Thursday, 8 March 2018

On the Derrylin arson victim Diane Gossett's posthumous outing (and what it says about our local media)

On international Women's day its nice to see the local press still keeping the flag flying for misogyny, showing that not only has it not gone anywhere but that it has evolved to meet the demands of the 21st century.


Page 3 of today's Irish News has some very weird content in a article about a family that have died in an arson attack in Derrylin that’s made the local papers. Specifically taking a prurient interest in the artistic activities of the 19 year old daughter of the family having been a fan-artist and banging on about for 4 paragraphs of copy and an extended caption when it was totally unrelated to the incident, or we'd have to assume so since its just dropped in the middle of the article without comment along with some other random negative details of the families lifestyle. One might charitably assume that they're trying to humanise the victims of a terrible act of violence, but it doesn't quite feel that way. "Details have emerged" of what exactly? That she had a hobby? To me that just looks like rubber necking at best and victim-blaming at worst.

What does this have to do with anything? Answers on a postcard

In this the Irish News seem to have taken their lead from an article in yesterdays Belfast Telegraph which was specifically about this. No other subject, just this. As if this is even a thing that is in the public interest to know. Her brother and mother both died in the fire, yet the BelTel haven't devoted column inches to what they did with their down time. Was Edward Gossett into five-a-side football? Philately? Warhammer 40k? Where's the article about his pass-times?

Also, the PSNI have the guy that did it in custody, surely there's enough in the public sphere that the actual motivations behind this are apparent or at least get-able with a bit of effort?

Of course that would require time and effort, why do that when you can facebook-stalk the victims for juicy shit from behind your desk when you're pretending to work. Also, this is a part of a general pattern of behaviour by the BelTel, who have been involved in outing BDSM practitioners in the past, operate at least one sock-puppet account on Fetlife as well as indulging other types of Mrs Grundy-ism. This is part of a downward spiral in local journalism. I don't seem to recall all three of the locals being as seedy, tabloid-y and generally as shit as their current incarnations even ten years ago. The economic incentive towards lazy attention-grabbing clickbait is very real. I know that print journalism is dying on its arse these days but surely they can do better than kink-shaming murder victims.

The BelTel article is by far the worst offender, making an inordinate deal out of the fact that an erotic picture comes up right after one that Diane did based on her infant daughter (who also lost her life in the fire) on the timeline of the website hosting her art, like a complete n00b. Its a timeline, pictures come up chronologically, that's how it works.

There's quite a large sub-culture of people, mostly young women, who do this sort of artwork. There's a whole community of producers and consumers of it out there. For some it leads on to actual work as an artist, but even for those for whom it doesn't its still a healthy and enjoyable outlet for their sexual and creative impulses.

So-fucking-what if this young woman in her spare time, drew some dirty cartoons? Good. More power to her, I hope that it brought her some pleasure in the short time that she had on this earth. She sold a few? Good. Even better. Any of us involved in the creative arts should be so lucky as to get paid for our work.

The Gossetts extended family have set up a go-fund-me page to cover the costs associated with bringing their relatives back to England for burial. If you'd like to do something useful you can chip a few quid in towards it:

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

On the Collapse of the talks

I heard a bit of inside goss about the situation at Stormont. The source of which I'll not divulge but I will say comes from the inside and I personally trust the veracity of. Basically with the demand that Arlene step down pending investigation over RHI off the table from the Sinner's end the DUP negotiations team, i.e. most of the leadership, were happy to go back into government. This had been one of the key demands that Sinn Fein had been sticking to, but with the recent knock on Sinn Fein's public image over the whole Barry McElduff thing and Gerry Kelly's handywork with a set of bolt cutters, they've not been feeling as smug or confident in themselves.

What's fucked things up is that the first whiff the party organisation and wider membership had of a climb down over Acht Na Gaelige they were ready to throw the proverbial dummy out of the pram. Hence the DUP were hamstrung from doing what no doubt they've been itching to do since the collapse and get back to business (or at least the petty corruption that has become synonymous with the way the DUP actually do business).

