissertation will actually be pivoting around, but if at all possible I hope to cram some stuff about the socio-economic milieu that the new modernists come out of, into my dissertation, as a refutation to the infuriating yet pervasive canard of industrialisation + world war = first-wave modernism.

Enright obliged, and I got a substantial amount of notes on how the currently established generation of authors got a leg up early in their careers from a cultural exchange in the nineties arranged by the then Irish and French presidents, Mary Robinson and François Mitterand. Enright has written in the past on what it was like to live in the Ireland of the 80’s, with the intensifying contradictions between the Republic of McQuaid, with its laws against suicide, contraception, homosexuality, and the newly globalised, open to foreign investment Ireland, beginning to become apparent in our public discourse.

As Diarmaid Ferriter writes in his book, Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970’s, these signs of ‘increased modernisation, secularisation, Europeanisation and consumerism have to be placed in the context of a republic that…had ultimately created a conservative, authoritarian governing culture, that…created a very wide definition of dissent’. There is in this quotation, a nuanced and useful reading of these two different Irelands in tandem with one another, rather than as divergent. Too often in cultural studies of Ireland, I’m made aware of the phenomenon of the ‘time warp,’ and the ways in which parts of the Irish political landscape seem to be rooted in truisms not from the last century, but the one before that. Ferriter’s take is more subtle than this, thankfully.

Richard Hearns Ireland of the Welcomes Cover.jpg

The time warp is a conceptual tool that tries to account for the ways in which Ireland as a state can simultaneously manage to be the beneficiary of an economic boom powered by the development of information technologies on the West coast of the United States while being complicit in the captivity and enslavement of women, to give just one example. As we well know, the capitalist nation state, both historically and in our present moment, is not a static enough concept to abhor contradictions of this kind. It might even be said to thrive on them. It is for this reason that the concept of the time warp is a bit useless, in that it instantiates a notion that we are always moving forward in some way; despite the appearance that some of these ‘kinks’ might give off, they’ll be ironed out in good time. (There’s a well-meaning senator with a report on the matter brewing in some back office on Kildare Street for nigh on half the term of the currently sitting government, and a seventieth of the Dáil might even show up on the day it’s to be discussed, just sit tight.) In order for particular ideologies to function, pockets of our society in which the most vulnerable reside must have their existences subject to relegation or dismissal as time warps, as if artefacts of the nineteenth century have the habit of peskily colonising the twenty-first. This gesture allows us to dispense with aspects of our national identities which might otherwise bring us to a point of contradiction. To take one example, Ireland can simultaneously believe itself to be a nation that is charitable, and LGBT-friendly, while placing many of those fleeing persecution (sometimes for their sexual orientation) in detention centres for an indefinite span of time.

Enright, among other things I’m sure, considers herself a product of this particularly Irish cultural discord, writing rather brilliantly in her work, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, about a particularly divisive time in Irish public life, the eighties, and its role in her attempted suicide, which I will now quote from at length:

I fell out of the world, temporarily, on Easter Monday 1986…Maybe I had Seasonal Affective Disorder, maybe it is genetic, maybe it was me being in my twenties, maybe it was Ireland being in the 1980s.

The older I get the more political I am about depression, or less essentialist — it is not because of who you are, but where you are placed. Ireland broke apart in the eighties, and I sometimes think that the crack happened in my own head. The constitutional row about abortion was a moral civil war that was fought out in people’s homes — including my own — with unfathomable bitterness. The country was screaming at itself about contraception, abortion, and divorce. It was a hideously misogynistic time. Not the best environment for a young woman establishing a sexual identity, you might say, especially one with adolescent morbidity and tendencies towards ecstatic suffusions of light, one who was over-achieving, but somehow in all the wrong ways, one who was both maverick and clever. I mean, what do we need here, a diagram?

…I…wrote some books. They were fragmented books, because this is what I knew best, but also, I fancied, because I lived in an incoherent country. They were slightly surreal, because Ireland was unreal. They dealt with ideas of purity, because the chastity of Irish women was one of the founding myths of the Nation State (well that was my excuse). But they were also full of corpses. Beautiful ones, speaking ones, sexual ones, bitter ones; corpses who did not forgive, or rot. Who was the corpse? It was myself, of course, but also Christ, the dead body on a stick. And it is the past that lies down but will not shut up, the elephant in the national living-room.

