Culture

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Photographing Absence

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Book Review: Phantom Home, Ahlam Shibli  (Hatje Cantz, 2013) 

The sudden and violent death of someone close to you can only intensify the grief and feeling of loss that accompanies any bereavement, so much so that looking at a picture of the person may be too unbearable to bear. The raw and unavoidable facticity of someone’s absence becomes a too-painfully presence that would be compounded by a photograph that makes the ordeal even more difficult to cope with. This is understandable and it takes an effort of imagination and empathy to comprehend another kind of response when the sudden and violent death is a public and political moment in the life of a community that is itself living with an ongoing sense of loss and deprivation. Palestinians living in their land under occupation by Israel have witnessed death at the hands of their occupiers for most of their lives and seen the destruction of their homes and crops. They live with daily indignities that prevent them from travelling on certain roads in the West Bank, they suffer from a grossly unfair allocation of water and they observe the expansion of settlements for Israeli colonizers.

Western Graveyard, Nablus, January 20, 2012 In Nablus, the families of the deceased visit the graveyards on Thursday evening or Friday morning to take care of the tombs and sit next to them in commemoration. Usually members of the same family are buried close to one each other, whether they died a martyr’s death or of natural causes.

Ahlam Shibli, a Palestinian photographer, explores the visual culture — posters, murals, banners, paintings, photographs and graffiti – of the community of Nablus as it commemorates those accorded the status of martyrs: Palestinians killed fighting Israeli forces, civilians killed in Israeli attacks and suicide bombers whose missions took them into Israel.

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Sewage Babies

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Put on our Sunday best for Mass.

Let on we haven’t heard

about dead babies in Tuam.

Eight hundred infants,

bunkered in human filth.

Bones tossed like old coins,

dump of dead currency.

white

To those who defend

servants of God and state:

‘They did the best

with what they had.’

What have we?

White

Garrison church.

Proud, complicit government.

Blessed well of

indifference.

White

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The Little Elections

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after The League of Gentlemen

 

Unlike all other candidates,

 I’m very much in favour of dog shit;

have it with everything;

am especially fond of the sort produced by

frightened Rottweilers.

I have the energy, enthusiasm and necessary

sexual appetite to properly

service the people behind doors

I’m knocking on locally.

I’m for more traffic jams

and overweight policemen called

Frank.

I won’t be diverted into talking

about abortion or world war four.

This is a little election for little people.

I’m against nasal congestion

and political reform; have lived locally

for the past half hour.

DDD

Our eight year old, Cian,

will support whatever football team

you want him to. I’m against

adverse weather conditions in Salthill;

okay, in theory, with the continued

existence of black people.

I’ve studied transport systems

at Mauthausen, Belzec, Vorkuta; think I know

how to ensure two Ballybane buses

never again come along at once.

DDD

KEVIN HIGGINS

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Chris de Burgh Notes our Opinions – and Suppresses Them

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This article originally appeared on Raymond’s blog, The Deanery today, the 31st of March.

In 1979 Chris de Burgh chose to tour Apartheid South Africa, in violation of the boycott call from the African National Congress. In justification, he pleaded that “I’m not singing for the government… I hope to make a difference…”

It is arguable that by ignoring the boycott call from the democratic opposition to South Africa’s anti-democratic regime de Burgh was indeed “singing for the government”, and that, far from “making a difference”, he was in fact helping to reinforce the status quo more than a decade before the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island.

In 1984 “12 Dunnes [Stores] workers went on strike [in Dublin] for two and a half years for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The strikers were feted by Bishop Desmond Tutu and international human rights groups. Nelson Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment.”

Almost exactly thirty years after this, Chris de Burgh announced that he would perform in Tel Aviv on 29th March 2014, ignoring the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli state. The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign learned only two weeks before the event of de Burgh’s plan to cross the picket line, upon which the usual procedures were followed. A letterwas posted via his website, followed by a telephone call to his management – or, more precisely, to an anonymous answering-machine in London. Neither approach having received a reply, the letter was made public. A Facebook page was set up and supporters of Palestinian rights posted pleas on de Burgh’s own Facebook page.

At this point, things turned nasty. It would appear that defenders of the Israeli state set particular store by de Burgh’s imminent visit, perhaps bearing in mind his 1979 performance in the other Apartheid state that was Israel’s most intimate ally. Veterans of internet campaigning reported that they had never encountered such an outpouring of Zionist propaganda as flooded de Burgh’s page, replete with the usual venomous and mendacious defamation of anyone with a track record of support for Palestinian rights. Abuse ranged from “hater” and “old fart” to “anti-Semite” and “Nazi”; in my own case, hoary canards about my visits to Hong Kong and Iran and my supposedly having “intimidated a cancer victim” (the latter rebutted here) were dredged up and recycled shamelessly.

