(C) Copyright John Peter Luke Saunders, 2000 AD
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;”
Y.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
“This is a cold and clammy place –
keep that campfire burning.
Lucky Eddie – I want you to stand watch tonight!
Remember, this is an enchanted forest – be on your guard!
These woods are magic. The trees have eyes, the wind sings.
This place is filled with mysterious little folks – gnomes, goblins, elves and fairies”
“And PIXIES ?!”
“ Pixies?!! Oh, will you GROW UP ?!!”
Dik Browne, Hagar the Horrible
This chapter is focused on the socio-historical context of the 20th century, and the historical conditions that made the writing of this thesis possible. It is theorised that after the “Celtic Twilight” (the period of Irish literature written in English 1885-1939) (Baldick, 1991, p. 32) there was a kind of “Celtic Midnight” when the Irish imagination was at it’s most oppressed by the cultural (as opposed to military) forces of the Western world, which were dominated by an American technocratic materialistic capitalist utopian vision of the future.
At this time, too, the oral traditions were in grave danger - “By 1951... the ages old procession had faltered” (Breslin, 1985).
In the modernist/colonial framework oral tradition, myth and storytelling in the traditional sense were held in low esteem. “Somehow in the process of categorisation, myth has become devalued: recognised neither as high art nor good science” (Griffiths, 1999, p. 2). Oral tradition and myth remained devalued and were emphatically kept in the place they had held since both the rise of printed word and rise of colonialism: as children’s tales, at best.
It is argued that the cultural frameworks imposed by the Imperial centre (civilised vs primitive, rational vs irrational, emotional vs unemotional, centre vs margin) imposed a differend (“the case where the plaintiff loses the means to argue” or “the dominant discourse were the weak have no language and are thus unable to speak”) (Lyotard, Pg 9) upon the peoples they suppressed: those who held to the importance of the stories were silenced in any public sense. Representation of the colonised became mixed up in “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanising ideology” (Said, 1985, p. 27) where the suppression of the colonised was justified since they were without the benefit of civilised culture, instead wretchedly holding to values and beliefs which “in everything oppose the clarity, directness, and nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race” (Said, 1985, p. 39).
It is important to remember that the colonised did not represent themselves, nor control the study of themselves. In controlling the study of the colonised and their representation, the colonising powers gained intellectual as well as military supremacy: again, a case of the differend. This applies universally to all states conquered by the European colonial powers, allowing Said to write of Palestine - “what German Orientalism had in common with Anglo-French and later American Orientalism was a kind of intellectual authority over the Orient within Western culture” (Said, 1985, p. 19).
It is in response to such intellectual oppression and representational control that Said wrote Orientalism itself: “If this book has any future use, it will be as a modest contribution to that challenge, and as a warning: that systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions – mind forg’d manacles – are all too easily made, applied and guarded.” (Said, 1985, p. 328).
But the differend, like the justifications for empire
and slavery, did not go unchallenged forever.
The military empires (although not the economic ones) eventually unravelled, and the margins learned to challenge the dominant representations about themselves.
It is further proposed that the collapse of several hegemonic mythic cultural frameworks – the British Empire, the reign of positivism – and the recognition of the impoverished, sterile, mechanistic and oppressive nature of the (economic) rationalist industrial world view created a kind of ‘mythic void’ which in turn created the need for this void to be filled – to speak the silenced imagination. Such a void explains the success of such works as the Lord of the Rings, Dune and later Star Wars, not to mention the interest in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The recognition of the impact of the industrial state upon the environment was a parallel phenomenon – described quite literally at the end of the Lord of the Rings. Industry and industrial science was no longer an unchallengeable discourse. The moral rightness of Empire and the superiority of English rationalism and culture over the marginalised “primitives” also came under serious question. The margins began to write back.
“Numerous peoples and cultures have taken to the world stage, and it has become impossible to believe that history is a unilinear process directed towards a telos. The realization of the universality of history has made universal history impossible. Consequently, the idea that the course of history could be thought of as enlightenment, as the liberation of reason from the shadows of mythical knowledge, has lost its legitmacy...When demythologization itself is revealed as myth, myth regains legitimacy, but only within the frame of a generally ‘weakened’ experience of truth. The presence of myth in our culture does not represent an alternative or opposing movement to modernization, but is rather its natural outcome, its destination, at least thus far. The demythologization of demythologization, moreover, may be taken as the true moment of transition from the modern to the post-modern” (Vattimo, 1992, p. 39).
The process of the colonised finding their voice
is an ongoing one that is far from complete. The reign of the colonial powers
was more than three hundred years: the post Imperial/post modernist era has
existed for barely more than half a century. Even the official ending of empire
did not bring about an instant shift in ideology or language. As a result, in
all parts of the world we can witness
“the emerging identities of new social groups and subjectivities as being confronted by a dominant culture whose discourses and language do not allow them to articulate fully their experience. He describes this struggle for a voice as being ‘at the very edge of semantic availability’. Those necessary words will represent us both to ourselves and others are not quite in our grasp. The structure of feeling is caught between experience and language, described by Peter Middleton as ‘a state of unfinished social relations that have not yet found the terms for their own reflexive self comprehension” (Rutherford, 1990, p. 22-3)
It is argued that this state of affairs is particularly relevant to the line in question for this thesis. Gen-X and Gen-Y is still very much in the process of becoming, it’s final social and sub cultural forms undetermined, the range of possibility still under exploration. They/ we are still finding their/our voices.
