Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Troubling Legacy of 1916

I have interrupted my Irish language reading to browse Tim Pat Coogan's History of the IRA. People unfamiliar with Ireland might not realise that the IRA (the Irish Republican Army) has a long and complicated history, encompassing various splits and changes of approach. The IRA of the 1950s was a very different organisation to the IRA of the 1920s, and the IRA of the 1970s was radically different to both of them. The IRA was an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland for most of this state's history. 

At the moment, I'm only interested in the IRA of the thirties, forties and fifties-- before the outbreak of the Troubles. My grandfather was involved in the IRA at this time, and indeed he was held in an internment camp by the Irish government. My entire family on my father's side belonged to the tradition of radical Irish republicanism which rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty. I'm partly interested in this subject for that reason. 

I'm aos partly interested in it through having recently read a biography of Brendan Behan, who was a member of the IRA in his youth, and who lampooned them somewhat when he became famous. According to the biography I read, it was Behan's old IRA comrades who remained loyal to him, despite this lampooning, when he was in his last phase of self-destruction and had alienated everyone else.

The IRA of these decades attracted a great many intellectuals, writers, and idealists, so it's a big part of Irish social history.

In contrast to the horror of the Troubles, it can seem that the IRA of the middle of the century are more comic opera than anything else. Anecdotes and reminiscences often portray them as hopelessly quixotic and ineffectual. Many of their leaders were devoutly religious (in more recent decades, Marxism took a hold of the organisation). One story in Coogan's book describes how one of the IRA's training camps, located in the mountains, ran out of food. There were plenty of cattle in the vicinity, but none of these diehards had the stomach to shoot a cow!

However, reading Coogan's book rather explodes this whole atmosphere. Whatever funny stories might be told, the truth is that many people were shot, bombed, executed (sometimes as informers) and died on hunger strikes as a result of IRA activity, even before the Troubles. (Tim Pat Coogan is quite controversial as a historian, but I'm simply going on the primary sources he quotes.) Reading about these killings is sickening-- especially the executions, which were performed by both the IRA and the Irish government.

A few days ago, I was reading the writings of Patrick Pearse, the leader of the 1916 Rising. Although I admire Pearse enormously, I'm very troubled by some of the rhetoric he used, for instance in his oration at the graveside of Wolfe Tone:

Ireland one and Ireland free —is not this the definition of Ireland a Nation? To that definition and to that programme we declare our adhesion anew; pledging ourselves as Tone pledged himself —and in this sacred place, by this graveside, let us not pledge ourselves unless we mean to keep our pledge— we pledge ourselves to follow in the steps of Tone, never to rest, either by day or by night, until his work be accomplished, deeming it the proudest of all privileges to fight for freedom, to fight, not in despondency, but in great joy, hoping for the victory in our day, but fighting on whether victory seem near or far, never lowering our ideal, never bartering one jot or title of our birthright, holding faith to the memory and the inspiration of Tone, and accounting ourselves base as long as we endure the evil thing against which he testified with his blood.


When I read those lines, I can well understand why idealistic men and women (and, indeed, boys and girls) would decide that the programme of 1916 would not be fulfilled until it could be truly said that Ireland was "one and free". Furthermore, how could the use of violence to attain this goal be condemned, since the 1916 rebels had used violence? And how could the lack of a popular mandate be used as an argument against the use of violence by any group, since the rebels in 1916 represented a radical minority at the time of the insurrection? (The population later swung behind them, and this seems to have been the expectation of every subsequent incarnation of the IRA.)

I often wonder what Pearse and his fellows expected to happen in Northern Ireland. Did they expect that the Ulster Unionists, who had solemnly proclaimed their loyalty to Britain and their willingness to fight to preserve this connection, would simply go along with a united Ireland once the British were removed? That seems extraordinarily naive. Did they think they should be coerced into a united Ireland through force? That seems extraordinarily ruthless-- indeed, unthinkable.

Please note, I am not drawing an equivalence between the 1916 Rising, the IRA of the nineteen-fifties, and the IRA of the Troubles. Indeed, I believe that the 1916 Rising was remarkable for the chivalry with which it was conducted-- despite some lamentable incidents. Nor do I believe that 1916 was responsible for the Northern Irish Troubles. I think the Troubles grew out of a context of ethnic strife which had little reference to Irish romantic nationalism, although the rhetoric and imagery of Irish romantic nationalism were drawn upon by one side.

However, I can't help agreeing, even if it puts me in the uncomfortable company of many anti-nationalist and revisionist historians, that the 1916 Rising left a dangerous legacy. So ultimately, although I'm fascinated by the Rising and greatly admire those who took part, I can't say that I think it was justified.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Powerful Video from Roaming Millennial

Why Islam hates the West.

I don't consider myself a "Westerner"-- I'm Catholic and I'm Irish, and that's it-- and I'm not anti-Muslim, but I think she's absolutely right. The excuse-making has to end.

