Review of “The Broken Boy”, Patrick Cockburn, Guardian, 9th July 2005

While this book has an ostensibly medical subject matter, as I pointed out in its review it is a curiously detached account of the 1956 Cork polio outbreak.

A Medical Education

My other Guardian piece,  from over a decade ago. I would end up knowing Cork a lot better in subsequent years.

It is generally OK, although I find myself cringing at some awkward phrases – like “resign on marriage” or “ engaging and witty book itself has a vigorous personality.” Perhaps I am oversensitive.

Too many of my reviews feature terms like “engaging” without real justification. I am not specifically talking about Cockburn, but a tic I have in general. Part of it is an ingrained respect for the Book, so that an enthusiasm comes too early. I really should justify whjat is engaging about a specific work.

The Broken Boy
by Patrick Cockburn
320pp, Cape, £15.99

Writing about the house in which he grew up in Youghal, east Cork, Patrick Cockburn says it “owed its vigorous personality to our lack of money, which ensured that it never saw…

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“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

20170605_095717-1The Glamour of the West seems to be part of a series by D L Kelleher, following on from The Glamour of Dublin and The Glamour of Cork. Kelleher is an obscure figure now. Here is his bio from The Concise Oxford Companion to Irish Literature:

Kelleher, D[aniel] L[aurence] (1883–1958),

playwright and man of letters. Born in Cork and educated at UCC, he was associated in his early career with the group of dramatists known as the ‘Cork Realists’ [see Abbey Theatre]. Stephen Grey (1910) was produced at the Abbey in 1910, and thereafter he wrote A Contrary Election (1910). His travel sketches reflect his varied career, and include Paris, Its Glamour and Life (1914), Lake Geneva (1914), The Glamour of Dublin (1918, as ‘D. L. Kay’), The Glamour of Cork (1919), Round Italy (1923), and Great Days with O’Connell (1929). His poetry includes Cork’s Own Town (1920), Poems Twelve a Penny (1911) and Twelve Poems (1923).

The Glamour of the West doesn’t even make this concise list. It is a collection of very brief sketches, the longest a couple of pages. The subtitle, “Bantry Bay to Lough Foyle”, gives a sense of the geographic range, although at times Kelleher veers quite far east (to Anthony Trollope in Banagher and Maria Edgesworth in Edgesworthstown).

20170605_095726I quite liked the Talbot Press symbol (“logo” seems a bit anachronistic) Talbot Press seems to have gone the way of all flesh:

 

Kelleher’s tone is set from the outset, in a “Prelude”:

“The West’s Awake!” – Awake to what? To its own infinitely small knowledge of itself? That  is as much as one can say in answer.

He ends the Prelude thus:

So, in 1928, this brief book of resentment and hope, coloured with a little love, takes up a few of the threads, and as tenderly, cynically, or dispassionately as may be, for a moment resumes an old story.

Kelleher references “cynicism” quite a bit throughout. The tone of the book is often bantering, scathing  – but in a somewhat indirect way. It put in my mind of a fictional character, Sarah Devlin from J G Farrell’s wonderful novel Troubles  There is a sort of habit of mind that could no doubt be called post colonial in a later age; mindful of the the atrocities but also the slights inflicted on the Irish nation over the years, and complaining of these in a what could be called a passive aggressive tone. Perhaps most suggestively, there is little on the events of the prior decade which led to Irish independence (in part).

Some extracts may demonstrate this comparison – the reader can judge if it is apt or not.

“The 1847 Famine In Mayo” is perhaps a little more emotionally direct than other pieces. It begins with a consideration I have wondered about myself

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

“Long duresse” is in the original. I did wonder originally was it a reference to the longue durée  concept of historians of the French Annales School, but this was many years before. “Duresse” must be related to “duress” and mean suffering.

