Sticks + Stones
Thanks for that warm welcome and generous introduction.
I am honoured to return to my Alma Mater. I remember being on the other side of this rostrum. Some things haven't changed. Monday mornings are hard enough, without this weather.
I don't want to conjure up opinions in order to orchestrate some phoney argument.
I want to create a character who really existed. A person who lived in a certain place in a certain time. Someone, say, born on Inishmore, early in the twentieth century,
A character to answer Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. I think this place and time provides the best context to inaugurate such a figure. Maybe…to invoke the authority of the university.
I invent an artist who practices an aesthetic of ‘erasure and erosion’, who deliberately removes evidence of any action. Think of John Baldessari's Cremation Project or Michael Landy's Breakdown but without knowing what they did. If a tree doesn’t fall in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? Or Thomas J.Price's work Licked, where he licked the walls of a gallery over three days, it was meant to be an invisible installation. Or did you see the invisible statues, by Salvatore Gurau, I don't know if that's the right pronunciation, one sold this year, for 18,000 dollars!
An artist who may be more than one person, using a nom de plume. An artist I envisage as a sort of outsider performance artist, a 'Banksy' of the shoreline, only using chalk or lines in the sand. An artist who made ‘sculptures’ with seaweed, wrack or stones at low tide.
Theoretical – theatre both stem from the Greek thea: 'a view, a seeing, a seat in the theatre'.
Why? I'm compelled to counteract the mythologizing process because it sacrifices reality.
I am guided by Hans Thies Lehmann’ contrasting of media – representation versus theatre – representation, behaviour and situation.
The Man of Aran is a film made by Robert Flaherty in 1934, on Inishmore. A fictional family of three photogenic islanders are recorded living a traditional peasant life. Men hunt a basking shark in a currach and people brave bad weather to eke out a subsistent existence eg making the soil from seaweed, sand and guano.
The leading man Colman ‘Tiger’ King, was tracked down and found to be labouring in Leeds, when asked his opinion of the film, he dismissed it as ‘all bullshit’. And George Stoney’s film The Making of a Myth shared a range of perspectives from the islanders. Stoney had worked with Flaherty on the original and failed to be completely objective. Stoney's own predecessors had hailed from the island.
The film is partly famous as an example of the questionable nature of a documentary’s claim to recording actuality. I think of Werner Herzog who stated that there was no difference between documentary and fiction. Or more recently Marc Isaacs. Critics have pointed out the lack of social-realist criticism. There are shots which crop out signs of modernity.
Perhaps The Man of Aran's is true to the process of its material, film . It is its fidelity to storytelling for the screen, that guarantees its afterlife.
Behind the scenes
The Irish government sought to have an Irish language film made using the same director and company to account for the lack of Irish language in Man of Aran. Robert Flaherty proposed a film about a storyteller. Eventually after a lot of toing and froing with various options, Seáinín Tom Sheáin was selected. He told a wonder story about three brothers who went fishing. Each was advised by their father to take a pike and turf ember with them in the currach, for protection. The two eldest dismiss their father’s urging but the youngest heeds his words. And then a storms starts blowing and the youngest son throws the pike at a swelling wave and suddenly the storm dissipates and they are saved. The following is a translated transcription of the end.
The man mounted the horse, the lad went up on the horse’s back and off they went. And they were not two horse lengths from the door when the boy didn’t know where in the wide world he was.
They kept going until they arrived at a right fine beautiful castle with a wonderful court. The gentleman asked the door to open, and it opened. They went inside. They were going from room to room, and they walked through so many rooms, and each room finer than the other until they went into a room full of fine young women and a young woman was up in her bed. The end of the pike was sticking out of the sheets.
“pull this,” said the gentleman, if you are the one who put it in her,” he said. “that is the Queen of the Fairy Dwelling, and I am King of the Fairy Dwelling!” (Oh, O Blessed Virgin!) The boy grabbed the pike and gained a footing with the pike and pulled from the side the pike and the burning turf. “Thank you,” said the young woman.