Musings of an INFJ

Do you believe in the Myers-Briggs personality test? I'm not sure I do. I know that professional psychologists are quite dismissive of it. However, I find it very interesting. Even if it's a load of cock-a-doodle, it is now a bona fide part of folklore.

We did the test in my secondary school-- in religion class!-- when I was about sixteen. Being a dyed-in-the-wool snob, I was delighted that I came out as an INFJ, which is the rarest of all the types, between one and three per cent of the population. I took the test again a few years ago, on Facebook, and once again the result was INFJ-- which is the rarest of all the types.

INFJ stands for "Introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging". Other INFJs include (apparently): Alanis Morisette, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, Plato, Dante, Hitler, Trotsky, Billy Crystal, Nicole Kidman....I don't know when exactly Adolf Hitler took the test, but this is what the internet tells me.


Without wanting to be blasphemous, I might note that some websites list Our Lord as an INFJ!

When I first read the INFJ personality description, I thought much of it fitted pretty well. Of course, I'm aware of the "Barnum effect", but what did Barnum know? I doubt he was an INFJ.


People join INFJ forums and communities-- I even briefly joined a Christian INFJ Facebook page myself. Anything that brings people together and adds to the gaiety of nations, right?

So here is my parsing of Wikipedia's description of an INFJ, and how it applies to me:

INFJs are conscientious and value-driven. I think this is true, although my conscientiousness is highly selective.


They seek meaning in relationships, ideas, and events, with an eye toward better understanding themselves and others. Half-true. I seek meaning for the sake of meaning. I also seek to understand myself and others, but the quest for meaning is independent of that.

Using their intuitive skills, they develop a clear and confident vision, which they then set out to execute, aiming to better the lives of others. I actually think the first part of this is very true. I do have a clear  and confident vision, and it's based mostly on intuition. And I do try to propagate it, if not execute it.

However, am I trying to "better the lives of others?". I think the Ireland and the world I envisage would be a more interesting and rewarding place. Indirectly, I suppose it would better the lives of others. However, in many ways it might materially worsen them. 

Like their INTJ counterparts, INFJs regard problems as opportunities to design and implement creative solutions. How wrong can you get? I am the worse person in the world at problem solving and my immediate response to a problem is "Oh no! All is lost!". (I hope no prospective employer ever reads this...)

INFJs are believed to adapt easily in social situations due to their complex understanding of an individual's motivations; however, they are true introverts.
I don't know if I adapt easily in social situations. I think I do have a pretty complex understanding of peoples' motivations...but only over time. I'm nearly always wrong about people at first. Yes, I'm a true introvert.


 INFJs are private individuals who prefer to exercise their influence behind the scenes. No. I enjoy the limelight. I like exercising influence behind the scenes as well, though.

Though they are very independent, INFJs are intensely interested in the well-being of others. Ouch. Other than intellectual independence, I lack pretty much every other kind of independence. And I'm not "intensely interested in the well-being of others". I wish I was. I tend to live in a world of ideas and atmospheres. I do care about the well-being of others, but in a very selective and erratic way.

INFJs prefer one-on-one relationships to large groups. Oh boy, do I ever.

Sensitive and complex, they are adept at understanding complicated issues and driven to resolve differences in a cooperative and creative manner. I'm sensitive and complex, but I'm not adept at understanding complex issues. I try to resolve personal differences in a cooperative and creative manner, and think I'm often quite good at it. When it comes to a public cause, though-- fight to the death, no compromise!

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large
. I'm deeply concerned about my relations with individuals, but it's shameful how little time I spent thinking of the state of humanity at large-- God forgive me!


They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people -- a product of the Feeling function they most readily show to the world. Maybe. Sometimes, when I tell people I'm very shy, they don't believe me because they've only ever seen me amongst people I know quite well. A girl I knew in college told me she was confused by me because I always spoke in class but I never spoke out of class. And yes, I am genuinely interested in people-- I'm intensely interested in their opinions, values, view of the world, experiences, etc.

INFJs are said to have a rich, vivid inner life that they may be reluctant to share with those around them. My inner life is so "vivid and rich" that I can share it with the world via this blog, and other outlets, and still have tons of it left over, which I do enjoy keeping to myself.


Nevertheless, they are congenial in their interactions and perceptive of the emotions of others. Yep.

Generally well liked by their peers... This is hit and miss. A fair amount of people seem to like me, while I get the distinct impression that quite a lot of people don't like me at all.

...they may often be considered close friends and confidants by most other types; I've developed close friendships in the last decade or so, although before that I didn't even really have distant friendships. People sometimes confide in me, but not notably often.

...however, they are guarded in expressing their own feelings, especially to new people, and tend to establish close relationships slowly. Personally, I don't think this is true, but I'm told it is. People often tell me what a private person I am. I don't think I'm private at all. I think I'm constantly telling people my ideas and emotions. However, I do keep some areas off-limits, so this might be where the perception arises. Yes, I develop close relationships very slowly indeed.

