Archive for February 11th, 2010

Show Me The Zulu John Banville

Julian Gough slams fellow Irish novelists as ‘priestly caste’ cut off from the culture | Books |

The Booker prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville also agreed that Gough “has a point, or more than one point”, but added that “his notion that shouting the word ‘feck’ – Father Ted has a lot to answer for – and being grossly scatological will make him seem echt Irish only harms his argument”.

“We who were born and continue to live in Ireland are always distressed by the stage-Irish antics so often to be encountered among the sons and daughters of the diaspora,” said Banville. “But it is true, as the critic Declan Kiberd remarks, that no contemporary Irish writer has yet attempted the Great Irish Novel on social and political themes. Where is our Middlemarch, our Doctor Zhivago, our Rabbit trilogy? The fact is Irish fiction tends to be poetic rather than prosaic, which is something that non-Irish reviewers find hard to grasp. John McGahern used to say that there is verse and there is prose, and then there is poetry, and poetry can occur in either form, and that in Ireland it occurs more often in prose than in verse. There may be a grittily realistic novelist even now writing a masterpiece such as Mr Gough says he longs for, and, if so, I applaud her/him.”

What a condescending turdbag John Banville is, assuming one need not be echt Irish to make such a judgement.
He is fond of that sort of thing, of making haughty declarations about what Irish people are really like. One time I heard him in an interview talking about how parochial Irish people were, offering the example of how some woman had asked him if he was John Banville, and when he confirmed this she said “I’m from Wexford too!” By contrast, Banville has been to Prague and loads of other places on a plane, so naturally this was awful. When the Lisbon Treaty was up for its first referendum, he said that more than Eurosceptic, ‘we’ (i.e. the Irish) were Euroignorant, and that the majority of people had no idea about Lisbon or about many other things.

As for Banville’s fiction, it’s a long time since I read any of it and I don’t feel any hankering to go back to it. At the time I thought his was a prose thriving with grim purpose and measured intensity, but in hindsight I think I was a bit of a tube. For people who haven’t read it, to get a sense of the experience of reading it you need to rent out a house somewhere along the east coast, doesn’t matter where. But preferably at the time of year when it’s raining and misty, but doesn’t matter when. And then think about someone who’s dead, even if they don’t seem dead and they may well not be dead. Think about this for about six weeks, but cook yourself the odd hearty repast and smoke the odd cigarette. Do all this in no particular order.

Hopefully it was Banville Julian Gough was talking about when he said that ‘the older, more sophisticated Irish writers that want to be Nabokov give me the yellow squirts and a scaldy hole’.

Read this, from Banville, translated from an interview in Spanish here.

I am Irish, and we Irish writers write in English, a foreign language. We don’t feel comfortable, we look at the language from the outside. When I read Nabokov I understand him perfectly, because he also writes English from the outside. An English author tries to make his prose easy and transparent, following the advice of George Orwell: the text should be like a sheet of glass. For me, for the Irish, it shouldn’t be a window, but a lens able to zoom in, zoom out or distort. Look, we come from Irish, an extraordinarily evasive language in which it is not possible to say things directly. You can’t say, for example, “I am a man”. You would need to say something like “I am in my manhood”. Irish is oblique and continuously moves away from the essential whilst English is the opposite, it goes straight to the point. That tension, born in the middle of the 19th century, when we stopped speaking Irish and adopted the English of the empire, created a new and potent language. The language of Wilde, Yeats, Shaw, Joyce, Beckett, different from the English of England, the United States or Australia

You’d never know from him, representing Irish from the outside, that ‘Is fear mé’ is a rather direct form of saying I am a man, which goes straight to the point. Gough is right to refer to Irish novelists of a particular vintage as a ‘priestly caste’, and as good an example of this as any is the way Banville accords himself the privilege of issuing the definitive representation of what Irish people are.

“Ireland is a country of storytellers”, he continues. “Imagine that one of our politicians or one of our bishops does something terrible. OK. You would be interested in knowing exactly how this has happened. For us, that is secondary. What matters to us is how they’re going to explain themselves. If the politician or the bishop is able to justify themselves with grace, that is, with a human and inspiring story, they can get out of trouble without great difficulty.”

