Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Googie Architecture

I've recently discovered Googie architecture-- well, I suppose I'd always known buildings of this type existed, but I didn't know it was a specific architectural style, or that it had a name.

This kind of thing:





This is what Wikipedia says about Googie:

Googie (/ˈɡuːɡi/ GOO-gee[1]) architecture is a form of modern architecture, a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age. Originating in Southern California during the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s, Googie-themed architecture was popular among motels, coffee houses and gas stations. The style later became widely known as part of the Mid-century modern style, elements of which represent the populuxe aesthetic, as in Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center. The term "Googie" comes from a now-defunct cafe in West Hollywood designed by John Lautner. Similar architectural styles are also referred to as Populuxe or Doo Wop.

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by Space Age designs symbolic of motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as "soft" parallelograms and an artist's palette motif. These stylistic conventions represented American society's fascination with Space Age themes and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs. As with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, Googie became less valued as time passed, and many buildings in this style have been destroyed. Some examples have been preserved, though, such as the oldest McDonald's stand (located in Downey, California).

I like Googie! For these reasons:

1) I like its "spacey", otherworldly look.

2) There's something child-like about it; all the buildings look like big plastic toys.

3) I like how American it is.

4) I like that it's futuristic and archaic at once.

5) I like its elongated, gravity-defying appearance.

6) I like the centrality of text to so many of the buildings.

7) I like how redolent it is of the open road, and the vast stretching spaces of the American landscape.

8) All of the buildings seem to scream "fun"!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Excellent Article on the National Party's Website

There's a new political party in Ireland called The National Party. They are a populist party, like UKIP in Brtain. I'm not sure what to think of them, especially since they don't seem to prioritize Irish cultural revival or the Irish language, and they seem rather cool towards Catholic social teaching, although they are prolife.

However, there is an excellent article on their blog, which is a very articulate response to a recent article by Fintan O'Toole, in which he wrote about Ireland's shared narratives and sense of identity. (Aside from anything else, I love it when one writer addresses the ideas of another in a detailed, leisurely way!) Worth reading. It was brought to my attention by somebody on the Irish Conservatives Forum.

Amoris Laetitia and the Catholic Faithful

Steve Ray is a Catholic apologist I rarely read, but I was intrigued to find this article on his website, regarding the whole Amoris Laetitia controversy.

It's an extraordinary thing. As far as I can see, there are virtually no major Catholic commentators who don't (to put it simply) agree with Cardinal Burke in this controversy. Edward Feser, George Weigel, Ross Douthat, Raymond Arroyo, Karl Keating, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Steve Ray, the entire staff of the Catholic Herald in England....other commentators, such as Archbishop Robert Barron, have been noticeably quiet. Perhaps things are different in the non-Anglophone world. I don't know.

Of course, I'm not talking about publications such as America or the National Catholic Reporter. But they won't be happy until there are married lesbian bishops, so I think we can safely disregard them.

Mark Shea is almost the only Catholic pundit who has enthusiastically supported Amoris Laetitia, and criticized the dubia cardinals. And he's gone off the deep end, anyway. I forced myself to stop looking at his blog after a heated exchange in the comment box, where him and his fanboys said some nasty things about me. Then again, I did provoke it-- I chimed in on unrelated thread to tell Mr. Shea he'd lost the right to quote Chesterton, which he'd just done. He replied that he wasn't aware I was head of the Chesterton Quotations Licensing Bureau. Good one.

The funny thing is that the majority of Catholics seem blissfully unaware of this whole controversy. I envy them. Maybe it's best not to get worked up about it. What can the faithful do, except keep practicing their faith? As we delighted in saying in happier days, the Church is not a democracy. God help us.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Flickering Screen

I'm reading Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Siskind. (I should warn the reader at the outset that this is one of those posts where I'm not really trying to make any point, just describing some of my own mental quirks for the sake of it-- and always with the hope that others may feel the same).


It's one of those books that analyze movies, and decipher the cultural messages they contain. It's stylishly written, and not noticeably politically correct. Unlike many cultural commentators who simply want to uncover all the racism, sexism, etc. lurking in any given movie, Siskind sees various different philosophies informing fifties movies; conservative, liberal, centrist, and others. He also sees complexity and contradiction, rather than simple messages.

I really love the idea of the cinema as a place where society dreams, where its hopes and fears and contradictions are projected (literally and figuratively!) onto an enormous screen. I've spent a lot of time wondering why this idea appeals to me so much. I think there are several reasons. One is that I find my fellow human beings most endearing when I see them as child-like, and there's something regressive and child-like about a cinema audience. They gasp, they cry, they cheer, and they sit there glued to the screen, lost in the story.

Another reason this idea appeals to me so much is that it lends dignity to every historical moment. I like difference. I like one place to be different from another, and one time to be different from another. I like the fact that eighties action films tell us a lot about that era, while today's zombie films tells us (and posterity) a lot about our era. It's a pleasant thought that the drama on screen is reflected by the psycho-drama in the theatre, and in the wider society. And films reflect social trends in a way that is much more rapid and finely-grained than TV or fiction can; not only the zeitgeist of the decade, but the mood of the summer.