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Zugzwang

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Zugzwang

 ss

The last frontier

is a turnip

under frozen mud.

 ss

As this

generation

of journalists

brush up on their Russian-

 ss

the spelling of Simferopol

and Sevastopol

,will for a time,

be known

on Twitter

- people will gaze down

on the Crimea

through Google Earth,

surprised that there is

somewhere

more east than the Balkans

in the West.

 ss

A place

soon to be forgotten

like South Ossetia, Abkhazia,

or Sudetenland.

ss

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Jesus, Mary & Joe Duffy

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        ssss

I was sitting in my kitchen

listening to the bithchin on the radio

my head was wrecked ya know;

people moaning down the phone

about the taxes on their homes,

(which in fact the banks own)

and the greedy seed was sown

by the Dail’s C.E.O.’s

who couldn’t give a shit

about the people being hit

by the cuts……..

     ssss

Children going hungry in our schools

whilst there clearly are no rules

for the bankers run around

with their heads in the clouds

an untouchable realm

don’t you know they’re at the helm?

Under the influence

high on affluence

they’re gonna sink this ship

then hop, skip and jump

with a tidy lump sum

upon a safety boat

and off they will float

to a far away land

letting go of the hands

of the Irish population

drowned by inflation

don’t forget the creation

of a blockbuster film

yes, FILUM!

     ssss

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Architecture is Politics

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Book Review: Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the tradition of progress, John Allan (Artifice) and 21st Century London: The New Architecture, Kenneth Powell (Merrell)

Today, the idea that architecture plays its part in changing society only gains purchase with a pejorative sense of what change entails. Look to the Dubai skyline, where architects are still binging on cocktails of concrete, glass, indentured labour and fat fees – 25% of the world’s cranes were operating there when 100 skyscrapers went up in ten years,  — producing a mad jamboree of eye-catching buildings.

But it can’t be said the architecture fails to respond to the needs of the community because Dubai, peopled with expatriates lured  by the loot, waiting for their contracts to end, doesn’t have anything so organic as to be properly called a community. London, on the other hand, is a city of many communities and while it’s not Dubai the architecture that is currently redefining the city’s skyline is similarly characterized by excessive ostentation fuelled by the inexorable logic of capitalism and purchasable architects eager to join a bandwagon.

The mantra for the architectural companies winning contracts in London is build it big, construct a photogenic monument that will stand alone in glorious and pastless isolation from its neighbourhood, untroubled by its surroundings, self-sufficient testimony to its own ambition. Kate Goodwin, the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibition now on at the Royal Academy of Arts, spells out what is missing : ‘Unlike almost any other art form, architecture is part of our everyday life, but its ability to dramatically affect the way we think, feel and interact with one another is often overlooked’. The greatest architect who has worked in London, Berthold Lubetkin, would have shaken her hand in warm agreement.

John Allan’s book on Lubetkin is an astonishing achievement and one wonders how many years he spent putting it all together. When it first appeared in 1992 — a second edition has now been published – it was praised as ‘the most intelligent English-language account of any twentieth-century architectural career in its context’ and the accolade still holds. The whole story of Lubetkin’s work is here, from his birth in Georgia in 1901 to his appointment in 1947 as architect-planner of a new town for 30,000 residents in the Durham coalfields. This, his greatest project, was never realized and John Allan analyses with care the reasons behind his resignation from the post.

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Fight the Power & Parecomic: Two Graphic Political Books by Sean Michael Wilson

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Sean Michael Wilson is an Irish-Scot professional comic book/graphic novel writer, who often makes books on social issues, history, and politics and so his recent work might be of interest to readers. His most recent book, which came out last October, is Fight the Power, published by the New Internationalist and introduced by Tariq Ali. Fight the Power is described as ‘A Visual History of Protest Amongst the English Speaking Peoples’ and has a whole chapter on Ireland and Irish struggles.

Another one of interest is Parecomic, published by Seven Stories Press, which describes in graphic novel form the anarchist inspired participatory economics system of Michael Albert. The book includes an introduction by Noam Chomsky, who is also in the book several time – his first contribution to a book in graphic form.

Here are more detail on both books…

On  Fight the Power

In his famous history series A History of the English Speaking Peoples Winston Churchill seemed to think that history was about wars and made by great leaders.

Fight the Power! begs to differ and instead presents A Visual History of Protest Amongst the English Speaking Peoples.

Today’s occupy movements are part of a long history of struggle. This book visualises key moments in history where ordinary people have risen up and fought governments, corporations, even empires. When the 99% have stood up to combat exploitation and abuse or in pursuit of freedom of action and a better life.