INFJs may "silently withdraw as a way of setting limits" rather than expressing their wounded feelings—a behavior that may leave others confused and upset. Yes, I do, and I don't care if they're "confused and upset"-- they've been such jerks they deserve it.

INFJs tend to be sensitive, quiet leaders with a great depth of personality. I don't think I've ever been a leader of anything. Sensitive? Yes. Quiet? No. Great depth of personality? Who would answer "no" to this one?

They are intricately, deeply woven, quilt-like, mysterious, highly complex, and often puzzling, even to themselves. Amen, sister!

They have an orderly view toward the world but are internally arranged in a complex way that only they can understand. I think this is true. People often think I am being inconsistent when I feel I am being entirely consistent.

Abstract in communicating, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. Oh yeah.

With a natural affinity for art, INFJs tend to be creative and easily inspired, yet they may also do well in the sciences, aided by their intuition. Creative? I hope so. As for "easily inspired", perhaps the reader is smiling ruefully at this, thinking of my tendency to write a three thousand word blog post about something I saw on my morning commute. The sciences bore me to tears.


So there you go. There is my assessment of how my own personality tallies with the personality description of the INFJ, which is the rarest of all the types.

The Pleasures of Library Work

A student just came looking for an Italian-English dictionary and I searched for such dictionaries on our online catalogue. While scanning through the list I came across this title:



Elsevier's oil and gas field dictionary in six languages : English-American, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German / compiled by L.Y. Chaballe, L. Masuy and J.-P. Vandenberghe with an Arabic supplement by Shawky Salem.


And I felt an intense pleasure that such a book exists, and is to be found on the shelves of the library. That the world we live in is such a world that such a book on such a subject exists.

I'm often struck by this pleasure.

Latin Mass Question

A question for my readers. How many of you attend the Latin Mass, how many of you attend the New Mass (for want of a better term), and how many of you attend both? And why? And what is your attitude towards each?

I'm surprised by how many of my readers are Latin Mass people.

If you're shy about commenting, feel free to email me at Maolsheachlann@gmail.com.

Thick and Thin

When I was on Facebook, one of my Facebook friends posted these words: "I'm not a cafeteria Catholic. I'm an all-you-can-eat Catholic." I thought that was brilliant, and expressed so much of the appeal of Catholicism.

Catholicism is so rich-- intellectually, sensually, emotionally, socially, historically, artistically. And not only rich, but intense.

Personally I am on the side of that which makes life richer, thicker, more intense, deeper, fuller. And I'm against whatever makes life thinner, shallower and dimmer.

Of course, Catholicism says "no" in many places where the modern world says "yes". It closes off avenues that the modern world wants to keep open. But the ultimate outcome of these prohibitions is more, not less. Thicker, not thinner. Deeper, not shallower.

If we are going to be Catholics, I think we should practice thick Catholicism, not thin Catholicism. We should have holy pictures in our homes and on our desk at work (although I understand this latter might sometimes be too dicey, depending on your avocation). We should invoke God in our conversation. We should practice devotions. Nobody should ever be in any doubt that our faith is the centre of our lives.

I feel the same way about nationalism. I have nothing but disdain for a perfunctory patriotism-- one particular flavour of multiculturalism or globalism. Let's have full-blown romantic nationalism or nothing.

Herod Laughs

So, the so-called Citizens Assembly has reached its pre-ordained conclusion and called for the liberalisation of Ireland's abortion laws, giving the government an excuse to hold a referendum.

I pray almost every day for Ireland to be protected from abortion. (Of course, our laws against abortion have already been weakened.) I'd urge readers to pray the same.

Abortion, to me, is perhaps the strongest argument against the theory that "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're a good person." I have never heard a good argument for abortion, and I actually refuse to accept that anyone can seriously believe that the killing of the unborn is legitimate.The fact that the majority in most modern societies have convinced themselves that it's OK only show that metaphysics matters.
 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Shelving the Life Skills Books

One of my more menial duties in the library is the shelving of the Life Skills collection of books. The Life Skills collection is actually two separate collections-- the Health and Well-Being collection, and the Study Skills collection. The Study Skills collection is a collection of books about essay-writing, study techniques, CV-writing, and so forth. The Health and Well-Being collection is a collection of books about physical and mental health, travel, cooking, and stuff like that.

Even though it's a menial and routine duty, I've found that this is one of my favourite jobs. Every time I shelve the Life Skills books, I fall into a strange, contemplative mood, one which I feel an urge to describe, but which is difficult to describe.

It's the nature of the books themselves that provoke this reaction. It's something I've tried to describe before on this blog; I wonder if it's of any interest or relevance to anyone besides me. But the itch of a scribbler is precisely to put into words these elusive but powerful impressions.

The Life Skills collection contains both books about depression and bereavement on the one hand, and books about desserts and foreign travel on the other. Somehow the combination of the two creates this contemplative, pleasant atmosphere.

