You will be unprepared for how pretentious this movie is ….

 

SUCKER PUNCH

I have been watching the interesting, highly erotically charged movie ‘Sucker Punch (2011)” in effect it is an extended dream sequence about an abused young woman who is incarcerated in an asylum and then lobotomised. The lobotomy method is particularly gruesome, inserting a long spike up through the nose into the frontal lobe, in effect reducing the ‘Baby Doll’ to a vegetable. Obviously the pharmacological resources available to the doctors (the story seems to be set in the 1950′s) was somewhat limited. At the time a rather broad view was taken of the remedial methods available and acceptable for helping the mentally ill, which, I am sure has contributed to the fear and loathing of the mentally ill (‘possessed’ and ‘dangerous’) and indeed of the institution of psychiatry in general. This rather dark prejudice is capitalized upon in the unspeakably awful sexually charged Marquis De Sade atmosphere of the mental hospital, where ‘Baby Doll’ is taken, filled with lecherous aggressive misogynistic males, and enabling passive females living in fear mostly. ‘Baby Doll’ is, by the way, not a baby, but has a rather doll-like face, being twenty years of age, and she is wrongfully accused of killing her own sister. The central point of the story is around the lobotomy. Indeed the story seems to take place in the moments before the lobotomy actually happens. Just as the protagonist (Baby Doll) is about to have her personality irrevocably smashed with a shiny metal spike she begins to dream, of way out of this hell she is in, longing to be gone with her fellow inmates from this place not of of healing but destruction, this place that seems to have morphed into something between a dance club and a brothel where a beautiful madam presides over equally beautiful young women in order that they may entertain gangsters, and please general punters who come night after night to the club. As ‘Baby Doll’ dances, the world once again morphs and she fights huge oriental warriors, slays dragons, kills mechanized Germans in trenches, and slays robots in futuristic settings. What particularly drew my attention was these fight scenes, for in this movie more than any other I saw that fighting was in some way a substitute for sex. They are either sexually entertaining men, or they are killing and fighting to be free of this fruitless loveless destructive slavery. In a sense the world they are in gives them no identity beyond the beauty and perfection of their bodies, which is interesting indeed, and the lie at the core of their lives. These were young women fighting for a liberation from enslavement to a kind of misogynistic tyranny, a male based woman hating sexually empty slavery to the whims of their keepers, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome dynamic. This contempt for the power of the feminine has to mind its basis mainly in fear. These erotically charged fight scenes, the sexuality exuding from every pore in these brothel scenes, the heightened emotionality of the women’s interaction with each other seems more than anything to allude to some form of deep rooted sexual frustration that pervades not just this film, with its fantastic plot and fascinating visuals, but the plots of so many movies like this, the exchange of fighting for intimacy, particularly sexual intimacy, exchanging life giving or life renewing penetration with that kind of wound that destroys life. Don’t in any way think that I regard this film as kind of timeless classic. Its the kind of titillating fluff that one comes across now and again that underlines an age where we are drifting further and further apart, despite all the psychological and psychiatric technologies available to us, an age where career or duty is eating into our love lives, an age where our thinking is controlled increasingly by corporate propaganda, an age where science and technology is pursued only for money and weapons technology. That’s the real sucker punch, not this nonsense. That being said, I liked this film. It showed me something. In terms of art, I would prefer any number of episodes of the Simpsons, particularly from the first five seasons. Now that’s genius.

Dread of Death, and Sex

This post was published to Oran Ryan at 22:18:47 23/09/2012

Dread of Death, and Sex

Account Oran Ryan

Judge Dredd (the Movie), beautifully shot, wonderfully plotted, faithfully rendered, very well acted, filled with grim accuracy about a future world after the bomb drops, is a thoroughly good film, and much better than the first Dredd film, which I also enjoyed immensely, despite the many bad reviews it got. Shot in 3D and starring Karl Urban, Lena Headey, and Olivia Thirlby, it makes for compulsive viewing, especially for me. I have a long passionate thirty-eight year relationship with the Judge. I collected the 2001 comics lovingly and stored them, week after week in a shoe box under my bed, fascinated at the Judges journey through Mega City One and across the Cursed Earth. I lived for those editions, until they migrated into larger comics that cost me the huge sum of fifty pence. I remember the MacDonalds city, General Blood n’ Guts and saw Dredd as the only source of sanity in an increasingly insane world. I loved the uniform, the lawgiver, the anonymous cool fearless grim self assurance of Dredd, and the fact that there was a law, a source of justice, something that I replaced later with reason and logic. I clearly remember the first edition of 2000 AD, the comic which eventually brought out the Judge (issue 2 or 3). The most attractive feature of 2000 AD was actually Dan Dare, not Dredd. I also remember a comic strip called Strontium Dog in the magazine which I also thought fascinating. This was a terrible loveless post apocalyptic world, a world at the end of its tether, where governments had failed and the control of the populace in a city of nearly a billion devolves to fascistic judges who dispense summary justice in situ. Urban is wonderful in this role, and the camera, like Thirlby (a well regarded and Heady

lingers and loves every moment of this hyper violent futuristic thriller. Bodies explode, heads implode, and people are skinned alive, bullets spin through the air and tear open faces and teeth blast like shrapnel across the room. Limbs are blown off and bodies chopped up. The body count is amazing. This is a film that luxuriates in the gore it causes, and not a single death is inessential to the plot. In fact the horror, torment, misery, hopelessness, rule of crime and the vicious bloodshed is shot and shown as beautiful. As I watched this movie, I reflected on how impossible it would be to watch for instance a box office movie hit as this one is, that luxuriated on sex as this one does on violence, how controversial it would be to show glorious orgasms rather than exploding heads and skinnings, that perhaps the sheer number of plots and movies, excellent films, that show this level of violence, almost as if because we are in some way blocked towards connectedness, sexual or otherwise to the other, we seek release in the explosive force of bloodshed. After all power is sexy. We see the judge in leather, strapped down in uniform, with an anonymous helmet. Accompanying him we see a stunning young rookie judge in tight clothing. The sexual tension is palpable, and it adds to the thrill of seeing them kill and hold people’s lives in their hands. Interestingly enough, the use of the death penalty, something I have never agreed with, is to my mind shown here in all its utter futility. The fact that the judges hold the power of the death penalty over them does not in any way stop the murderous gang members from killing. Actually it doesn’t help that this is basically one great big police state: there is no trial, no jury, no weighing of evidence, forensic or otherwise. Once they kill, they know they are going to be executed. Thus there is no chance for a reprieve. They are forever on the wrong side of the law. And Judge Dredd is the law. Fascinating stuff: Fascism, great acting, great cinematography, good plot, gore, and tight leather clothes. Can’t wait for the next one.