Another reason the idea appeals to me is because it adds to the aura of the movie itself. Imagine if TV really had killed off the cinema, and if movies were all released straight to DVD. Wouldn't they be diminished? They would for me, at any rate. For me, it's part of the appeal of any movie that it was shown in cinemas first-- all those cinema audiences hover over the film forever more, like phantoms. Usually we know something about their response, their interaction with the film, and this is part of the life of the film.

A cinema audience is so much more public, so much more a representation of the demos, than faceless multitudes in their living rooms. The fact that you have to go to a particular place at a particular time, and follow certain expectations of behaviour, and not be in the comfort and anonymity of your home, makes it much more of an event-- as well as the fact that you experience the reactions of the audience, in addition to your own.

The thought that any particular cinema release, and the audience reaction to it, is a reflection of social and cultural trends is very pleasing to me-- even thrilling. From as early as I can remember, I've been enchanted by this idea that society is a battleground of ideas, or perhaps a playground of ideas-- that, at any given moment, social and cultural forces are exerting themselves in every conversation, work of art, ceremony, chance encounter, daydream, speech, joke, and so forth. In this sense, I'm very happy I was born in the twenty-first century and not in the Neolithic era. Aside from everything else, how could you enjoy being a conservative in a society where nothing ever changed?

I love the whole iconography of the cinema-- the projector beam, the spotlights, the curtains, the plush seats, the film reels (an archaism now), the marquee, all that. It's so easily evoked, by a simple piece of clip-art or cartoon.

I love TV shows where the presenter is sitting in an empty cinema. It's a deliciously contemplative atmosphere.

Contemplative is the word I would use to describe movies in general. The movie is timeless in one sense-- if you play it a thousand times, it will always be the same-- but it's also redolent of its era, even if it's a sword-and--sandals epic or a science fiction story. Sometimes I think contemplation could be described as "the distance that gives intimacy". Looking at a photograph that was taken twenty or thirty years ago, in a strange way, opens up an intimacy that would have been lacking if you saw the same face or scene on the street, at the very moment the picture was taken. Seeing the psychological dramas of your own time projected onto a screen somehow makes them closer than when they are in your own head. It certainly seems to make them grander.

Disillusionment

What is happening in the world and the Church depresses me no end, and yet I'm also very vulnerable to the personal attacks and innuendoes unleashed on anyone who complains. I could defend the things I believe against all comers all day long, but once it comes to personal attacks, I feel defenceless, since I'm always inclined to believe anything bad anyone says against me.

And not even against me personally. A few weeks ago I was browsing a book by John Waters, Feckers: Fifty People Who Fecked up Ireland. It was entertaining enough, but one of the last "feckers" was "Paddy O'Blogger"-- a long rant against bloggers, portraying them as pathetic and angry and frustrated figures.

I wish I was the kind of person who just takes such things in their stride, but I'm not. Doubtless John Waters was writing mostly about left-wing bloggers (he was quite vague). He also took issue with them for their anonymity, and my blog has never been anonymous-- I've always put up my name, my picture, and my place of employment. He contrasts online writing with print journalism and letters to the editor, much to the former's disfavour. Well, I've had plenty of articles published, and plenty of letters to the editor too. Do I somehow stop being "Paddy O'Blog" when my words are in print, even when I'm saying exactly the same thing?

I can reason thus with myself, but it doesn't really make any difference.

I left Facebook some time ago. While I was there, I had a lot of very positive interactions-- indeed, a good few people said nice things about my posts. But I also got a lot of sniping and bitching-- and, once again, I don't give two hoots when it's addressed to my ideas or beliefs, but when it's a personal attack, it gets to me.

One of my own relatives posted a still from The Simpsons, a picture of a newspaper which showed Grandpa Simpson waving his fist at a cloud, with the headline: "Old Man Waves Fist at Cloud", and tagging me, in response to some conservative opinion I'd expressed. Another of my relatives saw fit to "like" this. I pretended to take it in good part, but the truth is I found it extremely hurtful, and still do. Once again, this was because of the implication that my opinions are based in personal failings or flaws or inadequacies. And there was a lot of this.

I'm not good with interpersonal conflict, and I find it gets harder rather than easier. I love my job, but I find it more and more difficult dealing with angry customers (while knowing that a library couldn't even begin to compare with a call centre or many other places of work). The fantasy of a life without interpersonal conflict is one I increasingly indulge in. (I'm not talking about an end to conflict per se. I like C.S. Lewis's speculation that, if he had killed a German soldier who had simultaneously killed him in World War One, they might have laughed about it in the next world. I like films where two fellows are having a sword-fight, one has his sword knocked from his hand, and the other chivalrously allows him to pick it up again. That is the kind of conflict I can dig.)

I'm not bothered with ridicule when it is aimed at what I say rather than me personally. Some months ago, I was in the audience for the TV show Claire Byrne Live. I made a comment that the Church had apologized too much rather than too little, and almost everyone in the studio laughed. That didn't bother me in the least-- I even found it bracing.

I've always done my best to refrain from ad hominem attacks myself. In this post, for instance, where I make a case for attacking ideas, not people. Doubtless I've lapsed here and there, but I think I've kept fairly rigorously to this policy, and avoided personal attacks and insinuations, whether against particular people or bearers of a particular opinion.