This comic book covers 14 cases of such struggle over the last 200 years and in several English speaking countries including not just the US and UK but Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, India and Jamaica.

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Progressive Film Club, Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre

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Progressive Film Club 

Showing This

Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre ·

43 East Essex Street · Dublin 2

2:30 p.m. Dream Apocalypse (UK)
Dream Apocalypse tells the poignant tale of what it is like to be a student in England today. We follow Joel Muckett’s life experiences and his hopes of hanging on to his dream of going to university, in spite of his disillusionment with the commodification of higher education. The increasing cost may put this education beyond his means, and his dream may be a dying dream. This is Ismael’s first film. ¦ Directed by Ismael Ahmed (University of Bedfordshire). Running time: 10 minutes.

2:45 p.m. The Colour of the Soul (India)
A documentary that seeks to address the principles on which the caste system in India is based. The social system is not without controversy and paradoxes. In India, birth has a colour. ¦ Produced and directed by Alberto Martos (Spain). In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 47 minutes.

3:45 p.m. National Identity (France)
In France, for more than thirty years, foreign nationals have accounted for about 20 per cent of the prison population, even though they represent only between 6 and 8 per cent of the total population. This over-representation is explained by political choices since the end of the 1970s, particularly the repression of immigrants. National Identity spotlights the plight of former foreign-national prisoners who were sentenced to deportation after prison, which amounts to a double punishment. In the film there are interviews with victims of the system, justice professionals, and politicians, with analyses by research workers. A little-known side of the French state’s relationship with foreign nationals, many of whom hold French passports, is revealed. ¦ Produced and directed by Valérie Osouf (Granit Films / Divali Films). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 80 minutes.

http://www.progressivefilmclub.ie/

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The Inquiry – Showing As Part of JDIFF ’14

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In the autumn of 1913, as the social and political maelstrom of the Lockout raged around them, legendary union leader James Larkin faced his nemesis William Martin Murphy across a conference table in Dublin Castle. It was here, in the seat of British power in Ireland, that the two men passionately articulated their respective visions for the coming Irish state.

With the centenary of the Lockout having passed, THE INQUIRY ventures beyond the rhetoric to offer a compelling account of the Askwith Inquiry, a seminal event in Irish history never-before presented on the big screen.

The film steps back from Dublin’s seething streets to explore the complex personalities and ideologies of key figures such as Larkin (Stephen Murray), Murphy (Bosco Hogan), James Connolly (Patrick O’Donnell) and Timothy Healy (Gerry O’Brien). Shot in crisp black-and-white, THE INQUIRY captures the political ferment of a country on the brink of a decade of violence, through powerful performances and a gripping narrative thrust.

See The inquiry @ the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival
The Lighthouse Cinema
Smithfield, D7
Saturday 22nd of February
12.30pm – Screen One
Photo credit: Kate Bowe O’Brien

The Inquiry – Official Trailer JDIFF ’14 from DCTV on Vimeo.

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Review: AntiMidas or, Bankers in Hades, The Opera

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The collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy, the unemployment and emigration that followed, the cuts in vital services and payments, the boarded-up windows, the ghost estates, the buddleia that sprouts where dreams of riches or steady employment died, not to mention the commitment made in our name, and enforced painfully in our daily lives, that speculators must be winners – all of this seems to have triggered seething anger, resentment and cynicism, but no flaming of popular resistance, no widespread demand for political or social transformation.

Late last year, it was reported that an opera about the banking meltdown was about to open in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Dublin. Was this to be the unlikely spark that would light the flame? Would Dublin on the twelfth of December 2013 be like Brussels on the 25th of August in 1830, when (so the story goes) the patriotic fervor voiced in Daniel-Francois Auber’s opera The Mute Girl of Portici (La muette de Portici) – set in Spanish-ruled 17th-century Naples  -  so stirred certain members of the audience that they rose up spontaneously and (after a lively bust-up with more conservative elements) poured out into the streets, lit the flame of resistance, drove the Dutch out and so created independent Belgium. Sadly, this heart-warming story is a little too good to be true. The audience participation, as it were, was in fact pre-scripted by the revolutionaries and the conclusion of the opera can be read as arguing that popular revolution needs guidance from a wiser and socially superior leadership.  Nonetheless, it is very likely that some ordinary citizens unsupplied with revolutionary scripts were spontaneously moved and, rising from their seats, did join the revolution. What’s more, by leaving before the last act, it was as if they were, in the words of James H Billington, ‘in search of their own ending’.