The joke in all this is that Banville is out to present himself as the cosmopolitan sophisticate by contrast with the charming but largely backward habits of his compatriots. But his insistent preoccupation with what the Irish are really like points up his inability to transcend his own provincialism.

Hobbes In A Hijab

Another article about veiled threats.

Wearing face veils in modern Ireland is preposterous, but don’t ban them | Irish Examiner

Unfortunately, the task was made that bit more difficult by two bits of news last week. First, it emerged that a Lebanese man, having claimed asylum, settled here, managed to secure a visa for one of his two wives and is now seeking to bring a second wife in as well.

The matter is before the High Court. Hopefully it will take a robust view (If there are any variants of Islam which allow women to have more than one husband, I’m not aware of them).

What would a ‘robust’ view entail? I have no knowledge of the particulars of this case, but it seems to me inequitable to allow a visa to one wife and not to the other on the account of the fact that polygamy is not allowed here.

Nor can I see anything generally wrong with polygamy. Which is to say, if it works for other people, and is freely entered into by consenting adults, who am I to stick my nose in? Sure, there is disagreement about what ‘free entry’ might mean, but assuming one can enter into such an agreement freely, who has the privilege, apart from the entrant, to say of any particular case that it has not been freely entered and thereby forbid it? Furthermore, what business has a state to determine that only monogamous arrangements shall be recognised?

The argument that polygamous marriage tends to entail the exploitation of women and should therefore be prohibited is not a very good one. Monogamous marriage tends to entail the exploitation of women too, but that is not an argument for its prohibition.

On whether the veil is freely donned, Stephen King observes:

One cannot be absolutely sure that no woman has ever donned it voluntarily, but one can certainly say that, in countries where women can choose not to wear it, then not wearing it is the choice they generally make.

The face veil turns women into things for it is through face-to-face contact that we recognise our common humanity. Others’ emotions are hard to interpret from behind a screen. The veil is profoundly divisive — and deliberately designed to be. It has no place in education, at airports or in the courts. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds.

But there is no such thing as women ‘generally making’ a choice, since choice in this context is an individual matter. So if women have the power to make a choice, in this case to not wear a veil, then some will choose it and others won’t. The fact that the latter are in a minority by no means implies that they do not do so voluntarily.

Now, I don’t care much for the Hobbesian concept of freedom according to which a woman in Saudi Arabia would freely choose to wear a veil because she knows that if she doesn’t she will be punished for it. But I think this concept of freedom is worth bearing in mind when confronted with these discussions about whether or not Muslim women choose to wear a veil, since it is precisely this concept of freedom which seems to me implicit in much of what is commonly declared to be Western freedom.

That is, it is often argued, not least by Western men, that Muslim women are coerced into wearing a veil and that therefore there should be a prohibition against this sort of coercion, as in the bans sought by Western politicians. However, I have never seen any of these arguments contain an opposition to forms of coercive power per se.

So whereas Muslim women are said to be coerced into wearing a hijab, niqab or burqa, there is rarely any question of anyone else being coerced into wearing whatever it is that they wear. And yet, if I turned up in work tomorrow with a t-shirt that read I Am A Wage Slave Whore, I would meet with legally sanctioned disciplinary action from my employer, and many of those who argue against Muslim women wearing a veil, on account of its associations with coercion, would conclude, after Hobbes, that in fact I had freely chosen to violate company policy and that therefore I could have no complaint if I ended up on the dole.

And clearly coercion into wearing particular garments is by no means the sole manifestation of coercive power in everyday life. Capitalism demands all manner of coercive limits on people’s actions -what they wear, what they say, how they work- on account of the fear of losing one’s livelihood, status and so on.
But the consequences of any action that contravenes these limits is widely represented as the product of free choice. More important though is the implicit assumption that any decision to refrain from contravening these coercive limits is also free choice. I am inclined to conclude, therefore, that what ‘lurks under those shrouds’ is simply an argument for coercive power in its Western capitalist form, in which everyone is held to be where they are purely on account of the free (market) choices they have made.

One more thing:

…If rights are really at issue, don’t others have the right to be able to read the facial expressions? It’s an elemental part of personal communication.

If this ‘right’ were to be somehow enforced, it would spell the end of telephones. And beards. And sunglasses.

Facts On The Ground

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February 2010