MY JOB AND MASKING MY CONTEMPT

(American Beauty, 1999)

See the source image

“My job consists of basically masking my contempt
for the assholes in charge , and, at least once a day,
retiring to the men’s room so I can jerk off while I
fantasize about a life that doesn’t so closely resemble Hell.”

Alan Ball, creator of the Six Feet Under TV Series which I frankly thought always too dark, loveless and unbalanced a drama/comedy to ever stand the test of time (may I be proven wrong by such an opinion) also came up with the utterly mesmerising American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes and written by , yes, Alan Ball – an idea that had been gestating inside him for eight to ten years prior. The idea for the play (it was originally written as a stage play, then shelved as Ball realized there was no way it would work, coming out of his offices one day during the Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco scandal, where one evening afer work he bought a comic where each of the characters (Fisher and Buttafuoco) were both drawn and depicted as respectable moral citizens and as bad guys. Ball read the comic and thought to himself that the truth about the scandal lay somewhere in between, that neither character were fully innocent or guilty, that innocence or guilt, was, in a sense perhaps the wrong way to look at such an event or sequence of events. So he started writing the script that eventually became American Beauty.

Lester Burnham is 42 years old. In less than a year, he will be dead. The thing that tickled me most about the movie was the method employed in telling the story. I loved the cleverness of approaching the entire story from the perspective of a dead person – Burnham speaks from Elysium. He starts telling the story from the perspective of the afterlife, telling the spectators of the move, the audience, that he knows he is looking at himself from the hereafter, and that this movie is a vision of another life, a life that Lester tells the audience is a kind of death in itself. He is comfortable, in a beautiful house in a beautiful area with a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter and this is the ideal, the vision of beauty, is as near as one gets to the supposed perfection of the American aesthetic. This supposedly is beauty, yet Lester is dead, or might as well be dead. Nothing is happening. He drifts from morning to evening, masturbating in the shower, not making love to his wife who endlessly disrespects and talks down to him, day after day drifting further away from his daughter, writing pointless advertising copy for a magazine for fifteen years, a job he deeply hates yet is trapped into because of his lifestyle. This loveless meaningless existence ends when he literally burns down his entire life the moment he sees this girl dancing before a football game. She is literally the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. The picture of erotic beauty and an icon for the youthful erotic desire, the life force he has lost in his middle aged living death he spoke about at the beginning of the movie. Burnham goes nuts. He starts smoking really good pot, working out, walks out of his job, falls insanely in love with a teenager and takes a job in a fast food restaurant.

This seeming quantum shift at a time in Lester’s life when half of his life is already over, when he is very married, when he realizes death is coming. In fact the horizon of his realization is that death, its proximity, the absolute closure that death brings. It is this that enables Lester Burnham to see through the shallow existence that has over a lifetime turned into empty time, meal after meal where no communication occurs, occasions of family intimacy that are without meaning, time after time where no love is exchanged, day after day in the office where no real meaningful creative work is done and money is the only goal of every days labour, not that money or its pursuit is in itself anything worth objecting over. Lester’s passion for Angela, a rather vacuous child, is his passion for a connection, for colour, for life. Its only when he gives up what was a pointless life that he finds peace, a peace on sees at the moment of his death. Except by all appearances what he did was insane behaviour. Was he right? Did he do the right thing? Certainly if he had any friends who cared about him (he seems to have not a lot of friends), they would be deeply distressed that Lester, whom they had known for so long and who seemed such a decent chap, has suddenly become victim to his intense fantasy life, the cliché middle aged existential crisis. Perhaps he is having some kind of breakdown, manic episode. It is so easy to pathologize non conformity. Clearly there is something wrong with Lester Burnham. But the fact that he is behaving in the way he is does not, in accordance with the story of the movie, directly imply that the cause of his pain is within him. It is caused by the world. The world is making him crazy. It is killing his soul. It is draining his life force, his manhood, cutting him off from his nature. This is a satire on the nature of love and meaning in the world of 1990’s US middle class existence: material, atomised, devoid of significance.

Is there a conclusion to this story? American Beauty leaves us – like all great stories beautifully told – in the circular world of the story. All the magic moments of funny, witty, tragic interplay are circling round in our heads afterwards. There are no neat answers and there are no clear questions. He is just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose. Aren’t we all? And don’t we all live for those transcendental moments of beauty and truth? Aren’t we all dead without them?

Poet in Profile–Unabridged Interview with Oran Ryan by Ruairi Conneely

I’ve been tasked at times at NewsFour with writing about poetry and the Dublin Literary scene, insofar as I’m in frequent contact with it. However, the circumstances that lead me to interview Oran were simple and typical for a journalist: the assignment was dropped on me with only a day or two to research and produce the whole piece, from soup to nuts, and deliver it to deadline with pictures and all.

Oran and I are very good friends and I’m always eager to help him promote himself and share his thoughtfulness with the world at large. I think those with the talent to do so have something like a duty to be a voice for their readers’ inner lives. That’s why I write fiction when I can (aside from the journalist day job) and that’s why I think a lot of people are compelled to write fiction and research.They’re articulating not just for themselves but for their kindred spirits, who maybe a little less sure of their words or images. This is a big part of the much-mooted “shamanistic” function of Art, to my mind.


So, long story boring, I knew Oran would be a good subject, I was racing the clock, and I knew he had (has!) a poetry collection in the works.


What follows is the full original text I submitted to the NewsFour offices, which saw print in abridged form, in the June/July 2013 issue.

