A rab­bit hole of re­flec­tions

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Ge­orge O’Brien Ge­orge O’Brien is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of English at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, Wash­ing­ton, DC

March Hares By Ai­dan Hig­gins Dalkey Archive Press, $17

This book is a rich com­pi­la­tion of a va­ri­ety of writ­ings by the late Ai­dan Hig­gins – views, im­pres­sions, pen pic­tures, di­aries, lec­tures, mem­o­ries and mus­ings – and, as is the na­ture of mis­cel­la­nies, the pieces earn their keep in dif­fer­ent ways. Some, such as rec­ol­lec­tions of en­coun­ters with renowned con­tem­po­raries such as Gün­ter Grass and Harold Pin­ter, ob­vi­ously have a doc­u­men­tary value (and there’s a price­less pas­sage fea­tur­ing the great Pol­ish poet Zbig­niew Her­bert and a cou­ple of haus­fraus). Other, briefer pieces are wel­come re­minders of Hig­gins’s at­ten­tive­ness to tran­sience, his abil­ity to ac­knowl­edge a mo­ment’s pass­ing while at the same time re­tain­ing in his mind’s eye all its par­tic­u­lars.

Also in­cluded here are items which have ap­peared in ear­lier Hig­gins works, now freshly vis­i­ble in the light of their new lo­ca­tion. And, although cat­e­goris­ing the con­tents of March Hares doesn’t do jus­tice to its con­tents, ei­ther in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively, some pieces are cer­tainly more note­wor­thy for their qual­ity and in­ter­est than oth­ers. Among these,

In­tro­duc­tion to Mini­han Port­fo­lio and The Bosky Dew, in­tro­duc­ing a cat­a­logue of Pa­trick Collins paint­ings, stand out, and so, in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent reg­is­ter, does the fi­nal, un­spar­ing Con­clud­ing.

The Mini­han es­say is the most sus­tained of March Hares’ re­flec­tions on Beck­ett. It is not sur­pris­ing that Hig­gins should dwell on his lit­er­ary “old fa­ther, old ar­ti­fi­cer”. Many of these re­marks come up in the course of var­i­ous talks and panel dis­cus­sions in­cluded here. In one way, Hig­gins’s con­tri­bu­tions to such oc­ca­sions de­pict him as a fully-fledged mem­ber of the Ir­ish repub­lic of let­ters. But in all the most im­por­tant ways he comes across as not that at all; or rather, if he is at­tached it’s by means of his fo­cus on that repub­lic’s ex­iled mem­bers – ex­ter­nal ( Joyce, Beck­ett) and in­ter­nal (Flann O’Brien, about whom there are some in­trigu­ing com­ments re­gard­ing in­vis­i­bil­ity). Hig­gins made no bones about be­ing both; as he says, “To feel out of place is, to be sure, quite a salu­bri­ous state for a writer to find him­self in”.

If he had to choose be­tween be­ing ei­ther a goose of the do­mes­tic or the wild va­ri­ety, though, it seems he would have cho­sen the lat­ter, and gives sev­eral point­ers to­wards this con­clu­sion. One is sim­ply the his­tory of his rov­ing and read­ing that emerges in the course of March

Hares. In ad­di­tion, he rightly de­scribes his nov­els (like those of his avatars) as be­ing “as far re­moved as pos­si­ble from the cosily fa­mil­iar”, the “bland­ness” of which he sees as the bane of Ir­ish fic­tion – apro­pos of which, by the way, Hig­gins also em­phat­i­cally de­clares that “Lan

gr­ishe, Go Down is not a Big House novel, nor was ever in­tended as such”.

And in the third place, Hig­gins sees a strong po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion in the ex­ter­nal ex­iles’ ca­reers, not only in his em­pha­sis on Beck­ett’s mem­ber­ship of the French Re­sis­tance but in the sharp words directed at the gov­ern­ment of the day con­cern­ing the mur­der by Nazis of Joyce’s friend Paul Léon. In their way, the re­pub­li­ca­tion here of let­ters to The

Ir­ish Times stat­ing his at­ti­tude to the Trou­bles not only in­voke this po­lit­i­cal lin­eage but por­tray an­other facet of the sense of re­sis­tance Hig­gins em­bod­ied.

This gen­eral sense, also ev­i­dent in the provocative judg­ments of March Hares, its in­dif­fer­ence to be­ing per­haps “be­hind the times”, its satir­i­cal strain, its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of dif­fer­ence, its high re­gard for courage, the giv­ing of the self in love, en­sures that, although its os­ten­si­ble con­cern is with the cul­ture and to a lesser ex­tent with the busi­ness of writ­ing, its ul­ti­mate pre­oc­cu­pa­tion is with writ­ers. Or, rather, you can’t have one with­out the other. And this is as much the case with Hig­gins as it is with those he most ad­mires, so that over and above those wor­thy pre­de­ces­sors, there is also the in­ter­est of March Hares in its to­tal­ity as an es­say in au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Seen from that an­gle, the book is an even more un­abashedly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal work t han Hig­gins’s other path-break­ing works in the form, the last word in a se­ries of in­creas­ingly risky and valu­able works which col­lec­tively re­veal that “life is a story told”.

But let’s not men­tion the last word. Let’s hope there is more Hig­gins to come – a few fur­ther sound­ings, per­haps; or, bet­ter yet, a col­lec­tion of let­ters?

Ai­dan Hig­gins: In one way, a mem­ber of the Ir­ish repub­lic of let­ters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.