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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CULTURE - JOE HUMPHREYS

Fa­ther Ted, TV, 1995)

The guile­less Ro­man Catholic cu­rate in the red tank-top, equally as con­fused by re­li­gion as by per­spec­tive (“Th­ese are small cows, Dou­gal, but the ones out there are far away”), was played by Ardal O’Hanlon. As side­kick to the bril­liant Der­mot Mor­gan’s Fa­ther Ted, Dou­gal’s gen­tle mad­ness lit up Gra­ham Line­han and Arthur Mathews’s peer­less com­edy.

Ulysses, Book, 1922)

She may have been born in Gi­bral­tar, and yes, she cor­re­sponds to Pene­lope in Homer’s Odyssey, but Molly is both Ir­ish and univer­sal. Mod­elled on Joyce’s wife, Nora, her frank, un­in­hib­ited sen­su­al­ity shocked many when Ulysses was pub­lished and is still strik­ing a cen­tury later. Her fi­nal so­lil­o­quy is one of lit­er­a­ture’s finest.

(

The Play­boy of the Western World, Play, 1907)

In The Synge’s play, we see a char­ac­ter cre­ated right in front of us. But it’s Pegeen Mike, a trapped young woman sur­rounded by ee­jits, who both makes and un­makes him. Re­cent pro­duc­tions have stressed how so­cially con­fined Pegeen is, but also the deep well of her rage. “Well, it’s a ter­ror to be aged a score,” says Widow Quinn. More than a cen­tury later, she’s no less tragic, or fear­some.

Bloom (

Ulysses, Book, 1922) Drawn in such lov­ing de­tail that read­ers come to know him in­ti­mately, de­spite their ac­quain­tance last­ing but a sin­gle day, Bloom is flawed but shines for his tol­er­ant com­pas­sion. For Richard Ell­mann, “The di­vine part of Bloom is sim­ply his hu­man­ity – his as­sump­tion of a bond be­tween him­self and other cre­ated be­ings.”

Vladimir ( Wait­ing for Godot, Play, 1953) Home­less, rest­less and fa­mously place­less (“A coun­try road. A tree. Evening.”), can any­one say where Vladimir is from? Is this terse in­tel­lect who passes the time in Wait­ing for Godot as Ir­ish as his cre­ator? Au con­traire, is he as French as the lan­guage he was con­ceived in? Or, safer to say, is he none of the above?

It’s a ques­tion Samuel Beck­ett would have dis­missed, strip­ping his tragi-comic master­piece of col­lo­qui­alisms and clues. But, in in­ter­pre­ta­tion or per­for­mance, you can’t take Ire­land out of the char­ac­ters. “Ex­cuse me, Mis­ter, the bones, you won’t be want­ing the bones?” could be a line from Synge. “Calm . . . calm . . . The English say ‘cawm’,” makes a pointed dif­fer­ence. Or, for a hap­pily pun­gent, very Dublin ex­am­ple, “Then we’d be bol­locksed.”

The truth is Vladimir would sound fa­mil­iar in any lan­guage or ac­cent. In his needs, frus­tra­tion, joy, ten­der­ness and per­sis­tence, he’s all hu­man­ity. Thank­fully, he has good com­pany. Next to Es­tragon, the gen­tle heart to Vladimir’s iras­ci­ble head, he leads us through a tragi­com­edy of vaude­ville and phi­los­o­phy that still gnaws at the con­cerns of our lives: sus­tain­ing and dead­en­ing rou­tines, the dance be­tween de­spair and hap­pi­ness, warm com­pan­ion­ship and the cold prom­ise of obliv­ion.

Wher­ever they sprang from, this eter­nal, pro­found dou­ble act made Ire­land univer­sal. It isn’t go­ing any­where in a hurry.

I’m 20 min­utes into an in­ter­view with Slavoj Žižek when he propo­si­tions sex. As a thought ex­per­i­ment, I stress. “Imag­ine a love en­counter. Let’s say you are a beau­ti­ful lady.” He holds his hands up and grins. “Sorry, het­ero­sex­ual! I’m old-fash­ioned. I am a guy, I want to get you.”

Such is the na­ture of con­ver­sa­tion with the Slove­nian philoso­pher that he spins from enun­ci­at­ing Marx­ist so­cial the­ory one mo­ment to ask­ing about Ire­land’s record in com­bat­ing Covid-19 the next. Right now he is fo­cused on the im­pli­ca­tions of fu­tur­is­tic technology – en­vis­aged by the likes of Elon Musk – which would trans­mit thoughts di­rectly from one brain to an­other.

“There will be no prom­ises of se­duc­tion. Our minds are in con­tact and your mind reads a sig­nal in me: ‘I want to screw you.’ I get it back: ‘Over my dead body,’ and it’s over in a split of a sec­ond.”

Musk says he is de­vel­op­ing a de­vice called Neu­ralink with ex­actly this ca­pa­bil­ity. The Tesla boss claims it will be ready in as lit­tle as five years, af­ter which, ac­cord­ing to the hype, hu­man lan­guage will be ren­dered ob­so­lete.

Žižek doesn’t buy it. “Our minds work only through lan­guage, I claim. Lan­guage is this para­dox­i­cal in­truder,” he says. “Be­cause we have to com­mu­ni­cate in lan­guage, I never know ex­actly what you mean, but the very ob­sta­cle gen­er­ates a sur­plus of mean­ing.”

Žižek – pro­nounced “Djee-shek” – di­vides crit­i­cal opinion. One camp takes him se­ri­ously as “the Elvis of cul­tural the­ory”: an orig­i­nal and in­vig­o­rat­ing left-wing thinker. A sec­ond camp treats him as a joke: a high­brow comic act, “the Bo­rat of phi­los­o­phy”, ob­sessed with sex, movies and the ab­struse writ­ings of Georg Wil­helm Friedrich Hegel.

There is a third fac­tion which takes Žižek se­ri­ously but as a dan­ger­ous rel­a­tivist. One pro­po­nent of this view de­scribed him as “the most de­spi­ca­ble philoso­pher in the West” high­light­ing, among Žižek’s many crimes of rea­son, his claim that Gandhi was “more vi­o­lent” than Hitler be­cause “Gandhi didn’t do any­thing to stop the way the Bri­tish em­pire func­tioned” in In­dia.

Many peo­ple pre­vi­ously sym­pa­thetic to Žižek were driven into this third camp a few years ago when he ex­pressed his sup­port for Don­ald Trump over Hil­lary Clin­ton in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“I am tempted to chang­ing my po­si­tion,” he tells The Ir­ish Times. “I will put it like this. I don’t think my old state­ment – ‘Trump bet­ter than Hil­lary Clin­ton’ – was wrong be­cause my cal­cu­la­tion was a sim­ple one: If Trump wins it will give a new boost

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