Here is another characteristic extract –  about a man from my father’s part of the country:

A very old man, eighty-five, perhaps more, came into the town of Dunflin, Co. Sligo, one day in 1670 on his way to Dublin. The jolting of the rude two wheeled car, with only a layer of straw thrown down in it to soften the corner where you could sit, had tired him out. So he went to the tavern where he was known (for he had often passed that way) and asked for a bed for the night. He was given his old bed in the room above, and then he settled down by the fire in the kitchen to take a little drop of whiskey to revive him and to rest for a short while. There was a very nice girl serving drink to any that would come into the bar outside. But there was little custom and she came into the kitchen and stayed a long time talking to the old man, for she was a really nice girl and could appreciate him. They were pleasantly conversing when a loud clatter of feet was heard from the shop and a voice calling, “Come on here and fetch it out!

Hurrying from the kitchen the girl recognised the intruder as a well-known loyalist from near Dunflin. As soon as he saw the comely girl he put his hand around her, but she pulled herself away and stepped back into the kitchen where the old man had risen from his chair on hearing the confusion. The intruder followed her in and again trying to lay hold of the girl, said “Come on! Give me a kiss and you, you old —–, turn away!”

But the old man put himself between the girl and the soldier and defied him to touch her, for, as old as he was, he would strike “a foul fellow the like of you.’ The drunken soldier, blazing with insolence and disappointed passion, caught up a knife that was lying on the table and drove it into the old man’s heart and killed him with that blow.

That old man was Duald MacFirbis, once a rich scholar, who had spent his whole life compiling histories and genealogies. He was one of the true lovers of Ireland, keeping a hope for posterity by writing down the story of the heroic past. He did it in poverty and homelessness and now he had murder for his crown.

Here are some photos of the pages this story is recounted in:

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It is easy to mock this kind of thing, with references to comely girls and so on. Of course, as I often think, some day our prose will no doubt seem laughable. And the book is an at times nearly Borgesian in its laconic capturing of a person, a society, a nation through moments.

One more extract, and this one is actually in some ways the most characteristic:

PRIMROSES BY THE SEA

This is a personal chapter. It need not lose by that. It is about a trip we took by road from Sligo to Bundoran. It is really about a stop we made on the way when we ran past a desolate-looking harbour of refuge that the Congested Districts Board had made for fishermen, since gone to America. We were able to pass around the empty harbour to the edge of a cliff almost as unreclaimed as nature left it.

It was a day in mid-June when primroses rambled over the grass, and sea-pinks with them. Under the cliff the rocks cut into a smooth sea. The view extended almost to Donegal. There was no ship or boat or any sign of life except ourselves.

“Where are we now?” said I.

“I don’t know,” said the man who owned the car. “I came here once before and don’t know whether it is Leitrim or Sligo.”

“Is Leitrim on the coast?”

“It is – a couple of miles of it. But I think we are in Sligo. Leitrim is further on.”

We made tea on the sloping cliff side and watched the perfect solitude.

“Nothing ever happened here,” said my friend. “There is no glamour to write about.”

Nothing only primroses in mid-June, gold sands shining up through blue water, the smell of sea-wrack from the caves, the caress of soft aqueous air.

Glamour enough! Go there and see!

 

“While there is still time”

The Mower
BY PHILIP LARKIN
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

 

 

Entertaining profile by Caity Weaver from GQ on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

In a break from my usual run of Polish poems with the word ‘elegy’ in the title and mordant reflections on dead birds and dead Russian hikers, here is a simply entertaining  (and quite endearing) piece on Dwayne The Rock Johnson….whose boundless enthusiasm, if Weaver’s portrait is at all accurate, is something to behold.

This was my favourite bit:

Johnson frequently takes to social media to thank members of the armed forces, specifically and in aggregate, for their service. In his patriotic hands, anything can—and will—become a tribute to the armed forces. In March, he was “grateful” to share the “big news” on Instagram that he would be portraying “a disabled US War Vet and former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader” in an upcoming movie about “the world’s largest skyscraper—that’s on fire.” Johnson wrote that his character in this demented summer blockbuster was “inspired by the thousands of disabled US veterans and war heroes I’ve had the honor of shaking hands with over the years.” (He also mentioned that he got to meet with “the world’s top skyscraper architects,” which, though it was not about the military, was a very cool thing to brag about and could easily serve as the basis for a separate preposterous film.)