Writing is like breathing to me. If it wasn't, I would probably stop-- at least, give up any writing that involved social commentary, I'm so bothered by such attacks and insinuations. Now and again, I've thought of pouring my creative energies into something less polemical, such as horror novels. The sneering and scorn really gets to me.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

John D. Sheridan's Account of a Parish Mission

Here is an account of a parish mission from the book "Half in Earnest" by John D. Sheridan, a collection of articles which was published in 1948. The author thanks the editors of The Irish Independent and the Massachussets Teachers' Journal for allowing him to reproduce material. I imagine this article appeared in the former, rather than the latter.


I have written about John D. Sheridan on this blog before. I am an admirer of his work of Catholic apologetics, The Hungry Sheep, which among other things is an early condemnation of post-Vatican II madness. Some years ago, when I had fewer expenses than I do now, I went through a phase of buying the various collections of his articles on Amazon. They are a good size for sticking in a pocket, so I still find myself doing that when I'm expecting to be standing in a queue-- I was reading this article in a pharmacy this morning.

My fondness for his "funny" writings, which wasn't all that high to begin with, has diminished still further recently. I've grown more and more fastidious about prose style as I've got older. Anything too mannered bothers me. And few things bother me more than the tone of sustained flippancy which so many humorous writers adopt. Along with this, I detest the knowing, sardonic, man-of-the-world tone in which Sheridan, along with many others, constantly indulges.

But what I find most irritating in this author's work is something that he shares with many (supposedly) comic writers; a conviction that hilarity is to be found in disappointment, indignation, frustration, boredom, and so on. The stubbed toe, the angry wife, the bus that you just miss (and that splashes you with water from a puddle as it drives away), the old guy dancing badly at the wedding, etc. etc. Somehow, such writers think that multiplying allusions like these adds up to a comic vision. But it's not comic. It's depressing. Chesterton is a rare example of a comic writer who seeks to convey wonder, rather than weariness.

All the same, I doubt I have to explain why I've gone to the trouble of typing out this particular article. To me, for all Sheridan's disenchanted style, it's an enchanting window onto Catholic Ireland. How things have changed, from the time that an article such as this might appear in a national daily newspaper! The author seems to simply assume that his readers are Catholic and that most would have attended a parish mission.

I've never attended a mission. I attended the first and final Mass of a parish mission, given by the Jesuits, a few years ago. (I met the priest who gave me First Communion at this, and I was very disappointed.) I didn't have time to attend the rest of it. I've attended one retreat. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and one that still lingers with me.

Anyway, here is the article.

On Missions

It might be no harm if hte regular clergy, who give missions, and the seculars, who commission them, were told the lay point of view on this salutary annual discipline; for the laity seldom gets a chance of expressing itself on such matters, except when it stands up in a body on the first night of the mission and, through the medium of the most doleful of hymns, announces that, once again, it is resolved "to turn away from crime."

First and foremost, we don't like missions, any more than we like quinine and cascara. We know that they are good for us, but you can take my word for it that the chillest Sunday of the year is the Sunday on which the priest announces that the ecclesiastical auditors are on their wway and that the reclamation of the senile delinquent is at hand.

In our parish, and, I should think, in all parishes big enough to justify a fortnight's retreat, Mother Church, in her wisdom and charity, allocates the first week to the women. This is because long experience has taught her that women, having fought their way through winter winds on seven consecutive nights and on seven chilly mornings, will hunt out the menfolk, when their times comes, with a fervour that is not wholly spiritual in origin.

The men are glad of the week's remand, and they make the most of it. They pile on the fire, put their feet on the mantelpiece, and think of everything but the life to come.

When the women come home from the mission we make room for them at the hearth, warn them-- fruitlessly-- not to make a mess of a perfectly good fire, and get a preview of the mission and the missioners. The clergy should know, I think, that though we sit quietly during the sermon, our critical faculties are not asleep. In one sense we are in the dock, but in another we are in the jury-box, and we have no difficulty at all in coming to a verdict. The old missioner is a good preacher, or a bad preacher, or a middling preacher; the young one is too severe,or not severe enough, or he keeps us too long.There are also comparisons with the great men of last year or the year before ("they were divils on the drink"), and if the vintage is a bit thin we shake our heads in memory of the fine preachers who were with us in the year of the big snow.

Sometimes a few friends come in before bedtime, and then the discussion widens a little. It moves from individuals to regiments, and the Church's missionary army is reviewed in a spirit that is anything but impartial. One swears by the Redemptorists, another by the Vincentians, and you have only to praise the Dominicans to hear the virtues of the Jesuits. But there is a limit to our bigoted partisanship-- we speak of them all as "missioners", and not, after the manner of our country cousins, as "Holy Fathers"-- a libellous phrase which seems to imply that the "Holy" would be altogether inappropriate if it were applied to the local secular clergy In our parish, I am glad to say, we are above such innuendo.

As the first week of the mission goes by, and it passes all too quickly for the guardians of the hearth, the women become more and more self-righteous and the men more and more apprehensive. Some of the lazier ones practice spells of coughing and onwder if the night air would be bad for their bronchitis. But they are only wasting their time, for a woman at the close of a week's mission is as formidable as Peter the Hermit, and will not listen to excuses from anyone who is not permanently bed-ridden. Having formally renounced the devil, she forgets that Eve was his first client, acts as if he only purpose in making the mission were to show good example to the men, and becomes a missioner in her own right.

