Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Few Recent Facebook Posts

It's funny the influence a book can have on you. When I was in my early twenties I read The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper. (Only volume one, the library didn't have volume two.) Ever since then I've never wavered in my belief in liberal democracy, and especially that, in POLITICAL life, "freedom from" has to be more important than "freedom to".


I used to watch Open University programmes a lot. For my American friends, they were educational programmes which were shown in the early hours on British TV. The idea was that you could video-tape them and watch them at your leisure. They were a part of a distance learning initiative which could lead to actual qualifications.

Anyway, one such programme was a whole documentary on the short poem The Tyger by William Blake, which went into great detail on its meaning and possible associations. I was very excited by this.


That's what I mean when I lament poetry's place in modern culture. The lack of that sort of thing. As opposed to the very occasional mention of poetry in general on some arts show.
If the coverage of the arts (in the media but also in general social intercourse) were to be compared to sports coverage, poetry would be equivalent to badminton or volleyball or fencing. I think it should be equivalent to rugby or soccer or cricket instead.

Here's a possibly odd question. How important is atmosphere to you? I mean it in the colloquial rather than the scientific sense.

I'm so preoccupied with atmosphere that it often strikes me as abnormal. I attach atmospheres to times, places, people, activities etc. and have to remind myself that these atmospheres are (most often) private constructions of my own and not "out there". I get as upset about this (repeated) realization as a kid might get in learning the secret of Santa. I don't know how normal or abnormal that is. I have to remind myself, for instance, when I look at an inky, granulated photo from the seventies, that it wasn't actually inky and granulated in reality. In the same way, perhaps, that historians remind us that the milky white statues we associate with ancient Greece were actually painted.

My fear is that reality is, after all, just a grid of points in time and space, none of which are really any different from each other. That this is the awakening that awaits; "the desolation of reality", as Yeats said. It feels like sitting in a bath and slowly feeling the bathwater go cold. Except in this case you only ever imagined it was warm.

I don't know why people are so down on Black Friday. I try to get into the spirit. I put up pictures of Gordon Gekko, Margaret Thatcher, and Milton Friedman, hang wreaths of tinsel dollar signs from the ceiling, and play classics such as "Ding Dong, Dividends are High", "Away in a Merger", and "Closing Bells". It's great.

I've noticed that conversation seems to flourish best between the extremes of subjectivism and objectivity (or perhaps absolutism).

It seems to me that no conversation is duller than a conversation about food, because once you've said you like or dislike a food, where else is there to go? I suppose you could talk about nutrition or foodways or cooking, but just talking about the experience of eating, in my view, is deadly dull after a minute or two.

That's pure subjectivism, but pure objectivity (or the delusion thereof) is just as bad. Talking to someone who thinks he knows all the answers is insupportable. Or there might be the other sort of "objective" conversation: matter-of-fact discussions about commuting routes or itineraries or whatever. Some people have an endless fascination with these, unless they are just making conversation.

But pleasurable conversation lives in the temperate zone between the two extremes, in my view.

Over the past few days I've been reading ecclesiastical history, broadly construed. First an excellent little book about martyrs of the Third Reich. Also a lot of stuff about Irish priests in the last few centuries.

I find ecclesiastical and Catholic history extremely satisfying. I sometimes think it could be the focus of my leisure reading.

It's so SOLID. So much of religious and Catholic discourse is so vaporous. I've often finished flicking through some Catholic newspaper or magazine (obviously not any publication any of my Facebook friends are involved in) and thought: "There was nothing in that. I learned nothing".

And, in the few years, so many of the things that seemed certain have become unsettled. I'm not assigning any value to that right now. Perhaps there was too much conservative triumphalism and intellectualism before 2013. Perhaps not. Time will tell. I'm applying the Gemaliel principle.

Anyway, history is solid, beyond the inevitable debates about particulars. It's like the laboratory of the Holy Spirit in action. Now if I could develop some idea of where the Irish diocese are located I'd be doing well...

I generally dislike ostentation in worship, like long theatrical silences from the altar. But sometimes it's impossible not to be moved. There has been a young woman in UCD church the last two days who bows low with her forehead on the ground, in the front pew, for much of the Mass. She crawls to receive Communion on her knees.

This afternoon, after Mass, the Eucharist was exposed and the priest said Exposition would go on till five. This was after 12:05 Mass. I decided some time with Jesus was what I desperately needed right now. I went on my afternoon break at four. As I was entering, someone was leaving and the church was empty. I thought: "Isn't the exposed Eucharist meant to be accompanied at all times?"

Then I saw the girl was still there, kneeling on the ground before the altar, so low she had been blocked from my view by the front pew.