Now if that's to be believed (doesn't seem unreasonable and fits with what's been made public as well as Michelle O'Neill's statement) then once again we find ourselves in a position where the possibilities of progressive change have been held back by the leadership of mainstream unionism's failure to sell their own electorate on very basic, timely and democratically mandated reforms, the sort of thing that wouldn't be remotely controversial in any right thinking part of the world. I suppose that when you make your career on being an intractable force of conservatism, having to make even an elementary compromise becomes impossible.

There's a section of the Unionist people, hard liners who had been convinced by Big Ian that they were in the right, god was on their side and eventually they would see justice done against the forces of Nationalism, the IRA would be smashed, its leaders dragged through the streets in sack cloth and ashes, those (hopefully few) taken alive jailed and order restored, and those brave men on their side whose only real crime was loyalty would be left to go about their business and everything would be fine. So it was written, so it would be and any conciliation was nothing less than a betrayal of Ulster. On such illusions did the DUP build the rack upon which they broke the mighty UUP party organisation and become the biggest of the four main political parties in Northern Ireland. However fostering such illusions in your voter base is great crack when you're the maverick outsider and its good for beating up the people who have to make the hard choices and show some conciliation every now and again by calling. Its less fun when you're in the driving seat and have to make the hard choices yourself.

Whether the bit of gossip I've tripped over this evening is true or not: here we are, the DUP fulfilling their promise at the beginning of this experiment to make the GFA unworkable. Hard to see where things go from here, short term back to direct rule but then considering the continuing crisis in British politics who knows how long the current situ over there is going to last, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop on Theresa May's head since the last election, it may do so by the end of the year but whether it falls from the left or right remains to be seen (congratulations to anyone who followed that last sentence through at least three tortuously mixed metaphors btw). Personally I'd love it if the whole shebang came down over brexit or the NHS crisis or something, like the government is at its most precarious any UK government has been since Ted Heath in the early 1970s, which could potentially lead to an election and a Labour administration under Corbyn, possibly in coalition with the SNP with enough of a majority to be able to force through a progressive mandate. Its not out of the question as things stand. Just as easily we could see a Palace coup from the right and Gove, Rees-Mogg or even BoJo replacing May, though how long that would last would be another question.

As ever the people of Northern Ireland will just have to shoulder the burden of our dysfunctional little shithole of a political system and get on without a functioning government or the long overdue equality legislation and live with the various petty annoyances and inconveniences as well as the major ongoing injustices that it is continues to inflict on us.

 Happy Valentines Day

Update 15/02/18:

This article by Eammon Mallie corroborates what I've alluded to and goes a lot deeper, specifically to say that the deal was agreed to on Friday, that Theresa May and Leo Varadkar were in town to announce that Stormont was back on the understanding that it was settled. It also outlines the proposal, a stand alone Irish Language Act, a seperate one for Ulster Scots and some sort of "Britishness" cultural act which sounds like a bile of boak but reflects a sop to petty bourgeois Unionism. It doesn't mention marraige equality so presumably the Sinners have fudged that for the time being. So basically the DUP negotiating team had one, they'd got Gay Marriage off the table as a key demand and retained and Arlene's head, the Sinners would get the Acht but they could have two Achts of their own to sell to their side. They couldn't even manage to deliver on that.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Festival review: Edinburgh 2017

Festival review, the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh Book Festival 2017

Dedicated to James Kerr

This is coming a bit later than I’d anticipated finishing and putting this up, but sure nobody reads these things anyway so its not like it matters :)

