Photographs of Jorge Luis Borges in Palermo, 1984, by Ferdinando Scianna

I came across this wonderful photo by Fernandino Scianna on twitter:

It turns out that on the Magnum Photo Agency site there is a series of photos of Borges by Scianna. Most (but not all) of these are from a 1984 visit by Borges to Palermo in Sicily (Borges grew up in a Buenos Aires district called Palermo)

Obviously the copyright lies with Scianna and I will advise readers to go to Magnum site to browse, but I couldn’t resist this photo of Borges touching a bust of Julius Caesar:

Palermo: touching a sculpture of Julius Caesar in the Archeological Museum.

Oh and another from a visit to the National Gallery:

Palermo: the National Galery.

 

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From “Quest for God in the Work of Borges”, Annette U. Flynn

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I recently started this book by UCD Lecturer Annette U Flynn. Her biography is worth noting and outlines a winding if not forking path into academia:

 

I grew up in the mountains of the Schwäbische Alb in Southern Germany. After my initial studies at the University of Tübingen, and with the help of the DAAD, I was assigned to Morayshire, on the Northern Scotland coast, to try my hand at teaching pupils at a secondary school. It also led me to adult education in Aberlour, in the Speyside Valley, where I taught Spanish to the workers of the local whisky distilleries. This was the beginning of a long standing love affair with my host country which lasted until 2002, when I came to Ireland to take up my post at UCD.

In Scotland, I worked as a legal translator, and soon started on a new degree course at the University of Edinburgh, joint majoring in Spanish and Italian with Portuguese. This was followed by an MSc (the Scottish equivalent of the Irish MA), and the PhD. I was extremely fortunate to be supervised in my postgraduate studies by Edwin Williamson, who now is at the University of Oxford.

I taught at the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling, and also had the privilege of working for the German publishing House Klett as a lexicographer.

In 2003 I got married and now live in County Wicklow with my husband Dave, who is a painter and writer.

One of my loves is the Argentine tango, which I think is one of the most complete and exciting art forms. It is profound, unpredictable and inexhaustible, very much like Borges.

I look forward to reading and absorbing the whole book which deals with one of my favourite writers from a perspective oft-ignored. As is the way of forking paths, it has introduced me to the philosophy of Hans Vaihinger of “as-if”… and I fear that the footnotes and references of Annette U Flynn’s book may lead me down paths that distract from actually reading it!

Here is an extract:

 

 

The abiding themes of time and identity, which Borges explores, and which he battles with throughout all of his creative life, are an expression of his desire to find a release from these problematic concepts. The quest for the divine in his stories, the unfulfilled spiritual quest of his characters, is not accidental. It is also a metaphor which points to a need to heal a fragile sense of personal self. This is evidenced in one of his very early essays of 1923, ‘La nadería de la personalidad’, where he recounts a personal experience of parting from a friend for good. Borges is prompted, he tells us, by a deep, emotional desire to reveal his soul, his innermost self, to his friend. But this gives way to a vehement, intellectual denial of that very essence of the self. This violent shift from yearning to intellectual denial points to a sense of self which is, in its essence, wounded. This oscillation between affirmation and denial is to be played out again and again. His captivating and intellectually stimulating texts also reveal a lesser known aspect: his struggle to attain a faith reality as expressed in the anguished search for spiritual plenitude. His texts and his characters do speak, openly in some cases, obliquely in others, of a search, a yearning, if not always explicitly for faith itself or God, then for a spiritual experience of some kind or another. The consequences of this difficult search are the emergence of a fragile sense of self, fragmented and caught in a stricture between affirmation and denial. Borges’ fragile sense of self has implications for his notion of time, and vice versa. Both are linked to his spiritual searching.”

Happy #WorldLabyrinthDay 2018

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Happy World Labyrinth Day! :

Celebrate the 10th Annual World Labyrinth Day on May 5, 2018 and join over 5,000 people taking steps for peace, ‘Walking as One at 1’ in the afternoon. Last year gatherings were held in over 20 countries and 45 US states!

For those new to labyrinths, find one to walk in your area using the World Wide Labyrinth Locator. You can also learn to draw or build a simple labyrinth with links in our resources section below. Already planning your event? Be counted and fill out our survey with the WLD Google Form.