There is something cold and austere-looking about a missioner when he appears above the edge of the pulpit on the first night of a mission-- he has the cut of a regimental sergeant-major giving his first talk to a bunch of prisoners who have been sentenced on a charge of being drunk and disorderly. We are anything but drunk and disorderly, and we know it. We know that the sum total of our misdemeanours would not make material for one good shocker, but we know too that each one of us can say, with literal truth, that it is high time he turned away from crime. We are not the great sinners who God loves and pursues; we are the lukewarm yea-and-nay people who are rated so low in Holy Writ, the people who have to be coaxed, reminded, and exhorted, who have little spurts of piety every now and again and always mean to do better the week after next. We don't beat our wives (even when they deserve it), we don't rob banks, we are on the side of law and order-- we are chock-full of tiny, respectable, negative virtues.

We feel very sorry for ourselves, and very ashamed of ourselves, and the missioner-- who knows just how much penitence we can stand--breaks the tension when we have had enough. He breaks it by means of that dialectical device which (this is pure supposition) all young missioners are taught in the novitiate. He says: "I remember once giving a mission in a little village in the west" and immediately we all sit back and relax. Once a missioner tells a story, especially a humorous story, the discipline of the class is gone for good. And there it may be remarked that a missioner who rates his stories according to the laughter they will win for him is making the biggest mistake of his life. All a missioner has to do to get a laugh is to make it clear he expects one.

When the laugh dies down we begin to cough in relays-- a seat at a time. You cough at a mission, but for sheer joy at discovering that you are only one sinner amongst many, and to break the loneliness that comes to a man when he looks into his own soul.

As you walk home from the church afterwards, this feeling of kinship, of belonging to the big family that is the parish, and of having cousins the world over, strengthens perceptibly. You walk home from the cinema with the man next door, but you walk home from the mission with your blood brother.

There is something symbolic about the lighting of candles on the last night of a mission. it dims the great lights overhead, and makes the church not just a citadel against the darkness but a citadel against the powers of darkness. Our annual mission begins rather timidly, but it finishes up in a blaze of glory. I think that our feelings on the last night might be summed up in the story of the man who-- when the missioner, not being satisfied with the volume of the first renunciation of the devil, cried "louder"-- shouted out long before his fellow had responded, and in a voice which must have been heard in regions beyond this visible world-- "louser!". The phrase is a little vulgar, perhaps even a little abusive, but it is a perfect ending to the annual mission.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Me and Dracula

Here's a picture of me at my horror club, where we were discussing the first four chapters of Dracula. Notice the Dracula movie poster in the background.


Here's a couple of other guys at the same meeting discussing the book. Notice another Dracula poster in the background!

 

Thoughts on Borstal Boy

I've been reading Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan, an account of his time in prison and (later) borstal-- what Americans would call juvie. He was a member of the IRA and convicted in London for possessing explosives, aged sixteen. He was held in prison before his trial and sentencing, but then sent to borstal, which was a new and more humane institution for juvenile offenders.


I enjoyed it well enough, but it became repetitive and I stopped reading it about three-quarters of the way through.

The book is more or less a work of reportage, and its virtues are those of good reportage. Behan doesn't dwell too much on his own thoughts and emotions, but concentrates upon what happened. Most of us will never be incarcerated, and nobody will ever again experience the particular regimes described in the book. Therefore the memoir is valuable as a record, a glimpse into a reality that once existed.

None of us want to go to prison, but we are all fascinated by prison stories-- in fact, we are fascinated by any confined situation. How many stories, from Robinson Crusoe to The Breakfast Club onwards, reflect this fascination? Indeed, we become nostalgic over situations of confinement and being subjected to strict rules, such as school days.

This is one of those matters where I find myself wondering how much my reactions have to do with my own psychology-- my own neuroses, perhaps-- and how much they have to do with social reality in general. For the truth is, I like limited, confined situations (and the limits can be physical or non-physical). So I could say: "Well, this is just a case of my own hang-ups, and of no general interest". But I'm not so sure about that, because most people betray a fascination or nostalgia with such situations. There seems to be a regular dialectic in human life whereby people seek the maximum amount of freedom (and convenience, choice, etc.) and then feel alienated by the very freedom (convenience, choice) they've achieved. We are seeing it today with mobile phones and the internet-- why have "digital detoxes" become so popular, and what are these but a self-imposed curb on personal freedom?

Borstal Boy is interesting to me on account of Behan's attitude towards religion and nationalism. The detainees in both institutions looked forward to religious services, as a break from routine, and something to do. Everybody is classed by religion-- Roman Catholics are referred to as "RC"s. In an early scene, the Catholic chaplain in prison urges Brendan Behan to renounce his republican views, and insists that he shares the excommunication of other militant republicans when he refuses to do so. Behan is particularly grieved when he's debarred from taking part in a benediction service at Christmas.

