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.
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