Seán O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock,’ Easter 1916 and re-invention

sean-ocaseyHistorian Roy Foster recently gave a lecture in Trinity College entitled: “”An Inheritance From Our Forefathers”? Historians and the Memory of the Irish Revolution.” In his speech, Foster proposed a radically different reading on the events surrounding 1916. For most people, 1916 marks the ostensible beginning of the modern Irish independence movement moving beyond the cultural sphere, events which follow neatly through to the War of Independence, the civil war, the declaration of the Republic and the establishment of partition as a political framework. In this decade of commemoration, already a cliché, a more unified, or retrospectively conscious perspective may be welcome in buckling existing narratives. They’ll help to assuage to tedium of an apparently endless sequence of vapid panel discussions on radio that rarely seem to move beyond a Leaving Certificate level of historical analysis, window-dressing Republicanism to keep Sinn Féin out of government, or worst of all, newspaper supplements.

Rather than seeing the Rising as the beginning, Foster proposes viewing it as an end-point or termination of pre-revolutionary trends, a marker of a generational crisis. For Foster, the real revolution was the series of land acts of the late-nineteenth century which incentivised English landlords to sell their land to Irish farmers, who in many cases, turned out to be more draconian in extracting rents from  their tenants than their English counterparts. This massive transfer of capital and establishment of a native land-owning class could explain why Ireland was capable of ‘settling’ so (relatively) quickly after its revolution and consequent political convulsions, why its quite radical rising became conservatised with such rapidity. Those who were most involved the rising and inculcated its participants were members of a radical, educated middle class and Foster frames them as somewhat immature angsty young people, rebelling against their parents and fashioning their own values in opposition to forces that they regarded as oppressive.

This notion of Easter 1916 as an exercise in re-invention or the formulation of a novel identity interests me as I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on a trilogy of novels, in which identity and the re-invention thereof forms a substantial part of its subject matter, namely Roddy Doyle’s The Last Round-up Trilogy, in the three novels,  A Star Called Henry, Oh, Play That Thing and The Dead Republic, we see the protagonist, Henry Smart conceptualise himself as a mythic figure from out the Celtic mists, a working class hero, linchpin of the IRA, self-conscious exile, self-made man, immigrant hero, inveterate capitalist and finally, a family man, of a sort. I should add, that while he’s doing all this gallivanting, he’s abandoned his wife, daughter and son.

One also thinks of Johnny’s line in Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock, probably the only point in the play when he isn’t complaining about noise, (a potential gesture towards his fairly obvious PTSD, a result of his role in fighting for Ireland during the War of Independence) when it is made known that the Boyle family is to inherit a small fortune. Johnny’s immediate contribution is: “We’ll be able to get out o’ this place now, an’ go somewhere we’re not known,” perhaps indicating how closely related re-invention and revolt was in the mind of the revolutionary generation.

This is all covered more thoroughly in Foster’s recent study, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890-1923. At least, I imagine it is. I haven’t actually read it.

Colm Toíbín on Lady Gregory

colmtoibin_raptoresquireColm Tóibín reads a short essay on Lady Gregory, Major Robert Gregory and the unsuccessful poetic memorials Yeats wrote before producing ‘An Irish Airman Forsees his Death.’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b048nh2y

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Molloy,’ performed by Barry McGovern

mcgovernThe video embedded above is one of my favourite voices, Barry McGovern, reading my favourite section of one of my favourite novels. It is an auditory delight for me on an incalculable number of, or three, levels.

Molloy is one of Beckett’s first wandering vagrant characters and the focus of the first part of his 1951 novel, Molloy. Throughout the narrative he wanders uncertainly around an uncertain city and through an uncertain countryside (albeit one with a distinctly Irish ambience) before being apprehended in uncertain circumstances and made to commit his narrative to paper. The reasons for this are not stated clearly.

McGovern narrates a point in the novel at which Molloy finds himself at the seaside, determined to initiate a routine through which he can suck sixteen small stones that he has acquired for an equal amount of time. The more he thinks about how this system should be instituted, the more complicated the issue becomes.

This video functions more like a soundscape than a straightforward audio rendering, something I think more aural interpretations of an author’s works should aspire to, especially considering Beckett’s willingness to experiment with radio plays during his lifetime. A slower voice (also McGovern’s?), more drained of enunciation and distorted, both from its apparent distance and possibly from its sounding like a tape recorder, repeats what Molloy has just said and at some points also manages to outrun his lagging train of thought, emphasising Molloy’s cognitive decline, as if such a thing needed to be emphasised. Occasionally the voice will add words to McGovern’s initial enunciation, or deliver them with a far more pronounced terseness, as if the responsorial Sam cannot stand being in thrall to the tedious explications.

The recording is also interpolated with a number of non sequiturs  in the form of an motor starting up and a garbled atonal note from a trumpet. These come to prominence as Molloy is frantically outlining his scrupulous methodology, undermining the sense that his approach proceeds along rational lines, or that he has a sympathetic listener. Whatever is causing this noise seems pretty determined to drown Molloy out.

McGovern’s voice occasionally increases in volume and apparent proximity, as if he’s suddenly leaning quite intently into the microphone. These articulations have a surreptitious intimacy to them and expands the range of McGobern’s expression into three or so, normal McGovern, whisper-in-your-ear McGovern and the tape recorded McGovern. This triumvirate McGovernance suggests the increasing diminution of self-presence, a crucial theme in the Trilogy of MolloyMalone Dies and The Unnamable. The failed unity of the three is established roughly halfway in when the narrator allows the tension to build for the barest second, before two of them pronounce ‘all!’ slightly out of step with one another.

Sound, sound, sound.