Culture

gram_letter

Antonio Gramsci: A New Year’s Letter

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This translation originally appeared on William Wall’s website on the 17th of December.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was one of the great political philosophers of the 20th century. Founder of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was imprisoned by Mussolini in 1926 despite his parliamentary immunity. He would spend the rest of his life in prison. He is most famous for his philosophical and cultural writings collected in various volumes as ‘prison notebooks’, often written on scrap paper, in a sort of code, and smuggled out to friends, in particular Palmiro Togliatti who would succeed him as head of the PCI. But he was also a father and family man, and many of his letters to his wife, his sister-in-law and his children still exist. Tender, amusing, nostalgic, loving and paternal, they show a different side to the great thinker. This letter, to Tania Schucht, his sister-in-law who had charge of his affairs, is a good example. It was probably written on the prison island of Ustica.

The text of this letter comes from Fiabe, Antonio Gramsci (Edizioni Clichy, Firenze). I am grateful to the editor, Tommaso Gurrieri for his approval of this translation. The translation is Creative Commons, as is all my work on this blog. See the note at the end of this page.

Dearest Tania,

And so the new year has begun. It is necessary to make plans for a new life, according to tradition: but even though I have thought a lot about such a plan I have never managed to achieve it. This has always been a great difficulty in my life from my earliest rational years.

In those days the elementary schools would assign, at this time of year, as a theme for composition, the question: ‘What will you do with your life?’

A difficult question, which I resolved for the first time, at eight years of age, fixing my sights on the profession of carter. I found that the carter unites all of the characteristics of usefulness and delight: he flicks the reins and guides the horses, but, at the same time, he performs a work that ennobles the man and earns him his daily bread.

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3

The Disillusioned Citizen

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The disillusioned Citizen

As I sit in my cold, cold house

Sticking bubble wrap to my single glaze,

The slap of the letter box like a slap to the face,

Cold as the air, in an unemployed haze.

s

Each day the horrors of my future lie in suspension

No letters of job offers, hope and acceptance; its beyond comprehension.

Dangerous ground the post man dictates,

My mood, my emotions, my worries, my fate.

s

Plenty of bills though, they keep rolling in,

Unwanted, unopened and thrown in the bin.

For their demands just cannot be met,

It’s a number of weeks till my house is for let.

s

Never have I experienced such rejection,

Something is wrong with this country, a malaise; no, an infection.

A glitch in the system, an error of ways,

The dismissal of citizens through their ivory tower gaze.

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paintingsetfree

The Power of Paint

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Exhibition Review: The EY Exhibition Late Turner: Painting Set Free

Turner turned 60 in 1835 and the paintings and watercolours he went on to produce are the subject of the exhibition at Tate Britain (running until January 2015). Work labelled as ‘late’ can carry a double-edged evaluation, pointing upwards to acclaim  ascent to new ground or downwards to indicate a decline into staleness. It can go either way: late Heidegger is radical, late Wordsworth is drearily conservative and if late Dylan comes into the equation the term’s uncertainty wobbles close to collapse.

Tate Britain’s tag line for late Turner, Painting Set Free, makes clear the gallery’s pitch, indicating that we view these post-1835 works as a liberation from classical canons and traditional notions of art as merely pictorial representation. Turner, suggests the sub-text, was a modernist avant la lettre who prepared the way for Impressionism, anticipated the spirit of abstract art and educated our sensibilities towards receiving a non-mimetic notion of art.

This has been a familiar way of viewing Turner for half a century now so there is nothing shockingly new in Tate Britain’s approach but what does distinguish this exhibition is the concentrated gathering in one space of so many works by Turner over a precise period of time. The result is a visual feast that takes narrative moments from myths, the bible and history and stirs in a heady blend of watery mists and hazy but vibrant colours to enact ethereal dramas of light and dark.

The atmosphere of his paintings comes from light-drenched vistas that exist independently of whatever set of humans, nymphs, gods or goddesses happen to inhabit one portion of a canvas. Turner is not afraid to add touches of impasto while remaining loyal to his palette of airy blue, creamy to murky white, golden yellow, russet that mutates to scalding red and burnt orange.

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roll

An Taoiseach’s Ode to Self

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Four years ago, I took charge

of a country that had forgotten

how to tie its shoe laces; a nation

that no longer knew where

its undergarments were;

the saddest little great country

on this small part of the planet

many of whose people

had woken up to find

themselves on lavatory seats

not of their own making,

and those who hadn’t

could feel something

cold against their faces

and, on opening their eyes, discovered

it was the pavement. With policies got

from the late Herbert Hoover’s crypt

to encourage a flowering of

pound shops all over the country,

we taught the people of Ireland

how to properly wipe

their own rear ends again.