NewsFour, by the way, is the community newspaper for Dublin 4, covering Donnybrook, Sandymount, Irishtown, Ringsend, Ballsbridge and adjacent areas. We publish an issue every two months or so, of about 40 pages, free of charge, available around the Dublin 4 area and free of depressing garbage. www.newsfour.ie or find us on Facebook


Ruairi Conneely


There you go.

 

Poet’s Place: Oran Ryan

By Ruairi Conneely

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to the freshly revived NewsFour Poetry Place! I’m Ruairi Conneely, a staff journalist here at your beloved community paper and, in my spare time, something of a jack-of-all-trades writer. Before journalism, I worked in the world of small press publishing, for an agency that specialised in poetry collections. I write poetry and short fiction and the curious among you can find me most months at the monthly Last Wednesday Open Mic where I frequently perform my work.

For my debut Poet’s Place column, I’ve elected to start with an unusual choice of subject. Oran Ryan is predominantly known as a novelist: his third novel ‘One Inch Punch’ was published to much fanfare in October 2012 and was mentioned in the Seanad by Senator David Norris for its hands-on treatment of the topic of bullying. However, Oran is also an extensively published and experienced poet. His work has been published in periodicals like Can Can, Poetry Ireland, the Iota Poetry Quarterly, the International Library of Poetry Journal and Anarchist Angel, to name just a few. He has a collection forthcoming from Seven Towers entitled ‘Portrait of An Atheist Monk At Prayer’. Accompanying his profile as an author, Oran trails behind him an interesting and complex personal biography: he was an ordained monk of the Capuchin Order for much of the 1980s before succumbing to his natural scepticism. He then entered into the study of Philosophy, then Psychology, psychoanalysis and the study of Language. Now he lives near the Docklands, in East Wall, with his wife Sarah and many dogs and cats. But where does poetry enter all this, I wondered?

Oran: “Well, I started to read poetry at a very young age and it was because my father would read poems to us. He was a big fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and he would read to me and my sisters the entirety of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which was extraordinary. I would have been about 6 or 7 years old. Imagining what that poem describes was hallucinatory, overwhelming at that age. There was hardly a time after that when I wasn’t reading poetry.”

Where did the productive aspect begin for you? At what point did you begin to write your own?

“I started writing seriously – and getting published – in my teens and early twenties, and it was weird. I thought of myself predominantly as a religious person, not at all as an artist, but I always wrote some poetry. I had the impulse for my youth. After religion, I focussed on psychoanalysis and language and envisioned a career writing on these subject. So non-fiction, I suppose. Scholarly, academic texts.”

Let’s talk about style. Where do you take your cues for the voice and form of a poem?

“I don’t take linguistic cues from poetry itself but from everyday speech and use of language. People hide as much as they display in their everyday words and they often reveal their very deepest feelings unwittingly.”

So you don’t start with a style in mind?

“No, I start with a subject or image that has jumped out at me, and the style and voice, even the length of the poem, is determined from that starting point. I’m not opposed to formalism: sometimes I start with the most precise metre possible but Metre is a tool. Important to know but… well, I always have the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetics handy. It’s a terrific reference work for formal matters but don’t let it rule your life.”

Is there an overlap between your poetry and your novels?

“Of course. Poets are writers – the bridge between poetry and prose is very short. The idea for my last novel started with a poetic phrase: ‘You’re out of time, Mr Prime, your tiny life’s a thin blue line.’ Mr Prime became Raymond Prime, who became Gordon Brock, the protagonist of what became ‘One Inch Punch’.”

To wrap up, tell us about your forthcoming collection. It’s been a long time coming.

“The collection is called ‘Portrait of An Atheist Monk at Prayer’ and it’s the gathering of many years work, some previously published, some not. I resisted the idea I should do a collection for many years because I didn’t feel it would really be complete. I felt I had more to learn. But recently, last year this started, I had the idea for a poem that became a series focusing in a character called Joe the Astronaut. Joe is a wounded hero for the new age we live in. He’s been to Space, he’s seen Infinity directly and it’s crushed his mind with its vastness. So now, returned to Earth, he writes about his experiences in the third person. He writes about his failures, his dreams, lost and former loves. He is the Atheist Monk of the title. He has seen but he cannot believe.”

Oran Ryan’s novels are available through Seven Towers at seventowers.ie. He blogs at oranryan.com

The Many Lives of the Melancholy Dane

I love meeting people,where, the moment you meet them, there is an instant connection, a shared sense of humour and a real warmth.

I met a writer from the USA and we immediately connected. Our conversation ranged over many topics, but one in particular stayed with me and lingered in my mind because, well, its one of those insoluble things about writing, and not just about writing, but about communication. What happens when we are telling a story?


I met a writer from the USA and we immediately connected.
Our conversation ranged over many topics, but one in particular stayed with me and lingered in my mind because, well, its one of those insoluble things about writing, and not just about writing, but about communication. What happens when we are telling a story?

At this point the conversation took off and we became enmeshed in this seemingly impossible subject. We progressed from the idea of, say, a fairy story to something like Hamlet. Is there a true version of Hamlet? Which interpretation of the dilemma of the Melancholy Dane is the right one? The one that Shakespeare thought of and wrote down? I imagined him finishing a good workable draft of the play and taking it down to his troupe and saying something akin to “Right lads, I have a new play. Its going to be an
absolute cracker. But I need your full participation here.’ Well, maybe not, on second thoughts.

  Its easy to mangle a masterpiece. To handle a complex piece of delicate machinery requires intelligence, grace, insight, patience and a determination that we call character. In some ways requires genius to interpret genius, which is why there are many poor versions of Hamlet. So again I ask – was the first version of Hamlet produced by Shakespeare closest to the right one? Was it Brannagh’s version? Olivier’s? For every ‘version’ of the play, a new angle of the infinitely complex musings of the  Melancholy Dane is revealed. It is a world unto itself. There are the words that are written down. There is the intention of the author. Then there is the interpretations of the actors, the set designers, the directors and the group of actors in the particular historical context of that particular production. Then there is the individual interpretation and appreciations of the audience taking in what is going on.