In the cold or watery light of January 2014, it is clear that AntiMidas, or, Bankers in Hades, the opera that played for three days in December has not triggered a revolution or significant social unrest. So, if we didn’t have the excitement of incipient revolution, was there excitement of any other kind at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in December when Trinity-based Evangelia Rigaki’s opera played? Happily, there was. Let’s set aside matters of definition (who can say what is or isn’t opera today?) and focus on the pleasures that were on offer. What we witnessed was almost cartoonish – a morality tale or parable in which the incarnation of the lust for gold, AntiMidas the supremely arrogant money-maker, was hurried towards his fall by an alliance of powerful enemies to a cackling commentary from a chorus of Media.

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Becoming an American

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The Depression

“I would rather play roles that carry conviction.
Maybe it’s because they’re the easiest and yet
the hardest things for me to do.”

— Peg Entwistle, Oakland Tribune, 05/05/1929

n

Sprawled across a teak and brass rail bar,

suppose it’s September 1932
and you haven’t worked since Broadway.
n
Wouldn’t you sit and just get drunk?
Tell your folks you’re meeting friends
in a drugstore on Beachwood Drive
n
then beeline up the trail to Mount Lee?
Imagine the black fry of manure
and gardenias. All them crickets.
n
L.A.’s bristling dark and yellow
like a bumblebee’s fur.
Downhill through hosiery and scrub
n
to HOLLYWOODLAND and up the first
few rungs of a workman’s ladder,
you see your face in a small ravine.
n
Do you fall backwards or forwards
off the ‘H’; prefer it for its sigh—
in some quarters, not pronounced at all—
n
or simply jump? One day vies
against the next and for every kernel
of untruth, you’re just like a rosary bead.
n
Your own ghost calls it through
and two policemen make the find. Face down.
Well-dressed. Shoes and jacket in a parcel.
n
n

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Pantoum for Limerick National City of Culture 2014

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I will be taking stock of resourcing requirements

in the light of everyone else having resigned.

I am determined to hit the reset button.

I am moving on in a calm and deliberative way.

sdsdsd 

In the light of everyone else having resigned,

I’m absolutely satisfied we have the capacity.

I am moving on in a calm and deliberative way.

I would like to thank those who ran screaming from the building.

 sdsdsd 

I’m absolutely satisfied we have the capacity.

It’s been a challenging start but we need to draw a line under this.

I would like to thank those who ran screaming from the building.

I may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

 sdsdsd 

It’s been a challenging start but we need to draw a line under this.

I am humbled by what I’ve heard here tonight.

I may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

This is a lot more complicated than what actually happened.

 sdsdsd 

I am humbled by what I’ve heard here tonight.

I am determined to hit the reset button.

This is a lot more complicated than what actually happened.

I will be taking stock of resourcing requirements.

sdsdsd 

Kevin Higgins

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Non-Fiction of 2013

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A selection of the best non-fiction read by Seán Sheehan in 2013. Also see the best fiction he read in 2013.

 

An Armenian Sketchbook, Vasily Grossman (Maclehose Press)

Grossman  made a two-month trip to Armenia in 1961. Some accounts say he needed the money, travelling there as part of an official commission to edit an overlong novel by an Armenian writer, but he also needed to get away from Moscow where officers had arrived at his apartment and confiscated the manuscript of his great novel Life and Fate. Not only had his magnum opus been ‘arrested’, his marriage was in tatters.

He writes of how one never forgets arriving  in a foreign city for the first time, in this case Yerevan:  ‘Its autumn leaves have their own unique way of rustling; there is something special about the smell of its dust, about the way its young boys fire their catapults.’ Sometimes you worry the prose might slip into swooniness but Grossman’s  romanticism is always tempered by the real, even at his most Dylanesque –

I saw warriors, knights, thinkers, swindlers, hucksters, poets, builders, astronomers and preachers. I saw collective-farm chairmen, physicists and engineers who built bridges.

– and it sits alongside an impish sense of humour: arriving in Yerevan, he notices the washing lines with ‘sail-like brassieres of hero-mothers’ and market stalls with eighteen-inch-long radishes ‘that seemed to be belong to some phallic cult’. He is  cynical about the criticisms being unleashed against Stalin, not because they are untrue but because they are expressed by those who previously worshipped him.  Grossman can be hard-nosed but is always alive to the contradictions of existence: Armenia’s always stony landscape yielding orchards of peaches; ordinary lives afflicted with tragedies yet loyalties surviving eternal (like the wife he meets who turned up at the Siberian camp where her husband was serving nineteen years and lived in a hut outside the gulag). His travelogue ends with an Armenian wedding, a tour de force that leaves more famous literary travel writers in a dull shadow. No other writer of our times has expressed with more unsentimental admiration the nature of what it means to live with a sense of nobility.

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