_

Giving people the confidence

and security to clean themselves

in the privacy of their own bathrooms

is what this Government is all about.

I’m glad to say that some people

are experiencing this as I speak.

Many more don’t yet

have the confidence

to tear off the toilet paper

themselves, and still need our help.

_

And as my government enters

this new phase of

final collapse, I want to pay tribute

to our workers. Despite waves

of economic incontinence,

they went out each morning,

on anxious and galling days.

_

We have learned from our ridiculous past

only to make sure we repeat it.

When I look at myself

in the giant gold mirror

you bought me, I still

can’t quite believe I’m here,

And know very soon

I won’t be.

_

KEVIN HIGGINS

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Progressive Film Club: Films on Conflict Around the World

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Films on Conflict Around the World

Saturday 29th November 3.00 pm

The New Theatre 43 East Essex Street, Dublin 2

Admission Free

www.progressivefilmclub.ie

  • “Mi Fink”: Make it happen – 3.00 pm
  • Road to Revolution – 3.30 pm

“Mi Fink”: Make it happen – 3.00 pm

“Mi Fink”-Make it happen! shows the process of community organization and resistance. This participatory action arose in the face of vulnerability to losing the land: one of the few things that keep the community united and free. Since the abolition of slavery in Colombia, the land has sustained the food supply and the economy of the Afrodescendant people of Villa Rica. Today the sugar companies dominate the area, planting sugar cane as a monoculture, thereby forcing out the traditional small farms of the region. Some families are resisting this eviction and the loss of their livelihoods. As a result, the life of Jota, one of the community leaders,is being threatend.

Road to Revolution 3.30 pm

Taking off from Istanbul, the “Road to Revolution” crosses some of the most tense territories on the planet – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Tiago Carrasco, João Henriques and João Fontes will be determined to find out more about the lifestyle, culture and beliefs in those territories. Three journalists travel 15.000 kilometers and 10 countries in the Maghreb & Middle Eastern region, following the path of the Arab Spring.

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bogco

The Blue Moon Women

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Sing bog cotton carols, speak
in soft whisperings,
blow cool wind  to calm summer’s  heat,
clawing gloopy smells of faded day.
 f
Their suitcases laughing,
filled with cruciform spinning tops
songs and incantations
a flock of giggling  goats.
 f
They frighten  indoctrinated bombosities
shiny political pomposities
yellow beasts wandering
whose  paws choke the night
 f
To de-indoctrinate them
from that cronied  sycophant in them
they’re impaled on Celtic Crosses
and left swirling on the bog.
 f
The Blue Moon Women sing to them
soft and sweet they sing to them
and the goats circle round
nibbling at their toes.
 f
Till they squeal out all their vanity
return to normal sanity
and serve the people properly
walking humbly down the roads

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road

The Road To Ireland & The Water Thief

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I would like to live in the West, at the edge

of the world, on a small holding,

walk my cow each day to the milk shed

and see which hen I am beholding to

s

for laying an egg. I would change

wheat into loaves, fill my plate from the field,

stack turf like gold bars for the kitchen range,

and conceal my distillery in creels.

s

Instead, I have stood at the town’s crossroads

and listened to who is ‘Wanted’ across the border,

who is being adulterous on the old bog roads

and who sprayed ‘Ireland is out of order!’

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joan

A Brief History of Those Who Made Their Point Politely And Then Went Home

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this poem is rededicated to the protesters in Jobstown, Sligo and elsewhere

On this day of tear-gas in Seoul
and windows broken at Dickins & Jones,
I can’t help wondering why a history
of those, who made their point politely
and then went home, has never been written.

Those who, in the heat of the moment,
never dislodged a policeman’s helmet,
never blocked the traffic or held the country to ransom.
Someone should ask them: “Was it all worth it?”

All those proud men and women, who never
had the National Guard sent in against them;
who left everything exactly as they found it,
without adding as much as a scratch to the paintwork;
who no-one bothered asking: “Are you or have you ever been?”,
because we all knew damn well they never ever were.

KEVIN HIGGINS

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minofthirst

Look How Our Leaders Tremble When They See Us Together

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Our leaders would like to inform us
that they are fine with protest
in fact they really respect us
so long as we follow their rules and do it
without any disruption of business, (preferably
at home in our own bedrooms where no one can see us,
and without any unnecessary shouting
that might upset the neighbours)
they’re fine with it then,
so they are.

Our leaders would prefer if we fought with each other
and if we absolutely have to protest in public they’d rather
we did it in the form of a strongly worded letter to the paper
or a phone call to Joe which their straw men could deal with
by saying they’ve launched an inquiry that’ll never be finished
and that they agree with us about whatever it is
that should never have happened,
haven’t they’ve always said it,
sure?