Members of the Labyrinth Society are encouraged to facilitate group walks at public labyrinths to engage the community and amplify our collective energy. World Labyrinth Day is also a great opportunity to introduce others to the path by organizing lectures, workshops, tours, book readings, art exhibitions, or building temporary or permanent labyrinths.

If you are unable to ‘Walk as One at 1’ other opportunities to participate include tracing a finger labyrinth on paper or using a mobile app. Labyrinth walks and events can also be held in the morning or evening, as others will be walking in unison with you in other time zones. Just as there are a wide variety of uses of the labyrinth, creativity and multiplicity are encouraged.

Today I am one of those unable to Walk as One at 1 due to work commitments, but I am aiming to mark the event in some way around that time…. and here are some of my labyrinth related posts from this blog:

A Labyrinth on the Rock of Cashel

Castletownroche, Co. Cork – labyrinths, dinosaurs, and spies.

The Labyrinth of Mr Price

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

Glencomeragh in February

World Labyrinth Day 2017 – May 6th, 1 pm

“it is astonishing that each morning we wake up sane – that is, relatively sane -after having passed through that zone of shades, those labyrinths of dreams”

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The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

A while back I posted my own effort at labyrinth building. Small sections of mini fencing (I am sure there is a more technical term) seemed ideal for the amateur, low budget labyrinth builder.

Not all the sections of mini fence survived various ravages of children’s play, so my labyrinth is depleted in scale. As those of you in Western Europe may have noticed, there’s been a bit of snow lately. This photo is from the thaw and the pristine whiteness is ruined by my mushy footprints and by some seeds out for the birds … but you get the idea:

“The whirligig of time” : A note on Fr Pat Noise

“The whirligig of time” : A note on Fr Pat Noise

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Seeing that this documentary is to be broadcast next Saturday I thought it an apt time, though any time would be an apt time, to post about my own research into the obscure career of Fr Pat Noise…

Some years ago, when lecturing in UCD, I was working on a presentation on conditions in some ways connected with the passage of time. The best known being deja vu, the perception when in a new place or situation that one has been here before, or the same thing has happened before. Of course, there is a whole psychological science of time.

In those days I had the chance to read more deeply and broadly for this kind of thing than since. I used what was then the UCD School of Medicine in Earlsfort Terrace. It was the last few months of it being part of UCD. The librarians were working on transferring stock of the main UCD Library and many older and more obscure volumes were out and about on various trestle tables. Among these was one which I had dimly heard of but had also come up in some of my reading, Vico’s The New Science. Vico believed that history went in a curve or spiral, and that events recurred.

In the middle of the book, presumably used as a book mark at some stage, I found a faded, worn prayer card. I could barely make out the text on it except for a request to say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for the soul of Fr Pat Noise, and below this the following words:

Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen?
Look at the moon
Do you want to hear what ears have never heard?
Listen to the birds cry
Do you want to touch what hands have never touched?
Touch the earth
Truly I say that God is about to create the world.

This struck me as somewhat unusual content for a prayer card. Again, having more time than now, I was able to follow up with some research on Fr Noise in the Dublin Diocescan archives in All Hallows. I think I had a vague idea about writing some kind of paper. I am not a historian and was seeking not truth nor likelihood but astonishment. So I found out somewhat more about Fr Pat Noise.

Noise, like Fergus Kilpatrick and Dungarvan native John Vincent Moon is a figure who has somehow been forgotten, by and large, in the so called Decade of Centenaries. Unfortunately, at the time , I made my notes in a file on a laptop which is long defunct.

In the archives what we read about Fr Noise is entirely through the words of others, him being a curate in Berkeley Road who dressed in an extremely flamboyant manner, who was unambigious in his support of the workers in the 1913 Lockout, and also as proposing theological views not entirely Orthodox. However one letter describes him as travelling to the furthest reaches of orthodoxy, but not going over the precipice.

This was contained in another letter from a priest that was otherwise quite hostile to Fr. Noise. According to this priest, Fr Noise stated that there are no two moments alike and every moment is a new moment and that history is in a cycle and life is in a cycle because every moment is new again. The poem that was on the prayer card was reproduced in this letter; apparently Fr Noise read it at a ceremony. It is unrecorded what the congregation in Berkeley Road made of this.