It's hard to get a handle on Behan's religious views. In the book, he presents himself as a tolerant sceptic, somebody who appreciates the aesthetic side of Catholicism, and feel a certain tribal allegiance to it, but who doesn't really take it seriously. "I had nearly lost interest in Sacraments and whether I was deprived of them or not. Walton scalded my heart with regard to my religion, but it also lightened it. My sins had fallen from me, because I had almost forgotten that there were such things and, when I got over it, my expulsion from religion, it was like being pushed outside a prison and told not to come back. If I was willing to serve Mass, it was in memory of my ancestors standing around a rock, in a lonely glen, for fear of the landlords and their yeomen...Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love."

Reading his life story, it seems that Catholicism became more important to him as he deteriorated into alcoholism and bad health, and that he disliked  excessive criticism of the Church. On the other hand, Anthony Cronin in his excellent book The Life of Riley describes Behan, before his success, having a strong animus against Catholicism.

Despite being in the IRA, Behan seems to extend this rather detached attitude towards his nationalism, too. When he is tried for his crime, he delivers a speech full of Irish republican rhetoric, but only to irritate the judge. As he explains to the reader: "I have a sense of humour that would nearly cause me to burst out laughing at a funeral, providing it was not my own, and solemn speeches are not easily made by me. I can't keep it up." 

This attitude of flippancy pervades the entire book. Behan is willing to mock, not only religion, but his own nationalist beliefs. He shows disdain for solemnity here, as elsewhere: "Nor was I one of your wrap-the-green-flag-round-me junior Civil Servants that came into the IRA from the Gaelic League, and well ready to die for their country any day of the week, purity in their hearts, truth on their lips, for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland. No, be Jesus, I was from Russell Street, North Circular Road, Dublin, from the Northside..."

Indeed, throughout the book, Behan represents himself as sharing the coarse humour and language of the other prisoners. A fellow Irish republican prisoner (who is also excommunicated, but remains pious nonetheless) expresses his disdain for such behaviour to Behan, at one point: "The prisoners, though, though they're all right in their own way, they have as much respect for themselves, or for on another, as animals. They talk about things, aye, and do things that the lowest ruffian in Ireland, Catholic or Protestant, wouldn't put his tongue to the mention of, things that you could be born, grow up, and die an old man in our country without ever even hearing the mention of."

(There is some internal evidence in the book to suggest this is true-- Behan, despite his rumbustious working class background, admits that he didn't know what Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for, and his mother avoided telling him when he asked.)

There was indeed a strong tradition of puritanism in Irish cultural nationalism, and it's one which I admire. Even before I was a Catholic or a conservative, and though I've been a lifelong admirer of Yeats, I felt more sympathy with the Irish theatre audiences who protested Playboy of the Western World on account of its raciness, than I did with Yeats and the other intellectuals who lambasted them. I felt that the audiences were trying to maintain a standard, while the intelligentsia were trying to dispense with a standard, and that the former effort was intrinsically more noble. I realize that the intelligentsia would claim they were holding to a standard-- freedom of expression-- but that doesn't rally wash with me. Puritanism is harder than liberalism, and more easily lost.

Here is a post I wrote about "priggishness", which is the single post which means the most to me out of the hundreds I've written on this blog. This essay-poem on solemnity is also relevant to this subject.

I'm generally favourable towards rules and standards, when they are not actually oppressive, and even if their justification is debatable. This often gives me a different attitude to some of my colleagues in the library. I've had lots of arguments with library liberals who think everything should be allowed and every rule should be waived where possible. I'm of the opinion that, within reason, an institution is not under an onus to justify its regulations, but that the onus should be on the visitor to respect the institution. I was arguing this with a Spanish colleague who has something of the anarchist about her. I said: "If I went to somebody's house and they asked me to take my shoes off before I walked on the carpet, I might think that was a stupid rule, but I wouldn't argue. I'd just do it, out of respect." She said: "Well, I ask visitors to my house to take their shoes off". Of course, she claimed she had a good reason...

Even rules that seem arbitrary have this benefit; that they create an atmosphere of respect. They make the situation special, distinctive, creating a mental boundary between one place and another, or one time and another. I greatly approve of the bookshop in Dublin which asks customers to switch off their mobile phones.

However, I've drifted from my subject somewhat. I was writing about Brendan Behan's attitude to religion and nationalism.

I hardly need to critique his religious attitudes here. Religion without dogma is a bad joke.I suppose, if it comes to a choice between outright irreligion, and a vague, tribalistic, sentimental religion, the latter is better-- if only because it might blossom into something more, and it will prevent its bearer from becoming an out-and-out enemy of the religion.

I think a similar point applies to Behan's attitude towards nationalism. The Behan attitude towards Irish nationalism seems to have become popular, especially via its influence on Shane MaGowan of the Pogues. That is, Irish nationalism allied with a kind of anarchism; rules and conventions are to be despised, irreverence is the order of the day, and nothing should be taken too seriously.

My problem with this attitude is that it's taking a free ride on the reverence, seriousness, and effort of other people-- it's squandering the funds they worked up. Behan inherited a tradition of Irish cultural nationalism because other people, who came before him, took it seriously. You only have to look at a character such as Miss Ivors in "The Dead" by James Joyce to see a portrait, presumably recognisable, of an earlier Irish cultural nationalist. She is somewhat narrow-minded, chauvinistic, intense-- the characteristic vices (if they are vices) of pioneers. Movements only get off the ground because people are willing to take them seriously. Decadence has set in when a mellow, easy-going, self-mocking attitude takes over. As Nietzsche put it: "All creators are hard". All preservers, too.