400255

To read these paragraphs, and the other paragraphs in the same chapter (do pick it up, it is so, so good) is to become aware of how irrelevant women’s health and their autonomy was to the Irish establishment of the time. It’s no surprise then, that the Irish literary establishment was mostly suspicious regarding the raft of new wordists who came to a kind of prominence in the late eighties and early nineties, the vanguard of whom was probably Roddy Doyle, though Enright also named Patrick McCabe as a trailblazer. This generation’s early novels weren’t reviewed, and when they were, they were eviscerated. This apparent lack of a domestic audience, or the unwillingness of the tastemakers to cultivate one, required that Irish authors sell themselves abroad, and only then, by commodius vicus of recirculation, return to the domestic market. This route generally led to euphemistic conversations about formal qualities such as ‘lyricism’ and other such words acting as stand-ins for question marks over one’s authenticity.

This is why the cultural exchange’s timing was so opportune, and made, by necessity, Irish authors far more permeable to international influences. They all gained hugely from it, ‘they’ meaning, I assume Enright, Joseph O’Connor and Deirdre Madden.

3725FB7900000578-3734775-image-a-65_1471015661159.jpg

Donal Donovan and Antoin C. Murphy’s study, The Fall of the Celtic Tiger: Ireland and the Euro Debt Crisis requires us to take a leap forward about by just under two decades and outline the ways in which Ireland’s position changed from a peripheral, insufficiently industrialised state, ‘the poorest of the rich,’ to a contemporary globalised market economy within the framework of the European Union. No Irish citizen who remembers the eighties will be unaware of the effect that this union has had on our general standards of living. I think. I wasn’t alive at the time. But I am interested in what this change from peripheral backwater to post-modern globalised economy has on our self-perception. It is perhaps inevitable that we encounter the time warp once again, albeit in the context of Ireland’s leap into means:

while the ‘catch-up’ paradigm explains part of the story, the speed and extent of Ireland’s transformation was primarily driven by high-tech multinationals, the vanguard of a major worldwide revolution in information technology…in the post-industrial high-tech world, these concepts had started to become anachronistic.

So too do many governing metaphors of the literary landscape become de-legitimised. The matter of literary influence in particular, becomes increasingly knotty in a global marketplace. Brian Dillon writes in the London Review of Books that if there is a modernist resurgence in Irish literature today, it is less a return, than a demonstration of the extent to which authors today can draw from any number of traditions, even experimental ones. As such, it is less important to talk about the new modernists because they’re Irish, but what this literary self-identification signifies. Not all of this is voluntary, of course; just being a female novelist in Ireland has a profound political resonance, as anyone familiar with the career of Edna O’Brien will know.

The Irish free State made clear its suspicion regarding modernism and modern art in general, by introducing film censorship in 1923. The first Irish review of Ulysses was also blocked by the printer of The Dublin Magazine, forcing its author, Con Levanthal, to set up a one-off journal, Klaxon. The Catholic Truth Society took an active role in Ireland’s cultural life over the next few decades by stymieing the dissemination of anything perceived as indecent, modern, or Protestant. Those of the literary world reacted to this with outrage, as these bans generally effected avant-garde works rather than pornographic ones, but their objections never translated into popular political support. David Dickson, in Dublin: The Making of a Capital City,points out that this emphasis on censorship can ignore the extent to which musical and theatrical forms often thrived, but for the most part, Dublin was a place to leave in favour of other urban capitals, where one was more likely to obtain a patron, public or private.

This policy didn’t make for good neighbours, of course. As Eavan Boland wrote, ‘No two establishments in this community regard one another with more suspicion than those of the Arts and the State.’ This was due to the fact that the Free State’s scepticism regarding modernism extended, to the arts in general. The Arts Council existed, in name only, up until its role was formalised in the late seventies. Up until then, it provided cheques to artists on a hand to mouth basis, had no women on its board and had no particular remit or code of behaviour. Public funding for the arts was also about 30% less than in the United Kingdom.

Related to this, (I know I’m moving around a lot, but it’ll come good in the end), Garret FitzGerald’s analysis of Ireland joining the EU was as follows:

Our independence was won for us just in time to enable most of Ireland to enter to European Community as one of Europe’s ancient nations, rejoining once again the Europe from which for so many centuries she was cut off by the imposition of British rule. We shall negotiate our entry as a sovereign state…the voice of Ireland will be heard in Europe in the decades ahead. But for the sacrifices of those who won our freedom, none of this could have been. We have the right to believe that they will feel as they view this prospect that their sacrifices were not all in vain.