Everything in human life, as I see it, is set against the ever-present shadow of mortality, failure, inadequacy, conflict, disease, and all the other things that afflict mankind. This might sound depressing. I guess it is, in a way. But in another way, it throws a brilliant light of contrast on everything pleasant, trivial, or even humdrum in life. The fact that anyone has time, money or inclination to bake a cake seems like a wonder-- a tiny planet gleaming in the void and darkness of space.

Even the dark stuff sometimes seems strangely affirmative to me. I tried to explain this in a recent post. Shelving books about bereavement, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and so forth, makes me think: "Well, these things exist, these things happen, but they're not the end of the world. There are books about them, with reassuring covers." And the fact that there are books about bereavement comforts me on another level, because nothing seems more brutal to me than the fact that, on a certain day, someone stops breathing and we simply put him or her in the ground, after a few hours of various rituals. It's good that we grieve. It's even good that we have to "work through" various things in life, because it shows we care, and that things matter, and that life is a big deal. The idea of a world of robots where everybody went about their business, or their pleasures, without nary a stumble, confusion, or backward look is my biggest nightmare.

There's a scene in the U.S. Office where Ryan, the selfish and narcissistic character played by B.J. Novak, is trying to blame past misdeeds on his former self-- "Ryan 1.0", as he says. "I think I never processed 9/11", he claims. I found this utterly hilarious, when I first saw it. I have a theory that part of the reason we find something very funny is because we find it pleasing-- usually in some way that is not immediately apparent to us. The idea that such a self-serving character might still be processing 9/11 so many years later was indeed strangely comforting to me. Even the fact that he thought of saying it is pleasing.

So I enjoy shelving the Life Skill books for this reason. But there's more to it than that. Somehow, it always puts me in the mood I describe in this post, which I wrote years ago-- a love, not only of the ordinary, but even of the banal.

I feel this atmosphere in very specific situations. Hotel and airport bathrooms, especially when they are filled with soft music. Discount home supplies stores. While watching (or thinking about) advertisements for music compilations, such as those that Telstar Records used to advertise on TV in the eighties. While reading about TV shows of previous decades, and thinking of all the living rooms they were beamed into, and all the families that occupied those living rooms. The sight of a city street as evening descends. The sit-com show Cheers

Often, because I'm a social and cultural conservative, I feel contemporary society is excessively banal and trivial, and doesn't do justice to the depths and grandeur of the human condition. But at other times-- or not even at other times, but often at the same time-- the human condition seems all too deep, all too grand, and there is something blessedly comforting about all that is banal, trivial and ephemeral. (As long as it is not crass-- but then again, crassness is in the eye of the beholder.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

"We Survived All That"-- the Banalization of Sex in Ireland, in One Video

This video makes me both sad and angry. It's a collection of clips from The Late Late Show, a long-running Irish chat show of which I have nostalgic memories, but which was at the forefront of liberalization in this country. These clips are all on the topic of sex, one way or the other.

Notice the sniggering, sneering attitude of the liberalizers. The conservatives try to talk seriously on the topic, but are relentlessly mocked.

Notice how, at one point, a pro-abortion woman argues that the beating of a child's heart on its own is meaningless and that the "minimum" that a child needs is (amongst other things) two parents. How liberalism marches on! You couldn't say that now.

"We survived all that" says the host, Gay Byrne, at the of the clip reel. But did we? There was still an Ireland of some kind, when all our traditional taboos had been laughed away. But what kind? And what was lost?

Of course, when sex is banalized, other things are banalized too-- marriage, romance, family, entertainment, and so many other things. It's not just a question of "what two people do in private". Whatever is whisper in privated will indeed be shouted from the rooftops, sooner or later.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

More Stupid Humour

I wrote this on Facebook. Again, I'm glad I saved it. The first verse is a standard Dublin kids' chant. I don't know how prevalent it is elsewhere.

Feel free to have a go yourself.

 
You Should Never Throw These People Off the Bus

You should never throw your granny off the bus
You should never throw your granny off the bus.
You should never throw your granny
'Cos she's your mammy's mammy
You should never throw your granny off the bus.

You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader
'Cos he'll just get you later
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus.



You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett
'Cos people just won't have it
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus.


You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama
'Cos there'll be too much drama
You should never throw Obama off the bus.


You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton
Cos he might just have eaten
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus

.
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney
Cos things would just get zany
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus.


You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell
Cos he'll just come back with Husserl
You should never throw Bert Russell of the bus.


You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond
Cos he's likely to get violent
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus.

Another Jokey Poem

I wrote this several years ago. The ballade form is one that Chesterton and Belloc often used, jokingly. I wrote it on the day before New Year's Eve. I think I've posted it before but so what.

