WRIT­ING A WAY OUT OF THE GHETTO

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - A CUT ABOVE THE RASTA -

They laugh at the tea tow­els. Oh, how they laugh at the tea tow­els with the pic­tures of Joyce and Yeats and Beck­ett on them; oh, how they laugh at all that Ir­ish lit­er­ary kitsch, that ee­jitry. And they are right to laugh, be­cause it is in­deed ee­jitry, the way that we ex­press our pride in our great writ­ers in al­most ev­ery con­ceiv­able way — the tea tow­els, the mugs, the pubs and even the ships named af­ter them — with­out both­er­ing much with the ac­tual read­ing of their books, in the un­likely event that we would even possess one of them in the first place.

But while they may be right, for the most part, there is an­other level at which they may be wrong. Be­cause in th­ese vul­gar rep­re­sen­ta­tions there is, per­haps, a larger truth that we have stored in the depths of our cul­tural sub­con­scious, an insight which sug­gests that we Ir­ish do ac­tu­ally have a spe­cial un­der­stand­ing of th­ese mat­ters.

It goes some­thing like this: the writer of a great book is a heroic fig­ure whose achieve­ment tran­scends mere lit­er­a­ture. In­deed, to be con­cen­trat­ing on the minu­tiae of the work of a Joyce or a Beck­ett is, per­haps, to miss this over-arch­ing point: that it is pos­si­ble to love a writer, with­out lov­ing all of his work. Or even most of it.

I love Dublin­ers, for ex­am­ple, and A Por­trait of the Artist, but I do not love Ulysses or Fin­negans Wake. And if you were to beat a con­fes­sion out of me, I would say that what I really love is not the man’s work, but Joyce him­self.

He is so ob­vi­ously a heroic fig­ure you could ac­tu­ally hate ev­ery­thing he ever wrote, ev­ery line of it, and still re­vere the man. Es­sen­tially, he was against ev­ery­thing — long be­fore Mar­lon Brando in The Wild One was asked, “What are you re­belling against?”, and Brando replied, “What have you got?”, Joyce was that dude.

He was, of course, against the ob­vi­ous things such as re­li­gion, and na­tion­al­ism, and Ire­land, but he took it all much fur­ther by be­ing one of the few writ­ers of any era who was against lan­guage it­self, or at least the lan­guage that was be­queathed to him, the one that ev­ery­body else used, and who there­fore felt com­pelled to make up a lan­guage of his own — noth­ing else could prop­erly give voice to the unique­ness of his be­ing.

Con­tin­ued on page 30

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