“Thank you,” she said, “and it is unlikely that you should lose anything by it. I will grant, perhaps a small reward to you,” she said, “I am the stormy ocean wave that was going that night,” she said, “and who drowned so many people, and it is not likely that you will be any the worse for it,” she said, “for what you have done,” “ I am the one who lifted the sea and the gale that night,” she said.
He went out- the gentleman- when the pike was pulled out, and the boy walked after him. They went on the horse again so that he would be given back to his father again safe and sound.
After three years, the luck and happiness flowed and was with Máirtín Mac Conraoi and with all he had, and three years after that he bought Cuan an Fhóid Duibh, and all that was there, and after three more years, he bought the entire parish where he lived.
That’s my story now, and I am not the one who composed or thought of it.
So honour the patriarchy and you'll prosper. The fantasy of the fairy is more real than the re-enacted fiction of harpooning a basking shark. The islander's actually hunted basking sharks in bigger vessels, fifty years previous.
However, the film endures and enjoys fame, whereas the wonder story survives courtesy of the academy. A copy belonging to Harvard University, surfaced in 2012, salvaged from being forever forgotten.
Could someone volunteer to read the next short section?
Who's feeling brave? It's just a short section...
For a little over six weeks Antonin Artaud struggled to overcome impossible odds in that "devouring place" until he was deported from Ireland as an undesirable alien on September 29th, 1937.
The original Bachall Isu or Staff of Jesus was the most sacred relic of the Irish Church, which had hung in Christ Church until …1538.
It was said to be the staff that Jesus had used to drive off Satan during his 40 days in the desert.
Earlier in May, 1937 he had suffered the social discredit of an aborted marriage with the daughter of a wealthy Brussels family, who in turn became an opium addict.
Sean O Milleain's daughter, was 20 years old and just married when Artaud and his "stick" came to her parents' Eoghanacht house… "There was something in the stick. I was always play acting to get it off him. My mother would shout after him - `Stop chasing with that one as she's only married'. . . but I was not afraid of him. The only thing was to keep away from the stick but I suppose I was a divil, like himself."
He was given lodgings in the St. Vincent de Paul night shelter for homeless men in the Back Lane, which ran into Skinner's Row where the Bachall Isu had been burned exactly 400 years previously almost to the day,
The police report details that he was arrested "in possession of a branch of a shrub he had pulled in the grounds".
… after exhaustive searches the gardai informed his family in Paris that no trace of "his walking stick" was to be found anywhere in Dublin.
Well done, thanks very much. If you want to fill in the gaps, the full article is by Peter Collier:
I just wanted to foreground the performance of the written word
From The New Revelations of Being read by Shane Connolly.
Artaud played the role of Jean Massieu, Dean of Rouen in Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928. The face in the picture, belongs to Renée Jeanne Falconetti. She played the title role. I would like to quote the director, bear with me:
Dreyer said he "felt there was something in her which could be brought out; something she could give, something, therefore, I could take. For behind the make-up, behind the pose and that ravishing modern appearance, there was something. There was a soul behind that facade."
He died in 1948, the last thing he wrote:
the same individual
returns, then, each
morning (it’s another)
to accomplish his
and murderous, sinister
task which is to maintain
a state of bewitchment in
me and to continue to
The Quare Fellow
Brendan Behan was not seduced by the mythology of the Man of Aran. It was representative of De Valera’s poverty porn of post nationalist Ireland. The desecration of the idealised cosy projection is punished with a severity that reveals the Irish government to be a reincarnation of the previous authority. This explains the sentence for anti-hero who never appears.
‘The quare fellow’ is hanged because he committed a ‘real bog-man act’ with a ‘meat-chopper,’ while ‘Silver-top’ is reprieved because, having dispatched his wife with his ‘silver-topped cane that was a presentation to him from the Combined Staffs, Excess and Refunds branch of the late Great Southern Railways, he is deemed to be a ‘cut above meat-choppers whichever way you look at it’.