A Ballade of TV

I’ve grown quite tired of Kant’s philosophy
I do not feel a deep urge to recite
Icelandic sagas to my coterie.
I feel no very ardent need to write
A gloss upon the Areopagite.
And, although Maud invited me to see
A Noh play at her cousin’s place tonight
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

There’s a free lecture on Gallipoli
In the Polytech. East Timor’s sorry plight
Is the subject of a talk—admission free—
In the parish hall. An ancient Mayan rite
Is reconstructed for our town’s delight
In the Rovers clubhouse (there’ll be cakes and tea).
But all these cherries I refuse to bite;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Although I’m wild about astronomy
And Gemini is going to be more bright
Than any time since 44 AD
This evening, I’m indifferent to the sight.
And though I’m well aware it’s not polite
To snub my Auntie Mildred’s desperate plea,
“Come watch your uncle being made a Knight”
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Envoi

Prince, you have lost all prospect of respite;
The mob howl for your blood relentlessly.
Now is the hour for all true men to fight;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Fiddle Dee Diddle Dee Dee

I wrote this about two years ago, on Facebook. I decided to save it. I'm glad I did. I think it's mildly amusing.
 
Fiddle Dee Diddle Dee Dee

Oh, I remember when sliced bread hit the shops
I said, "This will be something nothing ever tops".
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle-dee diddle-dee dee.

Oh I remember the bubonic plague
I was already in my middle age.
Old, old, I feel so old,
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the building of Stonehenge
I said, "My, my, how architecture has changed."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the pyramids being built
I said, "They're like the old ziggurats with a tilt".
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the dinosaurs dying off
I said, "I predicted this, and how they did scoff"
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the start of sexual reproduction.
I said, "I'm telling you, this will cause some ructions."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee. 


Oh, I remember that ole Big Bang
I said, "This is exactly how the last one began."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina, intercede for us, and guide us towards the Divine Mercy of our Lord!


Sometimes it's said that people today have no sense of sin. I'm not so sure about that. I wonder if perhaps our sense of sinfulness is simply suppressed, or displaced, or projected onto other things. Perhaps what really keeps people away from the sacraments is not the feeling that they don't need them, but an incredulity that grace can be freely given. Certainly I find it hard to get my own head around this.

I have a Divine Mercy picture on my desk at work. I contemplate it far too seldom.

Happy St. George's Day

Happy St. George's Day to all my English readers!

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land.


Nigel Farage, beer, and fish and chips: quintessential Englishness!
  
Although my own favourite evocation of Englishness might be this passage from Chesterton, which I have so often quoted:

But Dickens in his cheapest cockney utilitarianism was not only English, but unconsciously historic. Upon him descended the real tradition of "Merry England," and not upon the pallid mediævalists who thought they were reviving it. The Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothicists, the admirers of the Middle Ages, had in their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day. Dickens had in his buffoonery and bravery the spirit of the Middle Ages. He was much more mediæval in his attacks on mediævalism than they were in their defences of it. It was he who had the things of Chaucer, the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England. 

Sid James as Dick Turpin: quintessential Englishness!

 
Peter Hitchens looking indignant; quintessential Englishness!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Uphill and Against the Tide

I foresee the growth of a new race of readers and critics to whom, from the very outset, good literature will be an accomplishment rather than a delight, and who will always feel, beneath the acquired taste, the backward tug of something else which they feel merit in resisting.

Such people will not be content to say that some books are bad or not very good; they will make a special class of “lowbrow” art which is to be vilified, mocked, quarantined, and sometimes (when they are sick or tired) enjoyed. They will be sure that what is popular must always be bad, thus assuming that human taste is naturally wrong, that it needs not only improvement and development but veritable conversion.

For them a good critic will be, as the theologians say, essentially a “twice-born” critic, one who is regenerate and washed from his Original Taste. They will have no conception, because they have had no experience, of spontaneous delight in excellence.


C.S. Lewis, "High and Low Brows"

That is a quotation from one of my favourite C.S. Lewis essays, and I could happily write a blog post on the subject he's discussing here. It is, however, tangential to the subject of the blog post I'm writing now. Right now, I'm not discussing literary taste per se, but the whole idea of being "twice-born"; of pushing against "the backward tug of something else which we feel merit in resisting"; of going uphill and swimming against the tide.

This is a big subject with me, and I've previously written a series of blog posts on the related phenomenon of contrarianism. You can read them here, here and here. I also wrote a series on the idea of "keeping things interesting", which to me is one of the motives for contrarianism; if you're so inclined, you can read them here, here, and here.

The more you think about contrarianism (to repeat a point I've made previously), the more central it seems to human life. You could argue that all human life is a kind of contrarianism-- indeed, you could argue that all life, human or otherwise, is a kind of contrarianism. The ordinary thing is to be dead, to be inanimate. Every living thing is constantly pushing against inertia, pushing against entropy.

Effort and struggle seems to be an inevitable feature of human life, and much of that effort and struggle is against ourselves in some way. Plato famously pictured the soul as a chariot pulled by two horses, which represent our conflicting passions; the charioteer must direct them in the right direction. Most people have heard St. Paul's dictum from Romans: "The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do." Freud pictured our minds as a kind of tug-of-war between the ego, the id and the superego. It seems inarguable that there are drives in the human psyche which are in conflict with each other.