Fr Noise’s sympathy for the 1913 Lockout and for the poor of Dublin seems to have, in a similar way, gone right to but not past the limit of what the Church hierarchy could tolerate. There are hints in another letter, by an anonymous outraged parishioner, of accusations of Socialism and Communism, but in this area Fr Noise crafted his sermons in the words of Christ Himself, and remained at the dangerous edge of orthodoxy.

The link with Peadar Clancy came through being one of the genuine customers of Republican Outfitters. This was a well known meeting place for the IRA in Dublin. Dan Breen said that really if you were an IRA man you shouldn’t stay there too long. In the letters about Noise it is mentioned that he wore quite elaborate capes and top hats which were sourced from Republican Outfitters.

He also apparently translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Irish, but there is no trace I could find of this. There is also a clipped article by Fr Noise, but from an unidentifiable periodical, on Festspiele – festivals in Switzerland in which thousands of people , possible the whole population of a town or area will renact historical events in the place where they happened. In this piece he suggests that this is something that Ireland and Dublin should emulate and and there were all these hints that the 1916 Rising was a reenactment of a previous event that had happened before in history.

Fr Noise pops up in letters beween Peadar Clancy and Sean Treacy and also seems to have been an intermediary for Clancy. Surprisingly these activities do not make it into the accusations of his various foes, and in the letters what Clancy describes are purely philosophical and theological discussions.

Fr Noise is now commemorated with a plaque on O’Connell Street, but otherwise his life is nearly totally forgotten by both the worlds of the Church and of Official Ireland. Perhaps in the narrative of commemorations and the rather self-congratulatory rhetoric about How Far We Have Come, a priest with cosmopolitan intellectual influences does not fit neatly into our perceptions of a cleric or a revolutionary. His plaque is, by coincidence, on the spot on O’Connell Bridge beside which the Millenium Clock, a digital clock inserted into the Liffey in 1994 but which was beset by all sort of problems, including time running backwards.

Peter Reason on being a pilgrim and being a tourist

I recently re-blogged a section from Peter Reason’s new book, In Search of Grace. I’ve been reading it over the weekend and am sorely tempted to simply copy out sections. I hope to write a fuller, more considered review in due course but also hope to blog responses to particular themes. Reason’s “ecological pilgrimage” touches on a huge range of topics related to nature connection, silence, conservation, pilgrimage, and time and whole range of topics close to my heart.

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It is an engaging read which is helpfully upfront about the messy human reality of pilgrimage – very far from a continuous series of flow experiences, epiphanies and so on. His pilgrimage is ecological rather than explicitly religious and draws on a wide range of traditions, including secular/scientific ones – but with a great deal of respect for the religious underpinnings of pilgrimage.

He is also unsentimental – observing for instance that as the “Sixth Great Extinction” began pretty much once homo sapiens showed up, blaming the depradations humans have wrought on the planet on “Western” or “modern” man is a mistake.

Anyway, there is a huge amount to get to grips with and I hope to feature some highlights and thoughts here over the next while. For the moment, one theme which is relatively minor but highly significant is the distinction between the pilgrim and the tourist. I have blogged on this before – or rather on the distinction often made between being a “tourist” and a “traveller” – my own preference being for honest tourist rather than pretentious traveller.

For Reason, these reflections are most acute on Inishmore, largest of the Aran Islands. Aware of the tension inherent in bringing economic benefit to an isolated community (although as he writes, given the preponderence of day trippers the main beneficiaries are the ferry companies), he also notes his own preference for solitude in sites like Dun Aengus. Yet, is he so different from the mass of tourists? As he reflects afterwards:

I sailed north with a heavy heart, disappointed with my visit. Inishmore is a remarkable place. First for its lessons in geology: it is one thing to read about how erosion creates limestone pavements, quite another to actually walk over them. Second, for its lessons in history: while this is not my part of the world, I know is has been deeply influenced and impoverished both by its own conflicts and those imported from England. For me, however, these qualities were overwhelmed by the visitor culture, not so much by the curiosity of the people who visit, but by the infrastructure that is required to cater from them and to profit from them. The tourist business requires that large numbers of visitors move through the sites fairly quickly and are returned to the tourist hub where they can spend their money.