Despite the gloss that FitzGerald puts on Ireland’s joining the union as in a continuity of Irish independence movements, Ferriter argues that Ireland joined primarily because England was joining. The dominant understanding of Ireland’s membership is one of economic, social and cultural gain; lucrative agricultural grants, social justice legislation, worker protections, consumer and environmental regulation, all have their origins in EU initiatives. In a cultural sense however, it can be seen an inducing another form of peripherality, relative to the wider continent, rather than to England. Ireland is, after all, a relatively small state in a union driven by larger nations. Joe Lee has argued that joining the union has had the effect of encouraging our leaders to continue to apportion blame for their failures to external factors, rather than scrutinising and reforming our own industries and regulatory frameworks. The playwright Brian Friel viewed the Irish state around this time as a ‘tenth-rate image of America’ and indeed, there seemed to be little to distinguish the Ireland open to multi-national capital and foreign direct investment, a consumer-driven economy in the post-modern sense, from any other Western city.

Works from Enright’s oeuvre such as The Portable Virgin, The Wig my Father Wore and The Forgotten Waltz, all fit rather nicely within this interpretation, and inventively engage with the conversation between traditional mainstays of Irish identity and the post-modern market economy which had grown up around them, which made the old certainties complicit, as much as it ‘unsettled’ them.

I’ll talk about the ending of the short short story ‘The Portable Virgin’ because it seems to encapsulate a lot of what I’m talking about:

I am sitting on Dollymount Strand going through Mary’s handbag, using her little mirror, applying her ‘Wine Rose and Gentlelight Colourize Powder Shadow Trio’, her Plumsilk lipstick, her Venetian Brocade blusher and her Tearproof (thank God) mascara.

My revenge looks back at me, out of the mirror. The new fake me looks twice as real as the old. Underneath my clothes my breasts have become blind, my iliac crests mottle and bruise. Strung out between my legs is a triangle of air that pulls away from sex, while my hands clutch. It used to be the other way around.

I root through the bag, looking for a past. At the bottom, discoloured by Wine Rose and Gentlelight, I find a small, portable Virgin. She is made of transparent plastic, except for her cloak, which is coloured blue. ‘A present from Lourdes’ is written on the globe at her feet, underneath her heel and the serpent. Mary is full of surprises. Her little blue crown is a screw-off top, and her body is filled with holy water, which I drink.

The narrator is having an affair, the ins and outs of which we can never be totally certain -each player’s identities remain fluid throughout the story. Dollymount Strand is a significant enough place to consider sumjex and objex, but when one’s extra-marital activities have been ironically genuflecting before a Judi Dench costume drama, also about infidelity and inappropriately stately furniture, the stakes feel as though they have been heightened. The various accoutrements of contemporary female identity ‘Gentlelight Colourize (note the American zee) Powder Shadow’ are to the fore, and while the tacky symbolic representation of old Ireland has been discoloured by the errant make-up, it’s still there. At least until it’s sent surging out to sea at the end. Enright, being a sophisticated as well as an intellectual novelist, doesn’t foreground this sort of thing, that is to say, it doesn’t place demands on the reader as such, it never gets in the way of the fun.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, with its profound sense of formal dislocation, and an origin point within the economically depressed, culturally stifled Ireland of the 1980’s, is another important node of discussion here; McBride has encouraged such analyses by making reference to it as a sort of a refracted autobiography. But while tracing over the wrecked and bloodied sockets of a fragmented subjectivity, it also aims to revivify the cornerstones of the institutionalised modernisms as practiced by James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. No part of the novel makes this point clearer than the novel’s beginning, because it is its beginning, and uncompromising off the bat:

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

Not as much to ‘play’ with as Enright might give us, shorter sentences, shorter words, less things, but more baggage, meaning this, of course, in the best possible way. What we have is a swift and deep immersion into the materiality of language, all the rhymes, assonances, repetition and rhythm of which it’s capable, which, in an increasingly bland literary marketplace, is revolutionary. After having read The Lesser Bohemians, and Claire Lowdon’s review of the two of them, I’m slightly loathe to praise it without clarifiers, but I do think there is a lot that it is good in its incorporation of the elements familiar to the Irish misery memoir within a high modernist register. Because misery is for life, not just for the realists.