The last time I was in Edinburgh at festival time I promised myself I would return. This is the first time I’ve managed to get back over for it since then, it’s now been five years and I am honestly sorry I’ve left it that long and I hope that the next time isn’t so far off. The Edinburgh Festival and its various components, including the now much larger and arguably more significant Fringe, is the most important arts festival in the northern hemisphere. The main part of the festival, just called the Edinburgh International Festival (or EIF from here on in) was founded in 1947 in the aftermath of the second World War, conceived of as a means to inject a bit of life into the economy of the city and surrounding region and as a way of bringing people together from across the world after the dislocations and upheavals of the previous years. The whole story of how the EIF came together and progressed is fascinating, if you’re interested and can stick Jack Whitehall (which I can only manage in small doses) then the recent BBC documentary Festival Tales: Edinburgh At 70 is well worth having a look at.

1947 is also an important year to me as it was also the year my Dad was born and it was to celebrate his 70th than my Mum decided to take us all over as a present for him that we could all enjoy. This was actually plan B as she had originally intended to get us all tickets to Glastonbury. I’m kind of glad now that didn’t happen as I don’t think my Ma had anticipated how physically taxing that would have been. They would have been unlikely to get the full use of their tickets at best and I dread to think how badly that might have gone. Still, it was a nice idea and I think that the longer time over meant that we were able to take everything at an easier pace and really get the most out of it.

The EIF comprises the best of the arts; theater (from the classics of the ancient world through Shakespeare up to the cutting edge of modern stagecraft interactive multi-media performances), dance, Opera, Classical music and modern music (including this year PJ Harvey, Jarvis Cocker's current project), as well as the Tattoo and Fireworks. We didn’t get to anything at the EIF this year due to clashes, other stuff that we wanted to see not being on while we were there and with the high ticket prices you can’t just go see something at random and hope it’ll be good. As such the only interaction I had with the main festival was seeing and hearing the tattoo and fireworks from the street.

At the same time as the various shows there is also the Edinburgh Art Festival with special exhibitions in the various public and private art galleries in the city, events and specially commissioned art work, some of which becomes permanent and stays up outside of festival time as well as special events workshops and art-related stuff for kids.

 As well as that there’s also the Edinburgh International Book festival, which is a series of talks, signings with authors, poetry workshops and an award for work from new writers.

 And then there’s the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (EFF from now on). Again I can’t but stress the importance and cultural significance of the Fringe. Few are the stand up comics that have come to prominence on the world stage that haven’t at least gigged at the EFF and many household names in UK comedy have got their big break there. As well as stand-up there’s also loads of one-man shows, improve, talks, music, arts and crafts lessons, spoken word, performance poetry, theatre, stage magic, dance, and all sorts of un-categorisable weirdness. Stuff I missed included a live action role play, gin tasting, yoga workshops, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon in surround sound in a planet’arium dome with space visuals, a 24-hour D&D game, queer-burlesque and performances where the players and audience were all naked.

The whole world is here in one place. You can see performers from all over the planet and different degrees of talent and experience from professionals at the top of their game who have been known and respected in their field for decades to people who wish to be them making their first steps onto that path to people who are enthusiasts and the entirety of their ambition for what they do is to get their show to the Edinburgh Fringe. A big part of the EFF is the Free Fringe, which is somewhat mis-titled as it’s all on a tip-based system where you pony-up what you thought the show was worth or what you can afford at the end of the gig. It seems like the free fringe is the most interesting as you get a lot of people who are part of the free fringe because they dig the ethos of art and entertainment being affordable and accessible no matter what your budget, but you also get stuff that couldn’t get booked any other way and some of it is awful.

 Aside from the festival itself, Edinburgh is just an incredibly cool city full of stuff to do and see with a vibrant arts scene upon which the festival is just some nice spicy gravy. Earlier in the year my sister was over for a hen-do and had a cracking time, I personally would happily go back off-season and make a proper couple of days of it.

What follows now has been cobbled together from my contributions to a thread on a web forum for people to talk about and recommend shows to each other, so while I will be talking about the festival in general I will be going into a lot of detail on some of this so feel free to skip where you feel appropriate, this is essentially “what I did on my holidays”.