It is all too easy to make a crude distinction between tourist and pilgrim. We are all both. The line is a subtle one that I found myself continually crossing and recrossing, never entirely sure which side I was on. Indeed, nature writer Paul Evans refers to people like me who go in search of wild places as ‘wilderness tourist.’ Religious pilgrims who go to sacred places in search of a holy realm will often take time out for sightseeing; and tourists visiting the same place may find themselves affected more profoundly than they had bargained for. The tourist may see a haughty arrogance in the pilgrim’s claim to a higher purpose, and the pilgrims may look down on the superficiality they see in the tourists.

Reason goes on to write as to why he finds the distinction still worth making; I don’t want this to turn into simply posting extracts from his writing so I would urge those who wish to know more to seek out the book For me, sites like the Louvre and the British Museum do acquire the status of pilgrim sites, and when somewhere is described as “touristy” it is usually because there is something worthwhile there. Of course, the experience of visiting it may be wrapped up in a lot of tiresome tat and overcrowding, but it was ever thus …

‘British Army Gothic and Innocent Landscapes’ : The Troubles in Photographs (review of”The Maze”, Donovan Wylie, Nthposition, 2004)

‘British Army Gothic and Innocent Landscapes’ : The Troubles in Photographs (review of”The Maze”, Donovan Wylie, Nthposition, 2004)

(Nthposition seems to be no longer live, so the text is recovered from this blog and photos from Wylie’s book are reproduced here.)

“The Maze”
by Seamus Sweeney
Nth Position Book Reviews

Review of:
The Maze
Donovan Wylie
Granta, 2004

Prisons often have strangely poetic names. Think of Strangeways in Manchester or Parchman in Mississippi, think of Sing Sing or Spandau. Even Wormwood Scrubs has an evocative ring – the juxtaposition of the Book of Revelations book Wormwood and an image of the mundane labour of scrubbing. Some prisons display reverse nominative determination – Mountjoy in Dublin is anything but joyful. But no prison that I know of has as apt a name as The Maze near Belfast.

I had always assumed “The Maze” was so called because it was literally a maze, a medieval sounding fortress-prison. In fact, the townland on which the prison was built was known as “An Má” – the plain – as Gaeilge, which became “The Maze” over time. Yet the Maze is exactly that. Like something out of a Borges story, the building is deliberately designed to baffle and confuse. Entering the world of Donovan Wylie’s photographs is to enter a world of “steriles” and “inertias” – open spaces, the former a stone surfaced space designed to immobilise the prisoners, the latter a void running immediately along the wall of the prison designed to detect any movements near the seventeen-foot high perimeter wall. It’s a world of roads that are almost all cul-de-sacs, where any one point in the prison looks exactly the same as sundry other points.

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. H-Block 5. Excercise Yard B. 2003 photo by Donovan Wylie via http://we-make-money-not-art.com/donovan_wylie_vision_as_power/

The Maze, from the evidence of Wylie’s photographs, was and is a prime example of a distinctive architecture those familiar with the Northern Ireland landscape will instantly recognise. The watchtowers, many now dismantled but many still present across the landscape, the courthouses and police stations surrounded by high walls and enmeshed in barbed wire – British Army Gothic, it could be called. For many who didn’t have to actually live there (and, I suspect, not a few of those who did) the apparatus of militarisation gave driving through the North a certain frisson of excitement. It was part of what made Northern Ireland distinct, and for this Free Stater, part of the sense of the place not being the same as Galway or Cork. There was a certain heaviness in the air, palpable at the sight of one of these inscrutable structures. Margaret Thatcher’s aphorism that Northern Ireland was as British as her constituency Finchley was widely ridiculed, but to call it as Irish as Spiddal or Mullingar betrays an even tinnier ear to the unique atmosphere of the Six Counties/Ulster/Northern Ireland.

As that last splurge of strokes indicates, it’s almost impossible to write about the wider topic of Northern Ireland for any length without betraying yourself – I use the word “betraying” judiciously. One’s allegiances are revealed in the very terms used to describe the Troubles/conflict/armed struggle/security situation. Even the attempt to be linguistically neutral will probably alienate both sides more than anything else.

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. Inertia Stage 2. 2003 Photo by Donovan Wylie via http://we-make-money-not-art.com/donovan_wylie_vision_as_power/

Dr Louise Purbrick, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, provides a clear-sighted essay on the photographs that manages, on the whole, to avoid the partisan traps language sets for the unwary (although – here’s the inevitable “although”) her account of the start of the “Troubles” is a bit simplistic. Like a lot of penological literature, there’s a strange void in Purbrick’s essay – no mention of what the prisoners had actually done to end up in jail. One almost feels a deus ex machina has deposited them there.