And the reason I think this is particularly lamentable in Behan is because Irishness was his gimmick. He drew constantly on Irish ballads, sayings, history, and culture in order to give his works a distinctive flavour. But he seems ultimately to have been a proponent of the same limp liberalism and cosmopolitanism favoured by most literary people of his time, and of our own. This is reflected in his writing, as well as his life. Literary modernism, pop culture, gutter speak-- all of it got thrown into the pot along with the Irish ballads and folklore. How can anything fine or distinctive survive that kind of free-for-all?

I've mentioned Behan's use of folk ballads in the book. It's well known that he grew up in a home (working class intelligentsia like my own) where folk ballads were common currency. His brother became a well-known writer of folk songs, one of which he quotes in the book. Reading Borstal Boy, I felt an all-too-familiar shame and envy that I know so few folk ballads, that I'm so deficient in oral culture. I'm working to fix this, though.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Want It to be a Surprise

As I've mentioned before, I really love the website TV Tropes. I've spent a huge amount of time browsing it, and I don't regret it.

I like these pages especially:




I think the link between all these is that they are surprising, unexpected, more than they seemed to be at first. I like the world to be surprising. I like twists. I like something that's not obvious, that's counter-intuitive. I like irregularity. I like depths, especially hidden depths.

One of the reasons I dread a liberal, progressive, over-tolerant society is because it's so dull, flat and rational. Sometimes I think the tendency of political correctness towards absurdity and contradiction is actually its saving grace.

In other news, I have a letter in today's Irish Times taking issue with Una Mulally, the Queen of Irish political correctness.

Funnily enough, Mullally says something in the article to which I'm responding with which I can sympathise, given the feelings I've just expressed:

Irish media is obsessed with contrarianism and loudmouths. It is obsessed even more with the contrarian voices who are generally merely out to seek attention (the gay man opposed to marriage equality, the woman who thinks contemporary feminism is damaging, the “right on” person who wants to police the tone of rights campaigners, the “liberal” guy who thinks there’s a conspiracy of “groupthink” or “consensus”). It’s all so basic. It’s all so intellectually underdeveloped, populated by people who don’t realise that these arguments have been hashed out so many times before, and have the arrogance or just self-propelling cynicism to think that their hot take is unique. We’ve heard it all before.

Can such contrarianism possibly be as "basic" as the arguments of the progressive left, or even the progressive right? Or the societies based on such arguments? I like traditionalist conservatism the best because its arguments are the least obvious. I also think they show the most insight into reality. The human soul is not boring and society is not boring unless we artificially flatten out all its irregularities and quirks.

In other news, I've become quite depressed about ad hominem attacks. Not attacks aimed at me particularly, but at people who hold this or that of my opinions. I am the specialest snowflake of them all, so I am easily pained by such things. I don't mind being branded a reactionary, fascist, bigot, etc. etc. but I do bruise when someone suggests: "People like you have these beliefs because you are inadequate in this or that way." For example: you are a nostalgist because you can't deal with anything new. (That's just an example.) I got a lot of this on Facebook, and it really gets to me.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Richard Tropp's Last Letter

I wonder how many thoughts flit through our heads in a single day? Tonight, I found myself thinking about a document which has haunted me ever since I read it, a few years ago.

It's this document-- a statement (or letter) written by somebody who participated in the mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978, as it was happening.

The writer of the document is unknown. The website (which is an archive of material related to Jonestown) attributes it, tentatively, to Richard Tropp, a teacher who was quite prominent in the commune. (It was more a commune than a cult.) Like most of the members, he was highly idealistic. (But it may have been written by someone else.)

I became fascinated by Jonestown a few years ago, and spent a week or two (or maybe more) compulsively reading this archive. (And listening to it, too-- many audio recordings survive of the commune, including a recording of the mass suicide.) I became a bit obsessed with it. It seemed to me a unique moment in human history, to give a unique insight into how people behaved under certain extreme conditions. And what that revealed about human nature greatly disturbed me.

Another thing that fascinates me about Jonestown is its evidence that normality is a social construct. You only have to  listen to the "death tape" to realize that many of the commune members were enthusiastically in favour of the suicide. Indeed, it could hardly have happened otherwise. The question that suggests to me is: how far does this principle extend? My fascination with political correctness has a lot to do with this question-- the observable fact that a particular standard can be normalized, a taboo or a belief can be imposed, and can quickly come to seem natural to thousands, millions, tens of millions. (Or, at least, they are willing to go along with it.)

Several things fascinate me about the letter itself. One is that the writer, in between the beginning of the letter and the end (and it's fairly short), moves from urging the reader to investigate the Jonestown story, to finally declaring that it doesn't matter if nobody ever understands. That contrast has come into my head over and over again, on many different occasions. I very often wonder what matters in the end-- however you construe "the end". The things I hold onto so passionately-- will they matter when I am facing my own death? Will the things one generation so carefully transmits to the next matter a few generations down the line?
 