Tennyson very lyrically expressed the constant striving that characterises human life, as lamented by the lotus-eaters who tempt Odysseus to remain with them:

Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.


The power of this poem lies in the fact that every one of us (sometimes, at least) ache for the peace of the lotus-eaters, but none of us would really choose to remain on their island.


Indeed, I think it's true to say that both extremes capture our imagination; images of the utmost endeavour, and images of the utmost repose. For instance, the famous "Discobolus" portrays pure endeavour:


The equally famous "Laocoön and his Sons" is even more vivid:


In terms of repose (or sloth!), we have the legend of the Land of Cockayne, as pictured by Brueghel the Elder:


Or, indeed, the story of the Lotus Eaters from the Odyssey.

Even the Christian story has (in a sense) these two poles; at Christmas we have the peace of the baby Jesus asleep in the manger, while on Good Friday we have the agony of the Crucifixion.

We probably all have images of repose and strain which excite our own imaginations. I've mentioned before, on this blog, the time a friend of mine had broken up with a boyfriend she'd expected to eventually marry. She told me she ignored Christmas that year (which both shocked and fascinated me) and spent it...well, I don't want to say, just in case she ever reads this. But in a very low-intensity activity indeed. She spent it on her own, hiding from the world. The image stuck in my imagination. It's strangely appealing.

I remember being entranced, in choir practice in school, by these lines from Paul McCarthy's "Yesterday"...

Yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away...

A quotation from Patrick Pearse, which I've quoted before, appeals to me because it represents both poles:

Two things have constantly pulled at cross-purposes in me: one a deep homing instinct, a desire beyond all words to be at home always, with the same beloved faces, the same familiar shapes and sounds about me; the other an impulse to seek hard things to do, to go on quests and fight lost causes. And neither thing, neither the quiet home life nor the perilous adventure, has ever brought me any content.


Indeed, I posted Pearse's "The Fool" in anticipation of this post. These lines have always stirred my depths:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil....

So where am I going with this? Well, what seems interesting to me is that every philosophy of life, other than sheer hedonism, accepts the need to struggle against the world in some way, and to struggle against ourselves in some way. But they differ very starkly in which elements of our nature they urge us to fight against, and which aspects of our nature they urge us to set free.

Obviously, for Christians, the fundamental struggle is the struggle against original sin, especially the sin of pride. As St. John so memorably put it: "The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."

But every philosophy seems to have its own version of original sin.

Liberalism (or progressivism) has plenty of manifestations of original sin. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia; these are only a few. To be a fully-fledged progressive (or so it seems to conservatives) is to wage a constant war against one's own humanity, against one's own natural inclinations-- the inclination to treat men and women differently, the attraction towards one's own tribe (however that is understood), even the tendency to admire other cultures as exotic. (This is "othering" them, you see.)

Progressives, however, might argue that it's conservatives who are at constant war with their own nature. The ideal of chastity, for instance, is one that is frequently seen as absurd.

The claim to be going "against the tide" is one that's often made-- frequently it's made by people who are going in opposite directions to each other.

For instance, the Irish left-wing politican Noel Browne wrote an autobiography entitled Against the Tide. This might seem reasonable enough, since he was a left-wing politician who defied the Catholic Church at a time when its influence in Ireland was at its height (the middle of last century).



But was he really going against the tide? Internationally, the kind of left-wing ideas Noel Browne was pushing were certainly in the ascendant. The Catholic Church in Ireland, indeed the Ireland of the time, was very much going "against the tide" in its quest to preserve a Catholic Ireland in the modern world-- and saw itself in this role.

Everybody seems to want to claim underdog status. For instance, it's obvious that the mainstream media, academia, and the entertainment industry are overwhelmingly political correct. Political correctness, in this sense, is the dominant power. But PC claims to be fighting on behalf of ethnic and other minorities, so in this way they can claim to be at least representing the underdog.

The same clash of perspectives applies whenever the Catholic Church disciplines a dissident priest. The media can always paint the dissident priest as a brave and lonely figure confronting the might of the hierarchy. On the other hand, he is nearly always being lionised by the entire media and the bulk of the wider public. 

What prompted all these ruminations? Well, I've been thinking of my own attraction towards that which, in my own mind, is "uphill and against the tide."

For instance, I've found myself trying to improve my Irish in recent months-- for the best part of a year, at this stage-- because this seems to me to be the best way I can push back against globalisation and cultural homogenisation, the best way I can defend Irish culture. It's the best way, and also the hardest way.