I hope it will be clear from all this that contemporary modernists draw on a history of formal experimentation, regarded with suspicion by the Irish state with a view to challenging the received wisdom of its theocratic tendencies, marginalisation and violent oppression of women.

Melvyn Bragg: The Matter of the North

After watching Game of Thrones I’ve become terribly sentimental about the North of England, so the timing on me finding out about this series was bang on. Public service broadcasting at its best, the BBC’s resident brain Melvyn Bragg goes through the history of the North of England, from the Norman invasions to The Beatles. Judi Dench is also in it, being class. Public service broadcasting at its best, etc. etc.

 

Shakespeare’s Restless World

Remember that class artefact-oriented BBC series from a few years back, A History of the World in 100 Objects? Sure, we all do. Well Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum and the guy who was responsible for that, did a similar series on Shakespeare, and it’s ace.

Maybe a bit too into finding modern-day parallels, but expert analysis, well-acted excerpts and does a great job of bringing in the whole of society, rather than just royal fracas.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017gm45/episodes/downloads

A (Proper) Statistical analysis of the prose works of Samuel Beckett

MTE5NDg0MDU0ODk1OTUzNDIz.jpg

Content warning: If you want to get to the fun parts, the results of an analysis of Beckett’s use of language, skip to sections VII and VIII. Everything before that is navel-gazing methodology stuff.

If you want to know how I carried out my analysis, and utilise my code for your own purposes, here’s a link to my R code on my blog, with step-by-step instructions, because not enough places on the internet include that.

I: Things Wrong with my Dissertation’s Methodology

For my masters, I wrote a 20000 word dissertation, which took as its subject, an empirical analysis of the works of Samuel Beckett. I had a corpus of his entire works with the exception of his first novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which is a forgivable lapse, because he ended up cannibalising it for his collection of short stories, More Pricks than Kicks.

Quantitative literary analysis is generally carried out in one of two ways, through either one of the open-source programming languages Python or R. The former you’ve more likely to have heard of, being one of the few languages designed with usability in mind. The latter, R, would be more familiar to specialists, or people who work in the social sciences, as it is more obtuse than Python, doesn’t have many language cousins and has a very unfriendly learning curve. But I am attracted to difficulty, so I am using it for my PhD analysis.

I had about four months to carry out my analysis, so the idea of taking on a programming language in a self-directed learning environment was not feasible, particularly since I wanted to make a good go at the extensive body of secondary literature written on Beckett. I therefore made use of a corpus analysis tool called Voyant. This was a couple of years ago, so this was before its beta release, when it got all tricked out with some qualitative tools and a shiny new interface, which would have been helpful. Ah well. It can be run out of any browser, if you feel like giving it a look.

My analysis was also chronological, in that it looked at changes in Beckett’s use of language over time, with a view to proving the hypothesis that he used a less wide vocabulary as his career continued, in pursuit of his famed aesthetic of nothingness or deprivation. As I wanted to chart developments in his prose over time, I dated the composition of each text, and built a corpus for each year, from 1930–1987, excluding of course, years in which he just wrote drama, poetry, which wouldn’t be helpful to quantify in conjunction with one another. Which didn’t stop me doing so for my masters analysis. It was a disaster.

II: Uniqueness

Uniqueness, the measurement used to quantify the general spread of Beckett’s vocabulary, was obtained by the generally accepted formula below:

unique word tokens / total words

There is a problem with this measurement, in that it takes no account of a text’s relative length. As a text gets longer, the likelihood of each word being used approaches 1. Therefore, a text gets less unique as it gets bigger. I have the correlations to prove it:

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 12.18.03.png

There have been various solutions proposed to this quandary, which stymies our comparative analyses, somewhat. One among them is the use of vectorised measurements, which plot the text’s declining uniqueness against its word count, so we see a more impressionistic graph, such as this one, which should allow us to compare the word counts for James Joyce’s novels, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his short story collection, Dubliners.