Note the opposition between the clean cane and the stained moisture of ‘meat’ and ‘bog’. It’s probably no accident then that The Quare Fellow was first produced by Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift of The Pike Theatre, 1954. They explain the origins of their theatre’s name:
After much discussion, we fixed on ‘The Pike’, meaning the long pole with a spike on the end, which was used by the Irish insurgents of 1798 to discomfort the slick English cavalry. In other words, we wanted our theatre to be a revolutionary force of small means which, by its ingenuity, would stir up the theatrical lethargy of post-war Ireland.
The pike echoes the pike of the wonder story of Oidche Seanchais. Like Seáin Tom Sheainín, Behan is not too attached to authority. ‘That is my story now. I am not the one who composed or thought of it’. The playwright credits the ‘lags’ for writing his play about capital punishment in Ireland. When Behan watches the rehearsal of his play and loves what he sees then ecstatically declares ‘I must be a genius’, he’s not wrong. A reviewer in the Irish Times dismisses his work 'almost all Behan's best works are sublimated biography, and outside that he lacked invention or authenticity;. As if he could only recycle material from his life. Hence Behan's putdown of critics as 'eunuchs in the harem'. It appears that he was not too precious about authorship and was open to collaboration. John Brannigan celebrates his ‘socialised writing’. The deeper reading reveals that it’s the particular relationship to self that salvages his work. A certain relationship that gets lost in translation for television.
Imagine if I delivered this lecture, if we can call it that, via Youtube. And some people argue that is what should happen, instead of dragging you all here on a Monday morning, into this vast expensive space.
Not only would you miss my charismatic presence but you would be deprived of ‘situation and behaviour’, going by Lehmann’s formulation. Theatre is situation, behaviour and representation versus media being pure representation. The truth of bodies sharing space/time, is, I believe, an important immeasurable truth. In fact, it may be more important than the content of what I’m saying.
Going to mass, the churchgoers saying rounds of prayers, regardless of the words, it was the coordinated rhythm that regulated their communal hearts.
light touch regulation
Late winter 1923; outside Kilmainham Jail, Dublin. A young woman, clutching a baby, strains towards the top row of cell windows. She is trying to attract someone’s attention. At last, she sees the face she is looking for, a man comes to the window and catches a first glimpse of his new-born son.
Brendan Behan was born to Kathleen Behan and her Republican activist husband, Stephen, on the 9th of February, 1923.
This story reminds me of the scene where prisoners are looking through prison bars to see the women’s prison. The same women’s prison that outlasts the solemn off stage denouement of the execution.
(P3 O'Sullivan, M)
Prisoner A. I see the blondy (sic) one waving.
Young Prisoner. If it’s all the one to you, I’d like you to know that’s my mot and it’s me she’s waving at.
P55 Brendan Behan, Methuen.
Bear in mind that this was a time and place where one had to be conscious of being watched.
Mindful of the climate of the times, the actor playing the homosexual, Other Fellow concealed his identity under the pseudonym Patrick Clarke and this went undetected by the spooks at G2.
(P181 O'Sullivan, M)
Patrick appears later on, in another guise, in Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha.
The brilliance of the book is that all the drama is offstage. We feel only its reverberations in the boy’s world. Few novels have ever captured so well the idea that children and adults may occupy the same space but do not live in quite the same universe.
Beatrice retained intense cameo memories of their courtship, like cinematic flashes. The most vivid, and the most joyful, were scenes from their pre-marriage stay in the Aran Islands: Brendan unusually silent in a dark bar on Inisheer, listening to the poems and songs of the islanders; Brendan swimming naked in Kilmurvey harbour, turning somersaults and referring to his bare bottom as ‘one of the Sights of Aran’;
(P 187 O'Sullivan, M)
Elizabeth Rivers was an English painter who lived in Man of Aran Cottage. She would host likeminded individuals, such as Basil Rákóczi. He was a co-founder of The White Stag movement. They were interested in painting and new practice of psychotherapy.
