Empire Avenue

Friday, December 30, 2011

I heard Theo Dorgan on Matt Cooper’s show on Today FM. There were four very noisy ten year olds in the car – all speaking at the same time as Theo. I still knew I was listening to something really important – and I want to share it – and I hope you will share it. ” We don’t know what we want, but we don’t want this shit” – this was a tweet from some fan of the occupy movement. The inchoate frustration is interesting – but it won’t change anything. Dorgan says ” When you change language you change reality” He talks about the disconnect between the state and the citizen. He talks here too about how we in Ireland imported the nature of state from Britain wholesale and without any discourse about what kind of Republic we wanted back at the foundation of the state…and that now as it all collapses around us, once again we are shirking responsibility as citizens to re-imagine the Republic. Of course, the issues addressed are much broader than Irish. Once again there is a breakdown of consensus on the nature of political society. Each time this has happened in history poets and writers have played a key role in focusing the inchoate into language, into ideas, into a reality that we ordinary folk can sign up to. The emergence of nationalism in 19th century Europe including our own relentless journey from a nation to a state was driven more by poetry and writing than by guns and warriors. I include the radio interview and his earlier speech in UCC. I feel optimistic. I was afraid Ireland was moving back towards stasis and mediocrity. It can’t as long as people like Theo have a voice and an audience.
Matt Cooper Today FM - UCC speech 2000UCC speech 2010 “Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred” — Hafiz Today is an important day in the life of the Republic. A huge human investment has gone into the processes that have brought you here: all those who have fed and nurtured you, all those who have taught you, studied with you, befriended you, loved you, share today in what is by any standards a considerable achievement. You are citizens of a Republic, and this Republic has underwritten, made possible, your achievements. You are already, and have been for some time, privileged human beings: the wealth which others have generated has been placed at your disposal so that you may make the best of the talents you were born with. And you yourselves have made, perhaps, the greatest investment: you have put your lives so far into the work of educating yourselves, each of you has taken the one and only life you have and invested it in a dream of the future. You feel a sense, perhaps, of accomplishment. A sense of vindication. A sense of relief. And, if you are to be accurate, a sense of loss, too, because a whole phase of your life is over. Each of you must feel, in some crucial sense, very much on your own today. From now on, what happens will be as a result of your choices. From now on, you are responsible for what becomes of you. But I would like you also to consider this: more than has been the case before today, what happens to all of us now will be shaped by what you do, the choices you make, the ways you conduct yourselves as citizens. And because you are privileged, because your education confers on you a certain access to power in this society, what you say and do, what you become, will have an added force. Today, your responsibilities deepen. Education is a curious thing. We derive it from the Latin, e-ducere, to lead out. We need to ask some questions about this, I think: who is being led, who is doing the leading, from where are we being led out, and into what? In some sense one is being led out of childhood, the extended childhood that is a mark of the western democracies in our time. One is also being led out of a presumed ignorance, into the light of learning. The model this etymology suggests is essentially authoritarian, it presumes a settled society, a certain naivety on the part of the student, a certain possession of learning on the part of the teacher, a chain of transmission, and therefore transformation, linking both. I am not so sure that this model holds in the present day. It suggests a continuity that is essentially human, it suggests a process where the wise and accomplished devote their lives to nurturing the humanity of the young, the end in view being the deepening of our human understanding of ourselves and others. We live, however, in a problematic reality now, the variousness of what lives and dies only fitfully seen behind the lightning clouds of a consumer economy, the music of what happens drowned out by the roaring and screeching of an economy that has lost the run of itself. This Republic has invested time and money and human care in your formation, but somehow has lost itself along the way. Most of your exact contemporaries in the world today are born into poverty, in many cases extreme poverty. A huge number of them live under the rule of oppressive regimes, many of them face lives of powerlessness, of vain struggle, of hardship and the slow death of hope. We, on the other hand, live in comparative liberty, we are privileged politically, socially and materially as no nation on the face of the earth has ever been. On the face of it. We have gross inequalities here in Ireland, and I see them becoming grosser, and each of you must ask herself and himself what it is you wish to do about that. But, in essence, we are free. We share fully in the conditional freedoms of the Western democracies. The challenge you face now, as citizens of a Republic, is what to do with these freedoms. The period of your life whose passing we are marking today has been a period of initiation. If you have been fortunate, as I was fortunate here, you will have met real teachers, women and men who will have encouraged in you what Hegel refers to as the particular courage of taking thought, of reflecting on your situation, your capacities and your desires. Some of you live in an unexamined way, and will be like this until you die, or until life shocks you into being awake; some of you were born with questions on your lips, and will die asking questions. Most of you, like most of us, will make sporadic attempts to understand this life, but will end up making those tiny accomodations that eat the soul, agreeing with one another that we can’t be always worrying about things, we have to be getting on with the practical realities. What I wish for you today, on the threshold of this new phase of your lives, is courage. The courage to push yourselves beyond the incidental drives of the ego, the courage to dare yourselves, every day of your lives, to become more fully human. The courage to live in the light of Auden’s famous dictum, “we must love one another or die”. The courage to pursue wisdom and justice in all that you are and in all that you do. The courage to become, in the proudest possible sense, citizens of a Republic. The great Russian poet, Boris Pasternak, tells us “to live your life is not so simple as to cross a field”. He’s right, of course. Life happens to us, and we struggle to make the best of it. Most of the time we get on with it, making it up as we go along. I don’t mean for a moment to suggest that this is a bad thing, far from it. I have no idea where we came from, not the least idea where we’re going. Like you, I want more than anything else to enjoy this life, to enjoy this strange world in which we find ourselves, “the richness of things being various”. My only use to you today is to say this: once I sat where you sit now, conscious of great kindnesses that were done to me here, conscious of privilege, impatient to be gone from here. I wanted more of everything -wine, dope, sex, work, company, love; I wanted poems above all, not to be a poet but to have the in eradicable joy of making poems. I knew what I wanted, or thought I did, and I couldn’t wait to get on with it. And buried deep inside that passionate appetite for life was a barely-acknowledged truth: I wanted to know, I wanted, though I wouldn’t have used the words then, to be wise. I have spent my life since then in a stumbling pursuit of wisdom. I live here, in Ireland, in these complex and turbulent times. I have lived elsewhere, and will again, but this is my nation and this is where I must teach myself to be human. For all its glaring faults, its petty failings, its dull and mostly illiterate ruling class, this Republic, this place we share in space and time and history, is the stage on which we must shape and act our parts. I hope, of course, that some generous impulse in your minds and hearts will lead you to play a conscious part in shaping the world we live in. I hope that you will not be beaten down, that the shocks of life will not wear away your courage and passion. There will be bitterness and there will be joy and there will be, inevitably, a great deal of confusion. But let us agree to say at the end of things “I have lived as best I could have, I have done what good was in my power. I lived as a free and generous human being”. I leave you with these words of the 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz: “Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred” — Hafiz