So we have the many lives of Hamlet. We have a Hamlet living on multiple levels, living multiple lives in the minds of so many people across time and so many planes of existence. Hamlet in hyperspace. Hamlet in our heads. Hamlet in every copy of Shakespeare ever produced. The unread Hamlet. The original Hamlet. The cloned Hamlet.

We have James Joyce proving by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father in the Scylla and Charybdis section of Ulysses. Who are we to argue? This the age of science fiction. Things are being cloned as we speak.


Personally I think there is no original Hamlet. The idea of a simple story giving a direct message is something of a misguided idea. Even the simplest fairy story carry a freight of multiple highly complex meanings, and this is why they have lasted for so very long.
Complexity might not be comfortable. Buts its here, probably to stay.

Why I actually left the Catholic Church and why it is entirely probable I will never ever believe in the existence of any kind of deity ever again

 

While I was being interviewed recently for a newspaper, I was asked was there anything I really didn’t want to talk about. I said no, I couldn’t think of anything. The interview was about my writing life, with a particular emphasis on my poetry. The title of my forthcoming book is called Portrait of an atheist monk at prayer. I don’t really want to mention the details of the interview because it is deeply unfair to pre-empt the contents of someone else’s work before publication, but it was a super interview and deeply enjoyable. What was interesting was the person interviewing me brought up the fact that I actually had been a monk – a Capuchin Monk, for six years, and that that fact would deeply interest people. Indeed it would fascinate them. The person was completely right. This is apparently interesting to people. It also interests them I have written a book on the subject, a novel, all about love and belief and atheism, called The Death of Finn. I wondered why people ask me about this. They seem to think this is a secret part of my life or something, or that I would be embarrassed about it, like I would be embarrassed about my being bipolar or suffering from depression. I recall being interviewed by psychologists who also mentioned my being a monk as thought it was a huge issue for me. I recall commenting to them that it seems fascinating to people that at one stage in my life I took a particular belief system so seriously that for six years I became a monk (something not all that odd in other cultures) but no psychologist, or indeed anyone else seems to comment of the fact I am married for two decades. The psychologist took my point and moved on to other issues. More recently someone told me they were talking to a member of a religious order, a new friend they had made, a new friend I was very wary of, and they had mentioned me in passing, saying they knew someone who had been in ‘the church’ but who grew unhappy and left and was now married. The member of the religious order apparently said that it was better that those who were unhappy not remain in the church and be bitter and poison things for others and that they were deeply happy for me now I have found my place in the world. I can only begin to express the joy I feel at making people like that happy, but that is not the reason why I left. I left the Catholic Church not because I was unhappy. I don’t believe particularly in pursuing either happiness or unhappiness. If one pursues either happiness or unhappiness as an end in itself, it ultimately leads to disaster, because it is the pursuit of an illusion. Happiness or unhappiness is generally a by product of an action or repeated actions. That is in itself the subject of another blog post. Moving on:

There were two main reasons why I left the Catholic Church. The first was the fact I was a writer. It is simply who I am. We do not follow belief systems easily, and it is a very easy thing to mistake a religious or spiritual calling for that of an artistic calling. The second was doctrinal. I left the Catholic Church because its doctrines were nonsense, extremely dangerous, life-denying, and obsessed with sex. To believe in an intangible, unprovable, invisible, all powerful super-being (God) is nonsense, as is the notion that there is only one true church. There are hundreds of thousands of churches, and all of them say they are right. (Some of them will kill you if you tell them they are wrong, or that you don’t agree with how they treat women, or make them dress in a certain way, which is a form of fascism.) To sacrifice one’s life in the hope of a future life after death is life denying – which is a crazy kind of motivation when you think about it. Finally the Catholic Church is obsessed with ones reproductive systems, and how one uses ones genitals, and with whom. It is a sexist homophobic institution that treats women as second class citizens. I left it not because I was unhappy. I left it because it was immoral to stay. I had made many friends in there. I lost them all after I left – an experience many ex members of cults write about. When I see the kinds of incredible violence wreaked on people, the kinds of absurd beliefs imposed on them on pain of death, damnation and ostracism, and the ignorance, bigotry and judgemental-ism that is spread and maintained in the name of God and love and truth and organized religion, I feel not happy, but certainly relieved, I do not and never will again be a believer. It frees the mind and the spirit to truly explore and create.

1305677692-religion-atheist-wallpaper-wallpaper

THE END OF A FRIENDSHIP: CAMUS AND SARTRE – By Oran Ryan

 

Tonight at Saor Ollscoil I listened and participated in a wonderful seminar about the life and the work and the eventual schism between the two philosopher writers Sartre and Camus. Alas my participation was very small indeed so enthralling and brilliant was the main lecturer Sean Oliver, a veritable walking encyclopaedia on the two  writers and thinkers. I have always felt a close association with Camus, much more so than with Sartre. I wrote this small playlet as a kind of summary in dramatic form of the schism between the two. after they broke up they never spoke to each other again. A wonderful evening and a wonderful seminar.