I am haunted by its last words: "Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on earth".

The fascination of the past in general is that it can never be replayed, never be reconstructed. This is true of all history, but it's especially true of one-off and unique events such as the sinking of the Titanic, the last stand in the GPO during the 1916 Rising, or the last night in Jonestown.

The period in which Jonestown lived and died is also fascinated to me. I don't know why, but the seventies as a whole, and the last few years of the seventies in particular, cast a kind of spell over me. It seems both ephemeral and timeless at once-- there's a sort of vertigo to it. it's the vertigo I experience whenever I find myself facing, in a particularly heightened way, the brick wall of the contingent-- and realizing that I can't even understand the contingent without the concept of the eternal. I can't explain it any better than that.

On Boundaries


This is a picture of a small shopping mall off Dublin's Moore Street. Even in my own childhood, Dublin's Moore Street was famous for its collection of traditional Dublin hawkers, and their street cries: "Get yezzer apples and oranges!". Now it's full of "ethnic" shops. Nevertheless, the traditional Dublin hawkers are still there, and the "ethnic" aspect is quite pleasant.

Anyway, I'm not writing about ethnicity today. I felt moved to write about the scene pictured above. Every time I pass this doorway, I feel a powerful frisson of pleasure.

You can't really see it, but the doorway opens onto a tiny shopping mall. And shopping malls like this have always delighted me. To some extent, all indoor shopping malls delight me. It's the strange paradox that they are both indoors and outdoors; a shop within in the shopping mall is doubly indoors.

And this rather perplexes me, because (like Chesterton) I'm a big fan of boundaries and distinctions. Readers of this blog will know that. I like the boundaries between nation and nation, between man and woman, between the seasons, and so forth. And one of the many reasons I like Catholicism is because of its dogma. (So there are psychological as well as logical reasons why I react with horror to the casuistry of Cardinal Kasper and his cronies.)

Furthermore, ambiguity really bothers me in social interaction. For the longest part of my life, I didn't give tips (i.e., gratiuities) because the ambiguity over how much you should tip embarrassed me too much. (Eventually, I got over that, but I still feel awkward about it.) Also, I absolutely hate any social occasion, like a coffee morning or a reception, where people will be "circulating" and drifting here and there. As far as I'm able, I'll only go to a social occasion where there's some kind of stability, where people are sitting down.

So why should ambiguity delight me sometimes? Why do I feel a wild, entirely disproportionate joy in indoor shopping centres and shopping malls-- in the ambiguity between what is "inside" and what is "outside"? Why do I love movies (such as Inception or Last Action Hero) where the boundaries between what is real and what is a dream, what is real and what is fiction, is permeable?

And why does much of my love of poetry stem from its complete lack of a thematic discipline-- since, in poetry, all the boundaries and barriers have fallen? For the poet, everything is in play; past, present, and future; dream and reality; legend and history; self and other; and every other category you can think of. Indeed, one reason I am such a relatively severe formalist when it comes to poetry, is because I believe the discipline of form is necessary to complement and liberate the freedom of theme, the freedom of content.

My own answer to these questions is quite straightforward. I  think there is a place for boundaries and a place for the disregard of boundaries. Catholic theology and doctrine should be a place for boundaries. So should maps. Poetry and fiction is where we can let it all hang. Also, life is all about balance and we live in a time when universality has run riot and particularism is under threat, so very often the principle of boundaries needs to be defended, while the principle of boundlessness needs to be pushed back.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Discussion with a Colleague

I had an interesting discussion with one of my co-workers yesterday. It started off with him telling me that it was International Doughnut Day (or some such thing-- I can't remember what exactly, and I can't find out on the internet, but it was one of these silly made-up occasions-- not that I have anything against them.) 

That got us to talking about holidays and remembrances, and (predictably enough for any of my readers!),  I started talking about memorials which were being forgotten, and how sad this made me. I told him about Oak Apple Day, and also mentioned the increasingly neglected Guy Fawkes Day. 

"Doesn't it make you sad that such things are neglected?", I said. (Obviously this dialogue is not verbatim.)

"Not one little bit", he admitted.

"But a connection with the past is lost", I said. (Or something.)

"The past is whatever we need to take from it", he said. "We use whatever is useful from it. We let it go when we don't need it anymore."

"I'm not saying we should hold onto everything from the past", I said. "That's impossible. But it's a shame to lose things that have become traditions. They've survived a long time already, why give up on them?"

"Because the reason they were given up was because they're no longer meaningful. It would be completely perverse to hold onto them when they're no longer meaningful."

This stumped me for a while, and my reply was something like this: "But that's part of the reason they're so great. They become an encounter with something alien, something outside our current preoccupations. They become an encounter with the sublime."

Or something like that. I've always noticed that peoples' accounts of their discussions, arguments and debates with other people tend to put them in the role of Socrates. Well, I am never Socrates. I usually come away from debates and discussions feeling I've not acquitted myself particularly well. But this exchange seemed of great significance to me.

Looking back, I should have said something like this: The very fact that we thought they were important for a long time, and cease to consider them important, makes them valuable, because it's a part of our history or memory or identity which is going into eclipse. It makes it all the more valuable to remind ourselves of it, once in a while. Not for any utilitarian reason, necessarily. Simply for the experience itself.