And this is bit that is both entertaining and links to the Serious Bit:

Johnson’s in Los Angeles now to film HBO’s Ballers, but he’s got gyms wherever he goes. He’s building one at his farm in Virginia, where he keeps his horses (and also, he says, a piano once owned by Benjamin Franklin; it came with the farm), and he has a workout facility at his primary residence in Florida, where he lives on a compound on the edge of the Everglades, in a tiny rural town popular among professional athletes who yearn for country living within an hour’s drive of Miami. As he crisscrosses the country for work, he’s constantly scouting new spots. If he has to go to New York for a night, he will find a gym there, and it will be in a dank, subterranean room, probably off an alley that only Johnson can find. If you have a basement, he might be in your house right now, doing leg presses and staying hydrated. Found an incredible little out-of-the-way spot, he might write on Instagram, under a photo of himself lifting your washing machine. #HardestWorkersInTheRoom #ByAnyMeansNecessary #LateNight #StopNever.

 

For all the attention he’s earned as a hulking action star, Johnson’s best performances are in those funny roles where he can display flashes of vulnerability. Despite his toned physique, he has a Will Ferrell-esque ability to project childlike innocence and confusion with his large man body and bald baby face.

There’s a scene in this spring’s virilely campy Baywatch, for instance, in which Johnson’s character is forced to wear normal work clothes instead of a tank top, even though he’s the best lifeguard the race of man has ever seen. He doesn’t have a line—all he’s doing is standing while wearing a polo shirt—but it’s inexplicably heartbreaking. Like watching a puppy get fired. And because it’s absurd that it’s heartbreaking—absurd that the millionaire movie star with the rippling muscles has tricked you into feeling bad for his character due to a minor dress-code issue—it’s also weirdly funny.

In an age when it’s cooler to hate things than enjoy them, Johnson has carved out an improbable niche for himself, as someone it’s safe to like. Maybe you like him because he’s big and does fast things in slow motion. Maybe you like him because he had one song to sing in the children’s musical he was cast in, and he sang it with his whole heart. Undeniably, he is likable—and likable is lucrative in his line of work: His films have collectively taken in more than a billion dollars a year worldwide, a fact that has made Johnson, at 45 years old, the highest-paid movie star on earth. This popularity has made people wonder just how far it could take him and what, exactly, he’d like to do with it. In a moment of political ridiculousness, there’s even the suddenly not ridiculous question of whether Dwayne Johnson might actually be headed for Washington.

For the current incumbent has managed, if nothing else, to smash the mould of what Presidential Timber means. The article is a hoot, and it is interesting to note Johnson’s studied neutrality (but immediate response on the Muslim Ban) and the enthusiasm of those who worked with him…

Adam Kirsch on Emmanuel Carrère, faith, and Christianity’s ability to scandalise

From the April 21st TLS:

The decline in churchgoing across Europe over the past two centuries has had the paradoxical result of restoring one of Christianity’s most notable features – the ability to scandalize. When a man like Emmanuel Carrère – an esteemed and successful French writer of fiction, non-fiction and screenplays, a sometime member of the Cannes film jury – suddenly declares himself to be a devout Christian, as he did in the autumn of 1990, the effect on his secular acquaintances brings to mind the effect of a similar announcement by a Roman matron 2,000 years ago. It’s not just shock but a kind of contempt: how could a person like you believe a story like that?

When Carrère was “touched by grace” – “it embarrasses me to put it that way today, but that’s how I put it at the time”, he writes in his new book The Kingdom – he was also undergoing psychoanalysis, and the reaction of his analyst to his declaration of faith was telling. Wasn’t Carrère’s new found belief in God the Father actually just “a crutch that I’m using on the journey toward an understanding of the place occupied in my life by own father?” This widely held secular view echoes the Nietzschean and Freudian assumptions that religion is always an imaginative compensation for suffering.