   THE END OF A FRIENDSHIP: CAMUS AND SARTRE
BY ORAN RYAN

Camus is sitting at a cafe table. Sartre approaches.
CAMUS
(ASIDE) Here he is. The great amphibian faced philosopher.
Sartre sits down an nods to Camus.
SARTRE
Camus.
CAMUS
I am glad you came.
SARTRE
I think it for the best I do.
CAMUS
You have had your friends do your dirty work for you. You make Jeanson write the review of the Rebel saying it proposes a fake solution to the issue of revolt. It does not. 
SARTRE
You are pursuing and illusion, Camus. There was no conspiracy.
CAMUS
That was a hatchet job, a blistering vicious review.
SARTRE
If it were I, it would have been less polite.
CAMUS
Polite! I thought we were friends.
SARTRE
We are friends, Camus. You were always sentimental.  Your ‘friends’ protect you from the absurd, from the horrors of the world. You are being mollycoddled.
CAMUS
From what I understand you were the one playing duets with momma and being mollycoddled for near ten years.
SARTRE
Sartre stares enraged at Camus.
CAMUS
I know you decided on Jeanson to do the review of The Rebel. It was a betrayal.
SARTRE
You propose that history is a cesspool. That history will inevitably sweep man into one atrocity after another. That is a refusal of the truth of reality. The only way the essence of man can be realized is through history. You ask yourself the question ‘Does history have a meaning? Is it true? This is more of your illusions. You are like a little girl coming tot he seaside with her daddy asking the question ‘oh, is it cold?  Will I dip my toe in or not?’ This is the great refusal. The refusal of life and morality for the sake of some illusory purity.
CAMUS
History is not some nightmare I am trying to escape.
SARTRE
Now you paraphrase James Joyce, how pathetic is that?
CAMUS
Must you dominate every discussion? Does no one ever have an opportunity to state their position without you resorting to pointless derision? I am a little girl, now I am pathetic? These are cheap party tricks, something that is beneath you. My position in the Rebel is no failure of courage on my part, rather it is a recognition of the truth of history. What you are doing, you and your coterie of followers, is supporting one of the great forces of oppression in history.
SARTRE
And your solution to rebellion? Your solution to rebellion is to not rebel, to say no privately…
CAMUS

Stalinism is sweeping across Europe and  you are supporting it. Your refusal to denounce murder squads, totalitarianism and labour camps is a tacit endorsement of the horror of it.
SARTRE
You want to focus the energies of rebellion into a petty bourgeois art of meaning.
CAMUS
You supposedly fight for freedom and support oppression, and yet your revolt will only make more horror, more rivers of blood and a cesspool of horror. This is precisely what we fought against during the last war. We have only just left Hitler’s monstrosities behind us. Do you think, Sartre, do you really think this is any different?  
SARTRE
I know about the labour camps and you know that I do. Do not terrify the working classes with talk of them. What you are doing Camus is much worse than anything Stalin is doing. You are collaborating with the very bourgeoise who collaborated with the Nazis and who have oppressed the workers in one form or another since the very dawn of time.
CAMUS
That’s not what I am saying.
SARTRE
History, apart from the one who is making it, is a figment of the mind an abstraction…
CAMUS
And resistance to violence in groups only serves to perpetuate bloodbaths…
SARTRE
You say that government has no conscience.
CAMUS
Absolutely. It has a policy. No matter what government you are talking about, it has no conscience whatever.
SARTRE
The communists do.
CAMUS
Sartre you are delusional!
SARTRE
Do not condescend to me! The party are keenly aware and sensitized to the costs of their policies.
CAMUS
Now who is being naive? EH?
SARTRE
It is you, Camus, Not I.
CAMUS

You will be remembered as a friend of one of the worst monsters of history! And you are no friend of mine!
SARTRE
And you will be remembered as and apologist of narrow bourgeois angst, someone who refused to rebel, who refused to act when the world was being consumed with fire.
They are fighting the forces of imperialist hegemony. They are trying to overthrow the domination of capitalism. They are trying to increase our freedoms. This can be a difficult business. Sometimes the price for this is paid in blood. But one thing is certain. What you are advocating is the very opposite of freedom. You are advocating the kind of despicable inaction that will destroy our freedom. You have betrayed your self.
CAMUS
The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily. Governments and groups of people killing each other indiscriminately can never and will never do that. Your ideological blindness will do all the terrible damage you blame on me. The communists are not the only game in town. I also agree with a lot of what they are saying. I loathe the way they are putting their theories into action. Police States, torture, death everywhere. They are as bad as the fascists. The bourgeoise sided with the fascists during the war. Now the left intellectuals are siding with something as bad. If you are tired of fighting, then rest, but…
SARTRE
Rebellion is the only ethical response to the nightmare of history.
CAMUS
But not your rebellion. That can only lead to something much worse.
SARTRE
Coward!
CAMUS
Delusional egomaniac!
SARTRE
Bourgeois apologist!
CAMUS
Damn you!
Sartre storms off.
CAMUS (CONT’D)
Fish face!

Travelling Light in Poland : 17- 27th October 2013

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A fascinating piece of installation art we came across in a corner in Wroclaw. The statuary actually dissolves into the ground and emerges across the street. Arresting. Beautiful.