The beginnings of the ‘Irish Dawn’ were
in the seventies, with a resurgence of Irish music, art and
writing. This renewal increased exponentially in the 1990’s, initially with the success of Irish music (Clannad, Enya, U2, Cranberries, Corrs) and later Irish dance (Riverdance). Clan associations began to form (including the O’Dubhda clan association), the Irish economy grew and the first tentative, fragile steps towards a peace process were taken.
Culturally, this development occurred in parallel with a recognition of the impoverished nature of economic rationalism and the rise of the popular imagination (ie X-Files, The Matrix, Harry Potter).
There are two contributing factors whose importance
is debateable to the rise of the imagination and to the rise of the (Irish)
counter-colonial voice. One is the rise of the Internet – in particular,
the use of email to overcome the effects of diaspora. The second is the importance
of the nature of the precise historical moment.
For instance, to what extent might it be argued that this thesis only possible due to a unique alignment of historical cultural conditions? Some of these conditions might be regarded as:
A) The recognition of the importance of oral cultures and knowledge (the medicinal knowledge of shamans of the Amazonian rain forest being a case in point)
B) The recognition that linguistic and cultural uniqueness/diversity is under threat (from cultural imperialism, from TV, from sheer loss of traditional cultural forms). Hence there are those, like Morrison, who are “explicitly concerned with the process of “rememory”...’Somewhere’, she often says ‘someone forgot to tell somebody something’...We don’t live in places where we can hear those stories anymore; parents don’t sit around and tell their children those classical, mythological, archetypal stories that we heard years ago. But new information has to get out, and there are several ways to do it” (Foreman, 1995, p. 285)
C) A time when those who might do something about it are neither starving nor at war nor in the process of being displaced.
D) Access to the discursive and institutional resources necessary to act effectively and legitimately
E) A time period when the Other may find it’s own voice, knows that it can, is not ashamed to and has the means to challenge the differend
F) The technological resources are available that facilitate an effective study and allow new cultural forms to evolve.
There is one point in the above theory that requires
clarification: the timing and nature of the “Celtic Midnight”.
It is apparent that very little of the last four hundred years has been particularly hospitable to the Irish imagination, but the placing of the Celtic Midnight after the second world war has to do with cultural rather than military factors.
The Celtic Midnight refers to the time period when the oral traditions were in most danger of being lost while highly disregarded by the dominant cultural forms. Of course, 17th century saw the loss of the brehon tradition while the 19th century saw the loss of the Gaelic language – two cataclysmic blows to Irish culture. But I would argue that the true danger to the oral traditions was the increasing loss of interest in the stories and the storytellers. This loss of interest was noted by the folklorists of the 19th century, a trend which became more and more pronounced in the early to mid 20th century. One folklorist observed the change this way: “But the old order changeth; already schools and newspapers are at work, and soon the rites which were done and talked about without hesitation may be only done furtively and concealed from enquirers.
The old beliefs are getting forgotten by the older and despised by the younger people, and much must be lost when the old peasantry die. The work done by me had been better done by dwellers on that wild coast; but few indeed show interest in such a pursuit, and the old Ireland is passing away for ever, more and more speedily” (Westropp, Folklore Vol 29).
Two factors made the 20th century particular hostile
to the traditions.
Firstly, the rise of technocratic culture, with it’s apex in the 60’s, which glorified science as the saviour of humanity and which relegated oral cultures to the realm of “primitive superstition” within the framework of social Darwinism. Oral traditions were regarded as nothing more than fairy tales, suitable only for children and soon grown out of. This utter contempt for the oral traditions robbed those who held them of any voice to respond – a true differend. It is the presence of this differend that marks the Celtic Midnight rather than just the number of storytellers.
Secondly, in parallel, was the rise of what thesis calls the “technology of distraction” – in particular, television. The negative impact of television upon the traditions has been noted more than once. “The first thing that came in was the gramophone and then the radio. But it’s the television that has finished everything. Once the 6 o’clock news comes on in the evening, there’s not a word of chat. The saddest thing I’ve ever seen was when I went to visit an old shanachie away up in the mountains. Some group or other thought they would do something for him, and so they gave him a big colored-television set, and it was a terrible mistake. That man, when I knew him, never stopped talking, but now, from 6 o’clock, when the news goes on, there’s not a word out of him the rest of the night. They’ve silenced him entirely.” (Breslin, 1985).
It is ironic, but the multiplicity of voices transmitted electronically contributed to a muteness and a more widespread silence amongst all the newfound noise.
Other factors of course contributed – from the generation gap to the rise of mass English literacy, the car, increased wealth of those of Irish descent, and a desire to fit into society.
The ambivalent relationship between the Irish and the dominant society around them is the focus of the next chapter