For many years, I resisted this conclusion-- because it is so difficult, and because I was aware that I'm not linguistically gifted. But I've finally come to realise that any kind of patriotism or Irish national feeling that doesn't seriously concern itself with the Irish language is a waste of time-- mere sentimentality. What's the point of cheering Irish sports teams, or of similar displays of patriotic feeling, if we don't make a sustained effort to revive the central and most important part of Irish tradition, Irish distinctiveness? (Although I say again, on its own the Irish language means nothing to me-- it needs to be the cornerstone of a broader national revival.)

On the other hand, there is also a lure to the most difficult thing-- to quote the title of a Yeats poem, the fascination of what's difficult. And there's even a strange relief to it-- you're not hiding from it anymore. Challenges often pester us until we take them up.

This desire to do the hardest thing is why I have a certain (and very qualified) admiration for the Alt Right. Anyone who looks at the history of Western conservatism over the last thirty years or so must be struck by one simple fact-- it's one long series of defeats and compromises. Conservatism (by which I mean social and cultural conservatism) seems to have settled into a pattern of resist, retreat, and regroup. Of course, the best that this could ever lead to is that conservatives would resemble the American Indians-- not quite wiped out, and allowed some enclaves in which they are allowed to continue their traditional way of life, or something like it. The term "cuckservative" has an ugly origin, but it describes a reality. I completely understand the impulse which brings recruits to the Alt Right-- not only to resist, but to push back-- to go on the offensive. It's sad that the movement is tainted by race hatred, anti-semitism, Nazism, and other unpleasant things.

I really think we need a Catholic Alt Right. Mainstream Catholicism has thrown in the towel, has opted for "managed decline". We need a Catholicism that is willing to be full-bodied, supernatural, evangelistic, politically incorrect, confrontational. "Dialogue" is a dead end-- at least, in our time. You don't dialogue with your back to the wall.

One way in which I think Catholics need to "do the hard thing" more-- in which we need to go "against the tide and uphill" more-- is reading the Bible. This has been a constant struggle in my own short career as a practising Catholic. I know the New Testament pretty well, but why I am so reluctant to throw myself into the Old Testament? It's a real effort, but it's one I do intend to make. We should not only read the Bible but be steeped in the Bible.

I think this desire to do the hard thing, to go against the tide and uphill, is also part of my love of poetry-- my belief in the cause of poetry. It's a funny thing, but it's easier to read a five-hundred page novel than a slim volume of poetry. No matter how much you enjoy poetry, reading it involves mental strain to a far greater extent than prose. Certainly, it's easier to sell a five-hundred page novel! There's something "against the tide and uphill" in the very act of reading poetry, and writing poetry, and even talking and writing about poetry. It's why I'm so proud of my articles about poetry in Annals Australasia magazine.

And yet, while we seek to do the hard thing, we always have to be cautious, and not become like Lewis's "twice born" reader-- we have to remember that some strain is simply unnatural and unhealthy, and that there is such a thing as a healthy spontaneity and a healthy aversion. An example; before I returned to my faith, I'd become such a super-reactionary that I saw the human love of novelty as the root of all evil. But that's just silly. A love of novelty is a healthy and universal human impulse.

I'm not sure if there is any principle by which we can distinguish a healthy straining from an unhealthy straining. But I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fool by Patrick Pearse

Patrick Pearse was the most prominent leader of the 1916 Rising, a central figure in the Gaelic revival, and a very estimable poet. At least, in my view he is a very estimable poet.


He has the distinction of being the only free verse poet whose poetry I like. Even though his poetry is free verse, it does have a kind of internal metre to it.

"The Fool" is one of his most famous poems-- perhaps even his most famous. I knew it by heart in my teens, and it expressed perfectly my view of life-- at some points, anyway. (Although I've always felt the last couple of lines are weak.)

One aspect of the poem which rather bothers me now is the invocation of Christ to justify a violent insurrection. I by no means believe it impossible that a violent insurrection might be morally permissible, perhaps even a moral duty, in some circumstances. And, as C.S. Lewis said, all duties are ultimately religious duties. Of course, Pearse is not just talking about the 1916 Rising in this poem, but his vision as a whole. (I don't actually know when it was written.) Even still, I'm not sure what to make of the way Pearse repeatedly compared the Irish struggle for independence to Christ's passion. I suppose Christians should see everything through that prism, but it also seems potentially idolatrous.

The lines that have always moved me the most are:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.


In a future post, I intend to refer to this poem, so I'm posting it partly for that reason. But it's worth posting anyway.

Since the wise men have not spoken, I speak that am only a fool;
A fool that hath loved his folly,
Yea, more than the wise men their books or their counting houses or their quiet homes,
Or their fame in men's mouths;
A fool that in all his days hath done never a prudent thing,
Never hath counted the cost, nor recked if another reaped
The fruit of his mighty sowing, content to scatter the seed;
A fool that is unrepentant, and that soon at the end of all
Shall laugh in his lonely heart as the ripe ears fall to the reaping-hooks
And the poor are filled that were empty,
Tho' he go hungry.
 