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 13.28.18.png

All well and good for two or maybe even five texts, but one can see how, with large scale corpora, this sort of thing can get very incoherent very quickly. Furthermore, if one was to examine the numbers on the y-axis, one can see that the differences here are tiny. This is another idiosyncrasy of stylostatistical methods; because of the way syntax works, the margins of difference wouldn’t be regarded as significant by most statisticians. These issues relating to the measurement are exacerbated by the fact that ‘particles,’ the atomic structures of literary speech, (it, is, the, a, an, and, said, etc.) make up most of a text. In pursuit of greater statistical significance for their papers, digital literary critics remove these particles from their texts, which is another unforgivable that we do anyway. I did not, because I was concerned that I was complicit in the neoliberalisation of higher education. I also wrote a 4000 word chapter that outlined why what I was doing was awful.

IV: Ambiguity

The formula for ambiguity was arrived at by the following formula:

number of indefinite pronouns/total word count

I derived this measurement from Dr. Ian Lancashire’s study of the works of Agatha Christie, and counted Beckett’s use of a set of indefinite pronouns, ‘everyone,’ ‘everybody,’ ‘everywhere,’ ‘everything,’ ‘someone,’ ‘somebody,’ ‘somewhere,’ ‘something,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘anybody,’ ‘anywhere,’ ‘anything,’ ‘no one,’ ‘nobody,’ ‘nowhere,’ and ‘nothing.’ Those of you who know that there are more indefinite pronouns than just these, you are correct, I had found an incomplete list of indefinite pronouns, and I assumed that that was all. This is just one of the many things wrong with my study. My theory was that there were to be correlations to be detected in Beckett’s decreasing vocabulary, and increasing deployment of indefinite pronouns, relative to the total word count. I called the vocabulary measure ‘uniqueness,’ and the indefinite pronouns measure I called ‘ambiguity.’ This in tenuous I know, indefinite pronouns advance information as they elide the provision of information. It is, like so much else in the quantitative analysis of literature, totally unforgivable, yet we do it anyway.

V: Hapax Richness

I initially wanted to take into account another phenomenon known as the hapax score, which charts occurrences of words that appear only once in a text or corpus. The formula to obtain it would be the following:

number of words that appear once/total word count

I believe that the hapax count would be of significance to a Beckett analysis because of the points at which his normally incompetent narrators have sudden bursts of loquaciousness, like when Molloy says something like ‘digital emunction and the peripatetic piss,’ before lapsing back into his ‘normal’ tone of voice. Once again, because I was often working with a pen and paper, this became impossible, but now that I know how to code, I plan to go over my masters analysis, and do it properly. The hapax score will form a part of this new analysis.

VI: Code & Software

A much more accurate way of analysing vocabulary, for the purposes of comparative analysis when your texts are of different lengths, therefore, would be to randomly sample it. Obviously not very easy when you’re working with a corpus analysis tool online, but far more straightforward when working through a programming language. A formula for representative sampling was found, and integrated into the code. My script is essentially a series of nested loops and if/else statements, that randomly and sequentially sample a text, calculate the uniqueness, indefiniteness and hapax density ten times, store the results in a variable, and then calculate the mean value for each by dividing the result by ten, the number of times that the first loop runs. I inputted each value into the statistical analysis program SPSS, because it makes pretty graphs with less effort than R requires.

VII: Results

I used SPSS’ box plot function first to identify any outliers for uniqueness, hapax density and ambiguity. 1981 was the only year which scored particularly high for relative usage of indefinite pronouns.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-12-27-38

It should be said that this measure too, is correlated to the length of the text, which only stands to reason; as a text gets longer the relative incidence of a particular set of words will decrease. Therefore, as the only texts Beckett wrote this year, ‘The Way’ and ‘Ceiling,’ both add up to about 582 words (the fifth lowest year for prose output in his life), one would expect indefiniteness to be somewhat higher in comparison to other years. However, this doesn’t wholly account for its status as an outlier value. Towards the end of his life Beckett wrote increasingly short prose pieces. Comment C’est (How It Is) was his last novel, and was written almost thirty years before he died. This probably has a lot to do with his concentration on writing and directing his plays, but in his letters he attributed it to a failure to progress beyond the third novel in his so-called trilogy of Molloy, Malone meurt (Malone Dies) and L’innomable (The Unnamable). It is in the year 1950, the year in which L’inno was completed, that Beckett began writing the Textes pour rien (Texts for Nothing), scrappy, disjointed pieces, many of which seem to be taking up from where L’inno left off, similarly the Fizzlesand the Faux Départs. ‘The Way,’ I think, is an outgrowth of a later phase in Beckett’s prose writing, which dispenses the peripatetic loquaciousness and the understated lyricism of the trilogy and replaces it with a more brute and staccato syntax, one which is often dependent on the repetition of monosyllables:

No knowledge of where gone from. Nor of how. Nor of whom. None of whence come to. Partly to. Nor of how. Nor of whom. None of anything. Save dimly of having come to. Partly to. With dread of being again. Partly again. Somewhere again. Somehow again. Someone again.