There is a subject so immense, so consequential that for some thirty years I have been limbering up to write about it. This is it: music playing in shops.

I'm entirely serious. This subject fascinates me, so much so that when I was in my late teens I spent months putting together a poetry collection called "Ambience Music".

Tennyson said that, if he could understand the little flower growing in a crack of the wall, "I should know what God and man is". I feel as though, if I could get to the heart of my fascination with music playing in shops, I would articulate much of what has preoccupied me all my life.

The thing about music playing in shops is that possibly nobody is actively listening to it, by its very nature. And the funny thing about this is that, to me, this has always given it a sense of plenitude, of presence, rather than of emptiness or absence. This reaction is involuntary.
Hearing a song played in the background gives it (as I instinctively feel, and always have) a prestige far greater than any amount of hype or attention could.

But that's rationalisation. More irrationally, when I hear some song playing in the background, it actually seems to me like the expression of some spirit-- the spirit of the people, the spirit of the period, something like that.

And, although I'm not just using background music as a metaphor, it certainly is that. A metaphor for so many things.

It's such a hard theme to get to grips with, and then there's the question... Is this private fascination of any potential interest to anyone else?

Friday, November 24, 2023

A Dark Night in Dublin

I was caught up in the madness in Dublin city centre yesterday. Thankfully I avoided injury. I was just trying to make my way to IKEA! (Which I did.)

It's the second riot I've unwittingly walked into in Dublin. The first was the Love Ulster riot in 2006. That was nothing compared to this one, though.

Pictures courtesy of my wife.

I pray for safety for all of us on the streets of Dublin, and Ireland.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Filler Poem: Final Call

Things are crazy with me right now, so here's a poem from my archives to keep the blog ticking over. I wrote it in 2005, which was a bad year.

It's a sad poem, so sad I've rarely re-read it. It wasn't expressing an actual experience. I wrote a lot of poems back then which were my attempts to imaginatively project myself into other peoples' situations. I now regard this as a mistake. Others can do it. I can't.

I honestly don't know if there's any value to straightforwardly sad poems such as this one. I never listen to "She's Leaving Home" or "Eleanor Rigby" because they're just too sad. If poetry and art doesn't uplift and encourage, I don't see any point to it. I'm a melancholic by temperament, and an optimist by philosophy.

On a technical note, I'm proud of the short line in the middle stanza.

The hardest thing to bear of all
Was her father making plans
On the morning of her final call.
The whirring of those fans
The shadow of the last brick wall, 
The doctors, and the scans,

Were little things compared to this;
An old man’s childish smile
And eyes alive with the hope of bliss
In a little while.
The see-you-tomorrow in his kiss
So innocent of her guile.

He wouldn’t want to know. But still
Those eyes watch her all night.
His voice repeats we will, we will
His eyes fill with delight
Seeing the world just past the hill
Where things will all come right.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Our Lady of Zeitoun

I'm a regular listener of the podcast Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World (although I tend to follow it intermittently rather than constantly, as I do with many blogs, podcasts and YouTube channel).

The latest episode is a real cracker. It examines the Marian apparitions in Zeitoun, Egypt, which began in 1968...and went on for three years!

I've heard very little about these apparitions in the past, and it's amazing stuff. Give it a listen.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Happy Feast of All Irish Saints!

Today is the Feast of All Irish Saints, a feast that was introduced by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. I wonder if the timing had anything to do with the War of Independence that was raging at the time?

I only learned about this feast in recent years.

There was an extraordinary dearth of Irish canonisations between the days of sainthood by acclimation, and when St. Oliver Plunkett was raised to the altars in 1975. Thankfully, things have picked up since...

Personally, I must admit, I have very little interest in most of the Irish saints. I'm mostly interested in modern saints. Ancient Irish saints are shrouded in a fog of legend, folklore, and supposition. All wonderful things in their own way, but I'd rather read about saints who are documented and in clearer focus. I find it easier to relate to them.

None of this means I don't appreciate the tradition of Irish sanctity. It's a shimmering horizon against which we live our faith lives, and I'm very grateful it's there. I am grateful for all the obscure saints who lend their names to our villages, churches and neighbourhoods, including St. Pappan who is (sort of) the local saint of Ballymun.

Saints of Ireland, pray for us!

Deo Gratias!

Proposals to abolish most of Britain's train ticket offices have been abandoned, after a huge public outcry.

Read about it here.

This is a wonderful victory in itself. But imagine if it was the beginning of a fightback against the increasing automation and dehumanization of daily life.

A similar public reaction stopped a recent plan by Allied Irish Banks to make cash unavailable at seventy out of their 170 branches.

People power works! Let's not forget it!