Keating’s men are typically upright and engaged in some useful activity. If posed, they do so with a gun, camán, or other attribute that signifies manliness and vigour. Rákóczi’s Islander on Inishmore (c. 1940-41) adopts the same ethnic clothing familiar from Keating’s depictions of the men of Aran: the geansai, pampooties and cris; stone walls and cottages fill in the background. But the similarities end there. Rákóczi’s Islander is supine and languid. His waist is slender, boyish or even feminine. He rests his head on his shoulder exposing the long and sensual nape of his neck. His large hand rests on his thigh close to his groin which is painted in a curiously suggestive manner. He represents a combination of passivity and latent strength. Rákóczi returned to Dublin and exhibited these works in 1942. He was surprised with how well they sold and wrote in his personal journal, ‘I think the unconscious homosexuality sold them.’
Content: Seán Kissane, Riann Coulter, Sarah Kelleher, Jason Ellis, Kevin A. Rutledge, James Hanley, Meredith Dabek and Martyna Starzinskaite.
It’s early days in this work…
I have tried to refrain from sticking my oar in.
By following loose allusions, stemming from the Man of Aran, I’ve arrived at no hard and fast conclusion. I stand here empty handed. I have failed in my effort to invent a person that might somehow answer the myth. My desire to insert an artist, feels like a retrospective correction to superimpose some contemporary intersectionality into a history with its own complexities.
Double world wars, soldiery and corporal punishment.
Modernism, Primitivism, Surrealism, Nationalism, Socialism, Fascism .
All underscored by what Derrida termed: phallologocentricism. The opposite of this, is, I think, ‘indeterminateness’. Writing.
A year after the Man of Aran is made, The Informer wins four Oscars. The script is adapted from Liam O’ Flaherty’s novel. Liam is a real man of Aran, having grown up there, then fought in World War 1, lived in America and occupied the Rotunda for the Council of the Unemployed. His novel is described as 'mythogenic' (p1 meaning productive in story) Patrick F. Sheeran argues that O'Flaherty wrote the story, pitching it towards German Expressionist cinema. His writing was screenplay friendly and it proved to be the case with three film adaptations.
The screenwriter for the American version, Dudley Nichols, employed a detailed symbolism –e.g a blind man’s cane represents conscience. It wasn’t necessary for the audience to appreciate this code but it ensured that there was an integrity woven into the work nevertheless. John Ford would dismiss the very detailed scenes and claimed the film’s achievements for himself. It seems he was more at home with mythology and is remembered for the quote ‘when the truth become legend, print the legend’. Nichol's was the first person to refuse his Oscar, in solidarity with the Screenwriter's Guild, who were in dispute with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences . John Ford initially refused his Oscar too, but four months later quietly accepted award.
I'm sorry I may have wasted your time and lead you away, from something more concrete.This reminds me, I was in a café here in Galway, late 1990’s, Apostasy it was called, and I came across this flash fiction or micro text, and it was essentially the prequel to the Pied Piper and how a witch rewards a boy who helped her by turning him into a cripple thereby saving him from the fate of all the other children of Hamlin. Of course he doesn’t appreciate it at the time. This story reappears years later when I’m watching Martin McDonagh’s Pillowman. And I’ve no doubt it’s the inspiration for the play that made his career:The Cripple of Inismaan, which has a disabled young man’s attempt to get into Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. That play portrays a violence in its representation, a theatre of cruelty, inspired by Mc Donagh's true love, the silver screen.
Photos taken while walking the distance of the island's circumference:
Available to move in:
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Artaud, Antonin. (2019) Artaud 1937 Apocalypse-Letters From Ireland. Diaphanes.
Behan, Brendan. (1989). After the Wake. O’Brien Press. Dublin
Brannigan, John. (2002) Brendan Behan- Cultural Nationalism and the Revisionist Writer.
Four Courts Press Ltd
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. (2006). Postdramatic Theatre. New York
Milne, Tom (1971) Cinema of Carl Dreyer (International Film Guides) TBS The Book Service Ltd
Ó hÍde, Tomas. (2019). Seanín Tom Sheain, From Árainn to the Silver Screen. Four Courts Press. Dublin
O’ Sullivan. Michael. (1998) Brendan Behan. A Life. Blackwater Press.
Sheeran, Patrick F. (2002). The Informer. Cork University Press