Archive for June 13th, 2008

Jun 13 2008

Dublin Writers Festival – Deutchland’s Descendants, Dilapidated Debates And Dublin’s Droogs*

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This evening was a very varied affair. As I raced from work, I began to question this volunteerism that Darragh had inspired in me. I was reminded that inspiration can be negative too. Someone inspired Hitler, someone inspired Stalin, someone inspired Bush and Darragh inspired me.

My first duty as volunteer for the Dublin Writers Festival is to collect award winning author, Justin Cartwright, from the Morrison and escort him to the Project Theatre in Templebar. That took all of 5 minutes.

Once at the venue I was given a variety of duties, one of which was providing the microphone to audience members during the question-time section of each event. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to watch, firstly, the readings and discussion between Hugo Hamilton and Justin Cartwright, and secondly, the ‘debate’ with Ivana Bacik, Alan Gilsenan and Roy Foster. David McWilliams was a disappointing no-show.

Deutchland’s Descendants

Hamilton and Cartwright read sections from their respective novels, Disguise and The Song Before it is Sung. Both novels address issues which arose from a post war Germany and while the books are both quite different in style, it is understandable why these two authors were paired together.

Hugo Hamilton’s Disguise is an explorative piece, examining the concept of personal identity, through his character, Boris Opp. Opp was a Jewish child in Germany who was rescued by the father of a woman who had just lost her own young child in the war. The father encourages her to raise Opp as her own child in replacement of her lost son. It would be many years later before Opp would discover the truth and embark upon a personal journey of inner discovery in order to concrete his own identity as a Jew raised without the knowledge of his heritage.

This search for identity is a theme Hamilton returns to time and time again, and it is understandable. He was born of a German mother to a nationalist Irish father and was raised on a strict linguistic diet of German and Gaeilge, which just made him view the English language as a taboo challenge that he would face in secret. It is clear that in these roots of learning he not only found his calling as a writer, but also found a question he would ask himself repeatedly throughout his life – “Who am I?” This question of identity is at the heart of his work. Reading three passages from Disguises, Hamilton was a treat to listen to – lacking in ego without being self-effacing, he proved to be engaging and interesting.

Cartwright, on the other hand, introduced his novel by telling us that one reviewer described it as nothing more that an exercise in smugness. The audience laughed, I laughed, but it became evident very quickly that this reviewer may have hit upon something. He spent far too long reading a passage (I say passage, but I fear it extended over a number of chapters). The novel’s concept of a grad student who had become obsessed with the story of (and the videoed evidence of) the hanging of the conspirators in a plot to kill Hitler sounded fascinating. Intrigue, secrecy, the uncovering off a mystery, murder, shocking outcomes and historical relevance made this novel sound like a fantastic read, however Cartwright‘s over indulgence in the use of sex and sexuality throughout even the ‘short’ piece he read for us showed us an author who’s mind was clearly wandering as he wrote. The constant reference to sex served no purpose and seemed to be thrown in at some very inappropriate points. Perhaps he was aiming to shock, perhaps he was trying to emphasise that even in the depressing post war times of the Fatherland sex was as vital a part of daily life as the struggle for existence. But I doubt it. It felt more like the ramblings of a man who got bored with his subject matter and wanted to throw in a little titillation.

That said, I found him entertaining and the chairperson’s constant referral back to Hugo Hamilton on a number of points betrayed her own disinterest (probably not the right word, but I won’t go so far as to say dislike either) in Cartwright and made the discussion an enjoyable one to deconstruct. Hamilton may have been the nicer, more amiable participant, but there was no getting away from the fact that this was Cartwright‘s show – the high volume of audience questions, geared towards him and his novels made this self-evident.

Dilapidated Debates

The festival brochure built the next event as a debate – a debate on Irish Values. We are told that Independent Senator, Ivana Bacik, the most eminent and distinguished of Irish historians, Roy Foster, Ireland’s most prolific documentary maker, Alan Gilsenan, and economist, broadcaster and writer, David McWilliams, would together unpick the moral and social fabric of 21st Irish society. Answering such questions as “has Ireland’s newfound prosperity changed our core values?” and “was the Ireland of old a purer, simpler and therefore kinder society?“, these participant were to debate the present state of Ireland’s moral code, if indeed we have one at all.

Roy FosterDisappointingly, there was to be no debate. The poorly chosen lineup were more like a group of friends having a chat – from the panel there were very few novel points raised (if any) and all were either too fearful or too lazy to be drawn into a discussion, by the audience, on the relevance of Catholicism (or Christianity) to today’s core values, on the influence of consumerism (Roy Foster pointedly said he would only briefly touch on this point, as if being instructed to avoid it) and indeed, none would be drawn on what the core values of today’s Ireland are or should be. Ivana Bacik was the only panelist who seemed interested in having a true adversarial debate but even she, in her opening address, made it clear that this would be a far more discursive affair and even apologised in advance for the possibly that she may become too hostile. No such luck!

Perhaps, had McWilliams shown up (I still haven’t found out why he was unable to attend) he may have added more to the ‘debate’, focusing on the impact of economic shifts on our society, but I doubt it. There was too much friendly patting on the backs going on for this to be anything other than a lighthearted event.

There were so many points that were only briefly discussed and all without any depth. There were a number of issues which were brushed over, as I mentioned above, but there were a number of extremely relevant and interesting issues that I would have expected to have been discussed as a matter of course , which never arose at all. I hope to talk more about this subject over the next day or so.

Dublin’s Droogs*

After the event we taxied up to the Bernard Shaw in Portobello where DublinStreets presented ‘Shoot Me: A global exhibition of Street Style and Street Art‘. I have never before been surrounded by such trendiness, oddball creativity is dress sense or general ‘I’m so uncool, I’m cool‘ attitudes. The site looks at the various styles of Dublin’s modern cultural scene and doles out some very unusual pictures. I think Darragh will follow up with a more indepth look at the site and its ‘art show’ in the Bernard Shaw, but in the meantime, check these out:

*Droogs refers to the teenage über-fashionistas of Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, who dressed insanely to rebel against society’s conservativism

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