Purbrick is strong on the history of the Maze, and the thinking in prison construction and design that underlay its conception. The Maze was built in 1976, beside the existing internment camp of Long Kesh. The paradox was that to enforce the end of special category status for paramilitary prisoners, a special prison had to be used. The Maze was unique in British prisons in that it was a complete maximum security institution – elsewhere in the UK, the policy of ‘dispersal’, incarcerating high security prisoners in Special Security Units scattered throughout the prison system, had been in place since the Sixties and continues to be. Housing prisoners in separate cells, as opposed to the dormitories of Long Kesh, was expected to break up group loyalties.

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. Chapel, Phase 3. 2003. Photo by Donovan Wylie via We Make Money Not Art site (see link above)

The H-blocks which became part of the iconography of the Troubles were prefabricated concrete units whose shape was dictated by economy rather than any aspiration to symbolise anything. The advent of prefabrication in prison architecture could even be seen as part of the International Modernist glorification of functionality over traditional ideals of form. If Le Corbusier felt a house was a machine for living in, prefabricated prisons were machines for incarcerating people in. Built by the Royal Engineers, the Maze is British Army Gothic Triumphant – Wylie describes how the walls initially appear entirely grey, such is the volume of barbed wire around them.

The Hunger Strikes of the early Eighties (there were two major ones, the second during which Bobby Sands and ten others died, and a less well known strike in 1980) and the dirty protests, as well as creating a potent Republican martyrology and searing the H-block into Irish consciousness, ultimately ended the debate on special status. Purbrick cites the Chief Inspector of Prisons during this later phase in the conflict that “there is no point in pretending that it is a normal prison.”

Wylie’s photographs both gain and lose something for being taken when the Maze was unoccupied. There’s an eerie, JG Ballardian atmosphere to the photos of vast institutional structures now disused. There is little difference between the inertias and steriles, and indeed navigating the photographs becomes disorientating – have I been here before, one asks, even while turning the pages. This is a hint of the derealisation that the Maze itself must have provoked.

The pictures of now-empty cells, their flowery curtains the one hint of lively colour in the book, again strike one largely with their sameness. But how much of this is the sameness of institutional buildings – from hospitals to schools to barracks back to prisons – anywhere? How much of our reaction to these photos is their presumed context – was this cell wall covered in excrement, did a hunger striker lie on this bed? In these images, life is drained out- but is it because the prison is empty or because of the nature of the building itself?

The images are reminiscent of David Farrell’s Innocent Landcapes (published in book form in 2001). In 1999, after the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims’ Remains) Bill was passed in the Commons declaring an amnesty to help the identification and location of the remains of those “disappeared” during the Troubles, six locations were identified where eight people had been buried after being murdered by the IRA. Their fate and the location of their bodies had been unknown to their families since the Seventies. Farrell’s photographs were pastoral landscapes, with the unmistakable signs of a forensic search for a body discreetly in the middle distance, like a shepherd in a Poussin painting. Hannah Arendt’s thinking on the banality of evil are often discussed, but Wylie and Farrell portray the banality of much else that we think of with fear and trembling – the banal reality of maximum security and of murder and hidden burial respectively. Wylie and Farrell complement each other in other ways – Wylie portrays the architectural embodiment of the state’s forceful authority, while Farrell shows us the smiling hills where the IRA forcefully asserted its authority. (edit in 2017 – Farrell continued his project beyond the time this review was written, see here)

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Image from Innocent Landscapes, David Farrell, via http://www.galleryofphotography.ie/innocent-landscapes-by-david-farrell-010101-010201/

The Maze now lies empty, closed since October 2003. A public process of consultation is ongoing as to its fate – the interested can visit the site at New Future for the Maze. Predictably, there is a sectarian edge to the various proposals – museum, suburban centre, stadium – for its future. Wylie’s photographs may be closest we will get to simply leaving the Maze intact, neither the burden of interpretative centres with a no doubt contentious interpretation nor the simple erasure of history, but simply leaving it as it is.

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Innocent Landscapes, Resumed search, Oristown, March, 2011 from http://source.ie/blog/?p=1659