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.
Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me, but God.
I have squandered the splendid years:
Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again,
Aye, fling them from me!
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,
Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow's teen,
Shall not bargain or huxter with God; or was it a jest of Christ's
And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?
 

The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,
And said, `This man is a fool,' and others have said, `He blasphemeth; '
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.


O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin
On the truth of Thy dreadful word. Do not remember my failures,
But remember this my faith.


And so I speak.
Yea, ere my hot youth pass, I speak to my people and say:
Ye shall be foolish as I; ye shall scatter, not save;
Ye shall venture your all, lest ye lose what is more than all;
Ye shall call for a miracle, taking Christ at His word.
And for this I will answer, O people, answer here and hereafter,
O people that I have loved, shall we not answer together?

I Like This Quotation

"The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again."

Michael Flanders, of the Flanders and Swann music-hall duo. Not a bad mission to have.

This reminds me of yet another of my favourite Chesterton quotations:

What is the matter with the pessimist? I think it can be stated by saying that he is the cosmic anti-patriot. And what is the matter with the anti-patriot? I think it can be stated, without undue bitterness, by saying that he is the candid friend. And what is the matter with the candid friend? There we strike the rock of real life and immutable human nature. I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back— his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly. A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, "I am sorry to say we are ruined," and is not sorry at all.

There are few things more squalid, in my view, than enthusiastic anti-romanticism and a passion for "debunking". It's the easiest game in the world, and the most destructive.

I can hardly avoid quoting the famous passage from Edmund Burke (and how shameful it is that I have never actually read Reflections on the French Revolution, or much else of Burke besides quoted passages):

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland simulation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion. On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.

As I've mentioned before, the phrase "curtains make a house a home" sums up, for me, the philosophy Burke is evoking here.






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Books, Gimmicks and Perversity

I spent a few minutes browsing through a book shop this morning-- Eason's in Nassau Street. (Well, the shop is actually called Eason, but everybody calls it Eason's and always has, as far as I can tell.)

I was really depressed at what was on the shelves. It seems that nowadays every book has to have a gimmick, an angle-- that it has to be "high concept" in some way.  Either it's based on a TV show, or it has a quirky selling point, or it's a tie-in to a recent anniversary, or it's an account of some very distinctive personal experience-- a memoir by someone who was taken hostage by terrorists, or the diary of someone who decides to take a vow of silence for a year, or some such thing. Even history books can't be straight history books-- they have to have some quirky angle, too. (Like Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.)

Admittedly, that's quite a small Eason's, and there are better bookshops. But this seems all-too-typical.

This whole attitude bedevilled the 1916 commemorations last year, too. Thankfully, there were plenty of "straight" books and events about the Rising, but there were also far too many "new perspectives". One conference in UCD was themed "Globalizing the Rising." Why should it be "globalized"? It was an Irish event. Yes, if you try hard enough you can find a "new perspective" on anything, but all too often it's simply a perverse perspective- like the all-male version of The Importance of Being Earnest that was staged in Dublin some years ago.

Most of the time, I think the "straight" approach (to anything) can be pursued indefinitely, without becoming worn out. How many books could you write about world history, without taking any silly gimmick as your focus, such as the history of cod? It's as though one day you decided to walk about on your hands instead of your feet, since you decided you'd taken that approach as far as it could go. Walking about on your hands is really not going to offer any new possibilities. It might be worth doing as a joke, or to raise money for charity, or something like that. But if, after you'd spent a day walking about on your hands-- to everybody's great amusement-- you then decided you were going to give hopping or crawling or dancing a try, you could hardly be surprised if public enthusiasm for your antics began to diminish.

And yet, people still seem to want to buy world histories of cod, and books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What's wrong with them?

Has Political Correctness Killed the Comment Box?

I've noticed that many Catholic (and other) websites have stopped allowing comments underneath them.

We've heard all the well-rehearsed arguments against comment boxes, but I'm honestly wondering...have they been killed by political correctness?

Are the views of the "commentariat", including the Catholic and conservative commentariat, now so divergent from most of the readers that the difference is simply too jarring to expose? I've noticed that, when there are comments, they are usually significantly more "right-wing" than the article or video, if it's in any way mainstream.

Joyce is Dead

Yesterday's anecdote of the wine glasses reminds me of another language-related anecdote.

It was Christmas morning, many years ago-- I was probably in my late teens. My father and I were talking about a new dictionary somebody had received as a gift, a big fat proper dictionary. I was complaining about pedantry, which is a common theme with me-- I'm a bit of an anarchist when it comes to language.

"For example", I said, "Why should we talk about "The Dead" by James Joyce as Joyce's 'The Dead'? Isn't it more elegant to say Joyce's Dead?".

"No", said my father. "Joyce's The Dead is clearer."

"Joyce's Dead is perfectly clear!", I complained. "Nobody could mistake what you meant. It's just pedantry."

A few minutes later, my mother appeared, looking rather concerned. "Did I hear someone say Joyce is dead?", she asked. Joyce is the name of my aunt.

This really happened.