                    poland2   It took twelve hours to get to Karpacz, three hours by plane to Wroclaw and nine by bus, mainly due to connections not arriving and many waits. I travelled light. One bag, and, despite my loathing of anything to do with Ryanair, the flight was flawless, and we arrived fifteen minutes early. Of course there was one less than minor irritation. Ryanair took ten euros as a penalty charge for two fellow travellers who did not check in. Why? No idea. Me? I travel light – one small bag, books, unsuitable shoes that by now because, of all the hours and hours of trekking and climbing are in shreds, and my notebooks and pens (can’t do without them). Also, I am wearing a borrowed coat because, yes, I lost my coat. Travelling is tiring. Some of the bus stations we stopped in were simply horrible – grim soulless post communist functional affairs devoid of warmth or light with equally grey grim looking people, young and old who didn’t talk to each other and filed silently onto the bus that is when it finally arrived, swinging into the station, mounting the footpath and then hopping back down on the tarmac as the doors swung open. Other stations were brighter and more modern and better organized. Overall the trip was, despite its extraordinary length, pleasant. People sat quietly, talked quietly into mobile phones, and left the transport in a neat orderly fashion. There is an ethos of orderliness, thrift, respect for authority and tradition, an anxiety about the future and search for security, a reluctance to take unnecessary risks, a wearing of sensible shoes and warm jackets, an impetus to settle down and make ends meet. I find Poles in Poland an intelligent, realistic, thoughtful, pessimistic, unhappy, deeply independent, terribly anxious people. Compared to how warm and  friendly and open I find Poles in Ireland, with a few notable exceptions (friends and acquaintances I met and socialized with whom I found utterly delightful), Poles in Poland are unfriendly and hostile, offputtingly depressingly so.  In a restaurant or huge shopping mall in Wroclaw there is a marked tendency to not look one another in the eye, or greet each other, or perhaps one could define the tendency is to walk past each other as if the other person is simply not there. if you buy something, change is not handed to to you directly, rather it is put on a tray between you and the service person, who does not look directly at you. I greeted someone in a lift who smiled at me, and honestly thought I was going to be attacked by her partner. As someone who has gotten into trouble for being somewhat over friendly, seeing this first hand is rather a surreal experience for me. Their anxieties over a great country’s troubled history and the enormous pride in Poland show in their faces and their endless concerns over protecting their futures and their own patch of turf seems a little too paramount and shows up in little ways – for instance television stations advertise more vitamin supplements and various forms of pain killers and drugs that would keep any virus in mortal fear of its existence. I am reminded how the Mayor of Paris told Parisians to be nicer to visitors some years back. Poles should take the lead from Paris’ experience. They too are a great hearted people. I was waiting outside a shop in Karpacz in Poland on the afternoon of Day four, and, as I was getting tired and a bit disoriented (I had a cough and temperature), I didn’t see the long black haired, wide-shouldered short stocky man walk towards me. He bounced off my shoulder and, as he nearly fell, I caught him and gave him a hug and apologised loudly in English for being such a twit. He grinned sheepishly at me, and, as he was rather drunk, began talking to me in polish. I don’t in the least look Polish, and it was pretty clear neither of us came from this country. I shrugged my shoulders and said something akin to ‘non polska’ which only served to widen his sheepish grin. He sat down beside me, and, in broken English told me he came from Peru, that his wife was Polish, that he was too drunk to drive, and that he was going to be in so much trouble when he got home. Then, shaking my hand and hugging me once more, he invited me for a beer sometime and when I said I did not partake of alcohol, he seemed quite disappointed. He wobbled off, and I wondered how someone like that got to live here, deep in southern Poland, high in the forested mountains, in the midst of the Polish National forest, surrounded by tall pointed dwellings with specially fitted snow protectors on the roofs, dwellings with double windows and piles and piles of carefully cut logs outside and inside. Here in winter the snow reaches three metres high and everyone skis and ice skates and toboggans. The area around Karpacz is gorgeous, mesmerizingly so, with vast sweeping silent forests that are hauntingly beautiful, with streams and old bridges and clefts and gulleys and huge knotted roots that reach up and dive down and reach up again and choke the ground so much you fear the roots are coming to get you like something out of Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – this is  more the stuff of fairy tales than anything one can fix in twenty-first century life.  On day three I went mushroom picking and came home with a basket of weird reddish brown mushroom monstrosities that I was assured were very tasty indeed. They looked beautiful but I had never eaten such things before. So the monster mushrooms were cooked twice, sliced, and cooked with dill and cream – and made an amazingly delicious sauce that kept for days.

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zabela Cwiszewska – who dislikes being photographed on forest trails. That’s my big head shadowed in the left foreground.

This place, Karpacz, is about the forest, for the forest surrounds, contains and completes this world. And this is a world older than imagination, and once one hears the forest’s  voice, once one sees the expanse of hills, once one understands the eternal silence of the forests, one knows there is no music like it. Compared to it the sound of the city is a torture and a dissonance that can only be endured for a while and one simply has to get back here or somewhere like it. We travelled up into the mountains, up a trail deep into the forest into the Czech Republic, to stay in a wooden hostel by a lake way above the forest line. poland4

Izabela taking a photograph of Mirela – whom we met by accident and who very kindly directed us to the lodge we stayed in when we got a tad misdirected. The lodge structure is to Mirela’s elbow. Note the lake and the hills in the background. Those sheer structures cause avalanches that killed quite a few people over the years. As a result the trail we took back to Karpacz is closed during winter.

As we travelled all day the trees got smaller and smaller, until all one was left with was a denuded proto artic landscape with ultra bright sun and piles of rocks and gorse like bushes and tiny trees stretching out onto undulating hills with patches of grey and green and a wide expanse of  mountains below with hundreds and hundreds of acres of forests with bald patches where the trees had died or were dying or had been cut away for fuel. In between the forest were houses and Karpacz and roads and places where roads were being built and rebuilt, and of course so many hotels and ski resorts. poland5

High Tundra Trail. Everything in the background is forest below you -as far back as you can see –for miles and miles and…

Before I came here I dug out some books about Poland from Dublin Public Library before departing on my trip, particularly Adam Zamoyski’s ‘Poland – A History’ which is a marvellous read. I am reading about the rather shocking era of the 1790’s where Poland as a national entity doesn’t actually exist, a horrifying experience for such a proud and brilliantly accomplished independent people, a dismembered commonwealth that was not in any way helped by the ruthless Bonaparte, who used the Polish Legions to further his own ends without in any way helping restore the commonwealth. (Those Polish soldiers actually saved his life at one stage.) More bits and pieces of history protrude in the region. I saw a hill with a rather shady looking building that was pointed out to me known as Goering’s Hill – a place completely fenced off and, yes, you guessed it – supposedly a dwelling house for the delightful Nazi himself. Hermann Goering. There is no mention of this place anywhere on the internet, yet there it was. I was left wondering what this strange half hidden building on that forested hill was really used for. Then I went for a meal in large rather conventionally built (so I was told) restaurant filled with animal pelts, a rather disturbing huge stuffed deer in the middle of the room  in the pose of calling out, toboggans carefully placed of maximum visibility, a roaring fire, and great glass jars of preserved fruits and vegetables equally placed for maximum visibility. Very touristy I was told. Its the economy, stupid, I told myself. Karpacz is filled with hotels great and small, some in the process of being rebuilt, and despite this the place is still real enough and inexpensive enough to give you a memorable visit. Yes, I know I am sounding like an advertisement here. I really don’t care. Check it out.