If the worst comes to the worst and, despite them warning us
that we should have due consideration
for the inevitable, unspecified but extremely sinister consequences,
we mount a demonstration against them
they’ll counter by saying that some of the people out marching
are reported to have once been spotted by someone
eating ice cream in Bangor which everyone knows
is north of the border
and you know what that means
or don’t you?

Our leaders would prefer if we’d focus our anger
on the unemployed carpenter who put up some shelves
for his mother when he knew full well that accepting
more than two biscuits counts as a nixer-
he’s the type that has ruined our country
they call him the benefit scrounger,
who was fully employed until 2009
but now has managed to squander something something million,
yes that exact figure, would you like to report him?
Click here please…
oh yes your call is important.

Our leaders would love us to whinge about the imaginary asylum seeker
who is rumoured to have left a thousand prams
at a thousand bus stops in every single city, small town and village
you know the woman? No, me neither,
because no one has ever actually met her
but it’s rumoured that her skin was darker than yours is,
or so they’ll tell us, our leaders,
because they’d love us to fight with each other
over any small difference and leave them alone while we’re doing it,

they’d love if we picked on the gays instead of the bankers
they’d love you to get riled up about Panti Bliss who wants
to come into your house and ruin your marriage instead of wondering
how the hell they themselves put us in bondage
to repay 60 billion to loan sharks we never did business with,
and they’d love if those in negative equity
squabbled with the people from council estates
and if they in turn would fight with the renters
who’d pick on with the travelers
and they’d rather you made like a fascist
and blamed the Roma who, they are happy to tell us
are the cause of the economy collapsing
and were somehow involved in causing global warming
I mean have you not spotted the sea levels rising
did you not see the floods in Cork like?
Of course you did, they won’t stand for it,
or something.

And it’s nothing personal that our leaders have
against any particular ethnicity,
it just that they hate to see us united and mobilised
they are afraid we might compare notes
and realize that the same things affect us all the same way,
they’re afraid we might lose the run of ourselves
and run them the hell out of office,
and what should we tell them?

That we’re in this together?
That every person of every class, creed and race
who wants something better is welcome? Is one of us?
Or should we tell them that when 85 individuals own more
of the wealth in the world than three point five billion
the problem goes deeper than skin colour, deeper than factions
deeper than their strategies for permanent growth on one tiny planet
should we tell them that our system is broken?
Or should we just say nothing
and watch how they tremble,
when they see us all sticking together.

Sarah Clancy
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1t

Stability

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Stability

 

I walk a country lane,

hedges stripped

by the Council machine.

Branches, briars,

torn and crushed;

hawthorn trees,

          decapitated.

d

Brown, grey tangles

crucified on stone walls.

Bare, wounded limbs,

salted by raw winds.

d

I fear

not all our people

will grow back

again.

d

Marion Cox

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1T

Irish Air: Message from the CEO

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Irish Air: Message from the CEO

with thanks to Padraig McCormack for the inspiration

Every day under the sky

in this teeny weeny country

they think belongs to them,

people kick football, jog

up and down promenades;

run red faced for buses

on wet mornings; days off they climb

hyperventilating briefly

up shaky looking ladders;

they drive miles through countryside

to attend funerals of people

they never met, and roll

car windows down. They give

others who’ve collapsed gasping

in the street

amateur mouth to mouth.

When everyone else is out,

they make obscene phone calls,

pant down lines at women

they think live alone.

Come the six o’clock bell,

those not trapped in traffic

or enrolled in evening classes,

slob on a bewildering variety of sofas,

play until bedtime with remotes.

All the time taking for granted

the luxury: breath

which, given the cost, we can no longer offer

free. Much as we all enjoy

breathing, our current funding model

is no longer sustainable.

Every country in the OECD,

excepting Ireland, levies

a small charge for breath.

Air is important.

We must stop disrespecting it

by failing to give it a price.

As of October, Irish Air

will begin attaching meters

to the side of each adult’s skull.

No eighteenth birthday party

will be complete without a visit from us.

It will be an offence,

punishable by a law made up yesterday,

to tamper with, or remove,

your personal meter.

There are no exemptions

for the disabled, the elderly, or the insane.

Air will still be available free

to children and the deceased.

When you smother your spouse,

inform us here at Irish Air,

and we’ll reduce your bill

by the appropriate amount.

The cranium of every tourist

will be fitted with a temporary meter,

to be removed only on their exit

from the country. Those whose bills

remain unredeemed will not be allowed

leave. Diplomats are exempted.

Resisters will have their air flow

reduced to the occasional puff,

every half hour or so.

If you have reason to believe

your personal air flow

has been erroneously reduced,

call our office

and speak to one of our staff.