Of course, another reason to hold onto them is because, even if they are no longer meaningful to us, they might well be meaningful to our descendants-- or to ourselves in future years. But I didn't think of that.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bank Holiday Thoughts

Thanks to the reader who sent me a nice message and said I seem down. Yes, I've been down recently, for many reasons. My fast-approaching fortieth birthday is one of them. Being forty is not something that excites me.

Today is a bank holiday in Ireland so I have time to feel reflective.

I write a lot about "political correctness". I have quite a broad understanding of that term, and perhaps an idiosyncratic understanding in some respects. When I complain about PC, it's far more than having to listen to feminist or gay propaganda all the time. It's a hundred silent assumptions that pervade public discussion every minute of every day, no matter what subject is being discussed. This is a big subject.

I've been writing a novel. I have thirty thousand words written so far. I've written novels before, none of them published. This is the first novel I've written with a Catholic theme. The small amount of people who've read bits of it are enthusiastic. The plot of the novel is something I've actually mentioned before on this blog, though not as an idea for a story. I don't think anyone would be able to work it out, though.

As mentioned previously, I'm feeling more and more drawn towards the realm of imagination and poetry, rather than the realm of analysis and prose. I've been on Twitter for a while, and it soon becomes obvious that there is no real discussion between right and left, conservative and liberal, globalist and nationalist, liberal Catholic vs. conservative Catholic on that platform. People throw arguments at each other, but nobody expects to convince anybody, or even to make them think twice. And there's something absolute about the differences. Between a progressive and a conservative a great gulf is fixed. I believe that the fate of society is decided in the imagination, individual and collective.

I'm also increasingly tired of point-scoring and triumphalism. I find that so boring. I want to live with contradictions, to explore them. Yesterday I was in the supermarket, looking at the shelves of casserole mix. The song "Harvest for the World" by the Isley Brothers came over the radio-- it's a soul song from the seventies. I felt a tremendous wave of peace come over me. How could a traditionalist conservative admit to such a thing? Consumerism! Pop culture! Things of evil! And yet...it's true.

Perhaps this wobbliness is why my blog readership has been falling. A few months ago, I got about five hundred to seven hundred views a day-- sometimes close to a thousand. Now, it's a hundred and fifty to two hundred, usually. Perhaps my increasingly right-wing views are to blame. I don't know.

Qualms

Recently, I've been feeling increasing qualms about my positive words (no matter how qualified) for the Alt Right.

More than anything else this is because of their anti-semitism. Anti-semitism has always been the prejudice that bothers me the most. I'm not talking about faux anti-semitism. G.K. Chesterton was not an anti-semite, though he said some stupid things. I think the recent Kevin Myers controversy, where an Irish columnist lost his job because he suggested Jewish people were good at making money, was ridiculously overblown. When I complain about the Alt Right, I'm talking about real, ugly, deliberate anti-semitism-- blaming Jewish people for everything, wanting them all to go to Israel, using the "k" word, etc. I detest all this.

I feel rather homeless when it comes to political and cultural persuasion right now. Shouldn't Catholic be enough? Not really, because the overwhelming mass of Catholic discourse right now is hopelessly politically correct, insipid and banal. I can barely remember the last time I read a Catholic article or saw a Catholic video that stimulated me in any way (with the exception of Roger Buck, and a few others). I wrote this article on the subject for the Irish Catholic. (One of only two articles I've had there.) It got quite a few shares and someone mentioned it in a letter to the editor.

I'm not a Traditionalist, and I feel like an interloper in Traditionalist discussions. I can't induce that level of preoccupation with the liturgy. And I'm someone will go to Mass every day that it's reasonably convenient.

Cultural libertarianism is OK, but it tends to be atheistic and anti-religious. Milo Yiannapoulous is an exception in this regard. It also tends to be purely negative.

This is my quandary. It's barely exaggerating to say that I'm as much in opposition to the ruling ideology of Western society, at this time, as a Soviet dissident would have been in the Soviet Union. I'm impatient with the accommodationalism of mainstream conservatives and the mainstream churches, including the One True Church. I'm sick of man-bashing, multiculturalism (as an ideology), boundaries-are-bad-ism, irony, utilitarianism, and all the rest of it. I feel completely alienated from it all.

But I also don't want to spend all my time thinking about it. I wish I knew of more commentators, writers, etc. who reject political correctness etc. without having to talk about it constantly. Who simply talk about other things-- films, books, social customs, history, etc. etc-- but without the PC attitudes you get everywhere else.

Intellectually and culturally, I'm bored out of my skull.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Candle's Flame

Your mother's voice, so soft and low,
Calling from distant days your name.
The kind light of a candle's flame.

That winter dawn's so-gentle glow
The morning after Santa came.
The shy light of a candle's flame.

The cinema before the show
Dreaming of stories old in fame.
The bright light of a candle's flame.

The sight of softly falling snow
Making the same street not the same.
The soft light of a candle's flame.

A moment captured long ago,
Sepia-swept in a silver frame.
The dim light of a candle's flame.

A place that only you can go
Away from hurt and fear and shame.
The still light of a candle's flame,
Oh, the gentle light of a candle's flame.