Note also the prevalence of particle words, that will have been stripped out for the analysis, and the ways in which words with a ‘some’ prefix are repeated as a sort of refrain. This essential structure persists in the work, or at least the artefact of the work that the code produces, and hence of it, the outlier that it is.

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 12.55.13.png

From plotting all the values together at once, we can see that uniqueness is partially dependent on hapax density; the words that appear only once in a particular corpus would be important in driving up the score for uniqueness. While there could said to be a case for the hypothesis that Beckett’s texts get less unique, more ambiguous up until 1944, when he completed his novel Watt, and if we’re feeling particularly risky, up until 1960 when Comment C’est was completed, it would be wholly disingenuous to advance it beyond this point, when his style becomes far too erratic to categorise definitively. Comment C’est is Beckett’s most uncompromising prose work. It has no punctuation, no capitalisation, and narrates the story of two characters, in a kind of love, who communicate with one another by banging kitchen implements off another:

as it comes bits and scraps all sorts not so many and to conclude happy end cut thrust DO YOU LOVE ME no or nails armpit and little song to conclude happy end of part two leaving only part three and last the day comes I come to the day Bom comes YOU BOM me Bom ME BOM you Bom we Bom

VIII: Conclusion

I would love to say that the general tone is what my model is being attentive to, which is why it identified Watt and How It Is as nadirs in Beckett’s career but I think their presence on the chart is more a product of their relative length, as novels, versus the shorter pieces which he moved towards in his later career. Clearly, Beckett’s decision to write shorter texts, make this means of summing up his oeuvre in general, insufficient. Whatever changes Beckett made to his aesthetic over time, we might not need to have such complicated graphs to map, and I could have just used a word processor to find it — length. Bom and Pim aside, for whatever reason after having written L’inno none of Beckett’s creatures presented themselves to him in novelistic form again. The partiality of vision and modal tone which pervades the post-L’inno works demonstrates, I think far more effectively what is was that Beckett was ‘pitching’ for, a new conceptual aspect to his prose, which re-emphasised its bibliographic aspects, the most fundamental of which was their brevity, or the appearance of an incompleteness, by virtue of being honed to sometimes less than five hundred words.

The quantification of differing categories of words seems like a radical, and the most fun, thing to quantify in the analysis of literary texts, as the words are what we came for, but the problem is similar to one that overtakes one who attempts to read a literary text word by word by word, and unpack its significance as one goes: overdetermination. Words are kaleidoscopic, and the longer you look at them, the more threatening their darkbloom becomes, the more they swallow, excrete, the more alive they are, all round. Which is fine. Letting new things into your life is what it should be about, until their attendant drawbacks become clear, and you start to become ambivalent about all the fat and living things you have in your head. You start to wish you read poems instead, rather than novels, which make you go mad, and worse, start to write them. The point is words breed words, and their connections are too easily traced by computer. There’s something else about knowing that their exact correlations to a decimal point. They seem so obvious now.

Walkthrough of Textual Analysis Through R

The attached PDF (used because not even .txt files, let alone .r ones are supported by wordpress) is a 100-some line code in RStudio that I’ve used for some basic forays into textual analysis.

It is essentially useless, and quantifies three textual phenomena: richness of vocabulary, density of indefinite pronouns and density of hapax legomena, or words that appear only once. All measures are obtained from sequential samples of words, the size of which is based on the size of the text that is ‘fed’ into the code.

The measures are essentially useless; all variables are essentially contingent on one another, that is, if uniqueness goes up, indefinite pronoun density would have to go down, and hapax density would go up, though not to the same extent that indefinite would decrease, since these last two are arbitrary groupings of words, of course their increases would be to uniqueness’ detriment. Mostly I just needed to get some code up and running for a statistics project.

Comments are included to give a sense of what each line is doing, because not enough people using R for literary analysis do that.

Thanks are due to Matthew L. Jockers for his book, Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature, which I found literally indispensable.

Code:

mastercode

Stopwords:

stopwordsindefinite