On at least trying not to be a very very talented asshole

There are few sections of any society or culture more susceptible to the siren call of monstrous egotism and delusional self belief than that of the artist. Primarily (but not exclusively) a lone calling, the artist interprets and remakes the world in music, dance, writing, sculpting, film, or other materials present. At the highest levels of achievement, the artist breaks the bonds of ego and culture and history and sheds new light on the human condition, providing a direction and an understanding of who we are in the world that has never been hitherto available. The fact that a few have done this sometimes leads to delusions of grandeur, and the reputation of having an artistic temperament, of being self-centred, moody, narcissistic, extremely rude, aggressive, secretive, gossiping, bitterly jealous, demanding to a level of infantile neediness, mercurial and subject to irrational changes of mind, all seems to add to an artist’s mystique of being caught up in a process of near mystical congress with the inner workings of the universe that mortals of lesser genius could never truly grasp. With great gifts, after all, cometh great burdens. In reality what is needed in instances like the foregoing is an intervention.

 

More than anything the key indicator for the artist who has drunk the Kool-Aid is whether or not s/he has any real friendships. If ones ego has grown to such astral proportions and ones belief in ones glittering artistic destiny so absolute, it takes up any and all personal space within and around the artist’s psyche. No one gets in and no one is allowed in to see the real self. All supposed friends are replaced by forgeries that the artist has created to serve the needs of his art. By ‘needs of his art, s/he means the needs of the ego. Family, sex, marriage, business relationships, even a passing drink in a bar on the way home from an exhibition or a reading all serve the Kool-Aid drinking genius. It is truly a horribly lonely empty lifestyle.

Allied to the aforementioned burdens of genius is the romantic myth of the self destructive artist. According to this theory, to be a really creative person, one has to, somehow, have a rather partial grasp of the basics of self maintenance. One must eat badly, drink excessively, copulate with anything that exhibits a pulse, and finally become addicted to various substances not readily available in a licensed pharmacist (I am not in any way anti-drug). But such freedom from inhibition,such refusal to live life except in excess is, within the myth of the self destructive artist, for the sake of, or perhaps because of one’s muse. This approach is rather dubious in itself as it depicts the creative life as rather like being slowly consumed by a very sadistic cannibal. As one works away creatively, one is being slowly ruined ones body and mind and loved ones, all eaten away as a consequence of the very thing one is creating. Being creative is destructive, which is a very odd thing. One certainly has material to work with because of the sturm und drang of an excessive lifestyle. The problem with this is its a death sentence. Life will kill you, so why waste the time one has? Ones body crashes or one goes insane, or both, and, according to, or in accordance with the aforementioned romantic blueprint, one winds up dying in one glorious act of self annihilation leaving behind a legacy of a short but supernova-esque career of brilliant output.

Well, not exactly. Brilliant writers (for instance) write like that not because they took a lot of drugs (including alcohol) but because they are really good. The addict does not make the artist, nor vice versa. In the end its putting sugar in the fuel tank, to use a metaphor. Addiction or self destructive excess will not improve ones work a jot, invariably its the opposite. This palpable nonsense has its origins in movies and novels and biographies of artists who happened to be self destructive because of issues they had, and made for interesting and poignant subject matters for drama. The myth of the self destructive artist itself goes back to a time when artists, like most folks centuries ago, were not properly inoculated and venereal diseases and TB and other diseases were rampant. The side effects of these illnesses led artists to acts of excess in all areas of their lives, to really live life to the full before it was all over so quickly, not to mention a race against time before they succumbed to an inevitable youthful, less than beautiful, death that was deeply unromantic in its awfulness when experienced in the first person. Their lives were tragic and their lifestyles a symptom of a malaise not a sign of giftedness that was there anyway in abundance.

There are of course gradations of delusion that flow from the
desire for fame and artistic greatness. The ‘lone’ Kool-Aid drinking genius nowadays is usually rarely alone, accepting college and teaching positions, positions on government art discussion groups and various influential boards as well as grant aid packages, all of which can give them seniority to other artists, and of course time to work in a comfortable existence. If they write (as I do), they are also editing various journals and attending the right meetings and readings, giving keynote speeches, attending conferences and get-togethers, making appointments for casual cups of coffee with people they have targeted who will help them to get on, always worrying and working desperately hard to get on, without of course giving the appearance of effort, and to forge long lasting close personal friendships with the right long-established artists who will, by association, give the necessary affirmations and recommendations in their chosen field of excellence, and ensure they rise to the top of the line. These people are players with a capital ‘P’. Power has replaced love as the meaning of things, and it has changed them.

The fact that few, if any, artists of world historical significance mentioned obliquely in the last paragraph ever achieve the kind of well deserved fame and notoriety in the relatively short lifetime of a human being does not seem to strike these aspiring Kool-Aid drinking people as in any way significant. The fact that most of these aspiring greats will very probably be forgotten soon after their demise is not at issue, nor would it cross their minds. For them life is good. Their egotism is their Kool-Aid. Instead of concentrating on their work, on getting better at their art, thus having a real shot at greatness, they have suffered a kind of mission drift – moving away from artistic output to a kind of intense lifelong act of self aggrandising propaganda. What they want is to be seen to be great, not to be the real deal. They have done what’s necessary to appear great. They have officially excelled. They have ticked the right boxes. They have produced a few good pieces of work. They have moved to where it’s happening- a big city or university campus. They go to the right parties. They have changed their identities so that the real person, the vulnerable self, the part where the talent comes from, is hidden under a hard self assured outer persona. They believe money means success. They believe attention is success. They believe fame means giftedness. They believe being interviewed means they have something to say. They think if they are not succeeding and getting attention they are in agony, and they believe their agony is that of the misunderstood genius. But they know the truth about themselves, and in more distracted moments it comes to the fore, the self doubt, the sense of betrayal, the anger and the overriding ambition and jealousies that can never fill the sense of not having achieved, really achieved. They know to some extent this is something that has been foisted upon them, but also it is something that the artist themselves have chosen, a type of Faustian bargain made with oneself to identify the apparent trappings of success with success itself.

On one level or another something dies, and after a certain point a talent squandered is a talent that is gone.

Much nonsense has been written about art and the status of the artist in society, when it, like human nature or the thing in itself, it is an unknown. The artist is primarily a person in the world, neither a saviour nor a cut above the rest. S/he is not a commodity to be bought or sold, nor should artist be left in the kind of penury which has defined the lives of so many artists that make them sell out. We need the real thing, something born from the raw individuality of earned experience without the input of grant-aid or boardroom discussion. Because society cannot survive without the mirror of self-reflection that is art, hopefully somewhere along the line we will toss the Kool-Aid. We will let artists be artists and give them what they need most: real self determination. This is something not easily given. The right conditions need to exist for it to happen. Most of all the artist has to choose it as their right.