It is an offence

to tamper with, remove, or shove

your personal meter

anywhere obscene.

Our arses are important to us

and we will not tolerate them

being interfered with

by citizens  of this teeny weeny country

you think belongs to you.

 

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hidden_cityT

Arise Kilnamanagh and take your place among the nations of the earth

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Book Review: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, Karl Whitney (Penguin Ireland 2014)

Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.

Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.

While some of the tourists might be inclined to follow Whitney’s Joyce trail—visit all of Joyce’s Dublin addresses in order (the Trieste equivalent includes his favorite knocking shop)—or even his Liffey descent—from where the river becomes tidal to the last bridge before the sea, crossing every bridge on the way—his bus game would be a bit too Situationist. In this one, you take buses for ninety minutes, changing bus every fifteen, crossing the road if a coin comes up tails. The first time he tries it, he ends up in an area with only one bus. A later attempt is no better. Taking a bus in Dublin has no element of play, but only `the extreme frustration familiar to the demoralized commuter.’ Whitney would not be the first artist crushed by the inadequacy of Dublin’s infrastructure.

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LWt

Wittgenstein in Exile

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Book Review

Wittgenstein in Exile, James C. Klagge (MIT Press)

Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Lee Braver (MIT Press)

 

For James Klagge in his study of Wittgenstein and his philosophy, exile becomes a metaphor that help identify the enigmatic nature of his subject. Wittgenstein’s rootless, itinerant life was a crisscross of journeys across western Europe, from his home in Austria  to England, to Norway, to Ireland – returning to Austria to teach children in a rural location, returning to England in 1929 (‘God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train’, announced Maynard Keynes to his wife), returning to Norway to live. Always he travelled, as he lived, alone. He exiled himself from family, friends and academia and, given the strangeness of his temperament, exile serves as a description for his state of mind. Everyone feels alienated to some degree of other – those who don’t are spooky or just plain numpties – but Wittgenstein’s estrangement from the society and culture of his age was profound and the author’s understanding of this underlies what he writes about the man.

Wittgenstein in Exile is enjoyable to read because it does not indulge in abstruse, intricate arguments and is mercifully free of the mind-numbing prose that results when the author of a book about philosophy solely addresses a professional audience of people assumed to share his interests. Klagge’s comfortable style of writing, reaching out to a wider readership, succeeds in presenting the peculiarity of a man who could not separate his philosophical work from the way he conducted his own life. Unable to avoid remorseless self-examination, Wittgenstein was an artist of the intellect not just in his writings but in his  relationship with the world and to demonstrate this Klagge draws considerably on reminiscences of those who knew Wittgenstein and who experienced in conversation aspects of his austere genius.

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Two London Exhibitions: Two Ways of Seeing

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Two Ways of Seeing: Review of Exhibitions by Kazimir Malevich and Dennis Hopper

Tate Modern is currently home (until 26 October) to a major Malevich retrospective, the likes of which has not been seen in Britain before, while at the Royal Academy there is an exhibition of over 400 photographs taken by Dennis Hopper and on show in Britain for the first time. Malevich and Hopper are both regarded as radical figures who challenged convention but their differences outweigh any perceived similarities. This is not down to painting and photography being different art forms but to the uncrossable gulf between someone who revolutionised the nature of art and someone who happened to be around at a time of social change and captured aspects of it with a camera.

Malevich experienced the October Revolution and then enacted it artistically, dramatically tearing down the old canvas and inaugurating a new way of representing reality. But like most such sweeping summaries, it occludes the history that leads up to a significant moment, washing it over with a rhetorical flourish that rinses out a meaningful understanding. What distinguishes the Tate retrospective is its resolve to show Malevich developing as an artist in a particular place, Russia, and at particular times, from pre-revolutionary tsarism through to Stalinism.

Born in 1879 into a Polish family in Kiev, Malevich travelled to Moscow as a young man, discovered impressionism, saw the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse and began to develop his own style of painting while still feeling he had to speak the language of the western avant-garde. This shows in his Self-Portrait of 1908-10 which takes from Gauguin a compositional ploy which positions the image in front of a painting – a just discernible scene of bathers in this case – while presenting himself as dapper and urbane. Room Two of the exhibition shows him as an artist drawn to Russian themes and styles, painting rural workers using simple forms and expressive colours to portray their hard-working, honest lifestyles.  The Scyther of 1911-12 reveals the influence of modernism without sacrificing allegiance to a Russian cultural identity. The figure is barefoot, as poor peasants would have been, set against a warm red background signifying the rye harvest;  the farmer’s form and mass is far from traditional representational art but the word for the colour red in the Russian language also denotes something beautiful (hence, Red Square) and this is also part of the painting’s iconography.

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