Carrère understands both faith and unbelief. … For as his reference to “embarrassment” implies, he had long ceased toe be a Christian by the time he began this book … But he is still torn, and fascinated, by the knowledge that his past self would have been devastated by his current self’s scepticism, just as his current self is aghast at his earlier faith.

The whole review is interesting, and while Kirsch is pretty sceptical of the book’s literary merits, the piece is a worthwhile meditation on the “literary shaping of Christianity” as the headline has it.

 

Adam deVille on failing to understand Marx and Freud

A month ago I featured long segments from a post by Adam DeVille on the romanticisation of monasticism. Again, here is another post worth reading in full.

What makes this post important is that, too often, commentators on “therapy culture” engage not with the actual thought that underlines psychotherapy, but a sort of a caricature. For instance, Frank Furedi’s “Therapy Culture” is an attack on what is presented as a privileging of emotion over reason and a denial of personal agency and responsibility. True perhaps of some of the bastardisations of therapy that permeate pop culture, but not of actual therapy as practiced by actual, rigorously trained therapists.

Back to deVille:

What makes Freud useful for MacIntyre is his unparalleled insight into the nature of our desires, and how we fail to be good reasoners when our desires go astray or are corrupted by unconscious trauma; and what makes Marx still so important and useful is that he continues to offer those willing to listen a very powerful critique of how capitalism subtly exploits and fuels those desires Freud recognized.

It is, alas, a staple of too much cheap and grubby Christian apologetics for a century and more now to run down Freud and Marx alike without ever having seriously read either man in the original (or a scholarly translation) and to treat both as the greatest threat ever faced by Christianity. I count myself fortunate to have been introduced, as an undergraduate in psychology in Ottawa in the early 1990s, to the original writings of both Freud and Jung (and others in that first generation around Vienna) in several classes, including especially a class on psychoanalysis and religion taught by a professor who was himself a Christian and not threatened by what psychoanalysis had to offer.

What makes Freud useful for MacIntyre is his unparalleled insight into the nature of our desires, and how we fail to be good reasoners when our desires go astray or are corrupted by unconscious trauma; and what makes Marx still so important and useful is that he continues to offer those willing to listen a very powerful critique of how capitalism subtly exploits and fuels those desires Freud recognized.

It is, alas, a staple of too much cheap and grubby Christian apologetics for a century and more now to run down Freud and Marx alike without ever having seriously read either man in the original (or a scholarly translation) and to treat both as the greatest threat ever faced by Christianity. I count myself fortunate to have been introduced, as an undergraduate in psychology in Ottawa in the early 1990s, to the original writings of both Freud and Jung (and others in that first generation around Vienna) in several classes, including especially a class on psychoanalysis and religion taught by a professor who was himself a Christian and not threatened by what psychoanalysis had to offer.

Leandro Herrero: “An enlightened top leadership is sometimes a fantastic alibi for a non-enlightened management to do whatever they want”

Auto reblogging is perhaps a little narcissistic but this is something that has relevance far beyond healthcare…. Dr Herrero’s blog is highly highly recommended.

A Medical Education

From Leandro Herrero’s  website, a “Daily Thought” which I am going to take the liberty of quoting in full:

Nothing is more rewarding than having a CEO who says world-changing things in the news, and who produces bold, enlightened and progressive quotes for all admirers to be. That organization is lucky to have one of these. The logic says that all those enlightened statements about trust, empowerment, humanity and purpose, will be percolated down the system, and will inform and shape behaviours in the milfeulle of management layers below.

I take a view, observed many times, that this is wishful thinking. In fact, quite the opposite, I have seen more than once how management below devolves all greatness to the top, happily, whilst ignoring it and playing games in very opposite directions. Having the very good and clever and enlightened people at the top is a relief for…

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