No really,do go on telling me how worthless being a writer is… I love Big Brother, honestly…

 

I am not by nature a political animal. I have no party political instincts, dislike the whole fakery of politics in any form, and regard most politicians with a visceral distrust I find a little disturbing even to myself. Yet I know writing is a profoundly political activity. It concerns itself with human behaviour, its foibles, its history and its destiny. Our dark side has been exposed more times by writers than any other art form. That being said, most writing is just not good. Sturgeon’s law especially holds true of literature.  So much of it is awful, derivative, conservative (in the sense of uncritically adhering to a body of historical values as opposed to conserving what is good from history), poorly constructed and lacking in depth of characterization. The notion of the cream rising to the top: rich, thick and guaranteed to make you sick, also comes to mind (a la Sam Beckett).

My view is that a real critical rigour is needed to address this problem, and its a serious problem – a rigour devoid of politics or vendettas or the kind of career building intellectually fashionable academic pettiness that makes one kind of writing in style and another passé. So much so called criticism is really one political or philosophical mind-set trying to take out someone on the opposing side of the political landscape, something funded or equally partisan. Without this criticism, this vigorous objective humanistic intellectualism around writing, we are looking at a deluge of blandness in future writing in which nothing of value will be said and even less worthwhile will be written. Ireland has produced some great writers. Most of them didn’t stay in Ireland. We need to foster a creative environment here, where so many come to imbibe the riches of our literature, where talent, from whatever section of this multicultural country it emerges, can evolve freely. Criticism is but one facet of this. You cannot put a value on writing but you can evaluate it. You can look at the structure, the story, the philosophy, the historical development of the form, the characterization and the development of the characters and the entire resolution of the story. But there is a problem with this approach. You cant do any of the above if you don’t understand the nature of writing. So the question is this: what is it that I am doing now, as I write this? What view do I have  of the nature of writing itself?

The purpose of writing is to communicate what it means to live in the world. To live in the world is to describe human behaviour in the world, which brings one back to the political nature of writing itself, its capacity to analyse, explain, explore, elucidate, speculate and postulate possible futures for humanity. In other words writing is revolutionary in its essence. That being said writing is in danger of being either commercialized – viewed as merely a product with a value, something that holds a value based on how wealthy the author is, or ghettoized – viewed as the esoteric workings of a special interest group with a rather odd hobby. Its a cliché how many writers of genius who died penniless, and its equally a cliché how many people with means, who seek to vent their creative side on a poetry collection or a novel.

I don’t mean in the least to disrespect those who turn to writing as a kind of hobby. Its cool, but this isn’t in the least where the forefront of writing should be at. Its really not a hobby. Writing or art in general should be at the centre of the cultural  and political discourse of a country. Its clearly not, and the reason why it is not is for many reasons. Firstly if you have a bunch of mercurial artists with a powerful media platform unleashing their critical and creative faculties, they pose a real and viable alternative to current political discourse. Better to have them tamed, give them money now and then, and ensure they are published in the smaller presses where they wont be read by too many people. There are of course a coterie of tame writers and distinguished artists who pose no real threat, may be wheeled onto various shows, write learned tomes and novels and articles, and will never step outside the party line. Secondly there is also a substantial deep rooted view that artists are pariahs on society (the ‘get yourself a real job’ argument). Writing is the most difficult of jobs, involving thousands of hours of labour to produce a finished piece. An academic can finish a PhD thesis with some chance of getting a teaching job somewhere. A writer can labour for years on a novel, or a poetry collection, or a play, get it published or produced, and well reviewed, but make nothing on it. As writers generally do not produce wealth (a small percentage do), have a tendency to self destruct (mostly due to being largely unsupported by society), and live rather dysfunctional lives (many have a panoply of addictions or psychological problems), they are viewed with disdain by the establishment. Many writers restrict their productivity by taking on full time work (some just have no option) than feel themselves to be a burden on their families and friends, an understandable move, but very bad for their creative output, and at times a serious loss to writing.

So this is a call to change things, and to put writing, all types of writing, back where it should be – front and centre of our culture. There is little appreciation seemingly of writing outside of it being a branch of the entertainment industry (‘Really, you write? That’s nice.  And can you make a living on that?’), and this is a critical flaw in how we live and who we are at this time in our history. We are being drowned in propaganda and writers have the skill set to exercise a critical voice on our various cultural and historical trends.

I end with a personal story to underline how writers are viewed. I recently signed on the dole, or as they like to term it now, Jobseekers Allowance in the Orwellian sounding Dept. of Social Protection, where one speaks to very nice very courteous people behind steel and plexiglass screens surrounded by security cameras and security guards. There are no toilets and everywhere is locked down tighter than a drum. You take a ticket and you wait and everyone nearby can hear what you are saying, no matter how good your stage whisper happens to be (mine is not good as I am used to projecting my voice to largish groups). Its a horrible experience, and its meant to be a horrible experience. After all, if it were a nice experience, it is argued, it might be considered an incentive to stay on the dole, which is a ridiculous argument for something that is a right rather than a privilege.

My own tiny droplet of horror in this river of human degradation ended with an interview with  grey man in a grey office who picked through my file asking me question after stupid question, told me I had spent too much money on an apartment, of lying to him, of wasting my life on a pointless pursuit (writing), and some rather unsavoury but explicit sexual innuendo about my private life. The gist of the conversation was that the only worthwhile art is that which makes money. The rest is a waste of time. This is the type of Psy Ops employed by these inspectors to influence behaviour, to undermine peoples self confidence during a difficult time (unemployment), and to get them to take any job so as to get them off the live register of unemployed. So many people experience this type of bureaucratic fascistic manipulation. I could write letters about my experience. I wont. But my point, I think, is well made anyhow by the grey man in the grey office.