The four of us got to Edinburgh at tea-time on a Saturday night and by the time we’d settled into the accommodation it was late in the evening and only my Da was up for heading into the center of town to catch a show. On previous years visiting the festival my parents had found the half-price ticket booth at the bottom of the mound, this is a great resource if you just fancy seeing “something” but aren’t fussed on what and can be a good way of hitting up shows that you might not have considered doing otherwise. We managed to get down just in time for the half price booth to close before we got there so we headed back up the mound to the main box office beside the Assembly Halls to see what was available. Fortuitously we managed to get there in time to catch a chap selling on two tickets to Mark Steel for some friends that hadn’t turned up which was starting in 5 minutes. As a fellow former member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain I’ve seen Mark Steel loads of times and even chatted with him at conference, loved his TV work, read a couple of his books and always enjoyed his writings in the independent. His stand up comedy is usually quite political, and there was a good bit of politics in his act, as there was in a lot of the other shows at the festival. With everything that’s going on in the world, Brexit, Trump, the threat of nuclear war, Charlottesville happened while we were there, climate change and so on seeming to reach a critical point it could hardly be avoided to the point where it seemed to be all pervasive, with the consensus being very much to the left of centre. It actually felt really weird being there having voted for Brexit.

Anyway, Mark Steel was on extremely good form, as well as lamenting the general state of things he’s also apparently been through a bit of a hard time in his personal life which was a shit one for him but did give him a lot of good material. After the stand up we went to a bar in the back streets off the Royal Mile for a drink while we waited for the last bus back up to the flat where we were staying. We had a good time.

 The next day there was also a lot of shopping and taking care of stuff like getting the bus cards organised etc. By the time we’d that sorted we got to the half price ticket booth and managed to nab tickets to Hardeep Singh Kohli and The Toxic Avenger: The Musical. Hardeep Singh Kohli was cracking. Again very political humour, talked a lot about identity – being Sikh and being Scottish, the independence referendum, the atmosphere of racism post-brexit. He was funny, intelligent and made his case well without being preachy (which I respect in any political comedian), and managed to get the boot into the DUP in a very clever way that tickled the four of us.

Later on while at the venue for The Toxic Aveneger we were hustled into getting half price tickets to Phil Jerrod’s show Submerged. He alright, funny enough and worth the £4 but nothing to write home about. He did have one line that cracked me up about something making, “Nigella Lawson look like a middle aged drug addict”. Unfortunately the venue for The Toxic Avenger has had a fire alarm go off during a previous show and everything in that room was running late. My sister managed to do her toe in when she was in Berlin just before the festival and hadn’t got a chance to get it looked at (turned out later she’d broken one of them). It had already been giving her jip and the 20 minutes / half an hour extra wait for Toxie was a bit too long so we ended up splitting back to the accommodation. It was a shame about our kid’s foot. I’d anticipated that as with the last time I’d probably spend a bit of time knocking about on my own, but I’d been looking forwards to just the two of us hitting a few things together after our parents took off home for the evening. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be this time.

The next day was the Monday, we sat in the gaff in the afternoon watching the new episode of Game Of Thrones and Rick and Morty before heading out (I had my laptop over with my HDMI cable specifically for that purpose, though it would come in handy later), I then spent ages running around getting our Toxie tickets sorted. They hadn’t been able to provide a refund or to get them swapped to a different date at the venue on the previous evening because the tickets had been purchased from the half-price booth though they had been good enough to make a note on whatever system they were using to the effect that even though the half price tickets are supposed to be non-refundable under the circumstances they were happy to allow it. Me and my Da hit the main ticket office on the Royal Mile and they said they could only issue a refund, but that the half price booth might be able to get them swapped. After trekking down to the bottom of the mound it required a lengthy explanation of what had been happening and a chat with a manager to finally get sorted, which amounted to them refunding the tickets (though not straight away and only because the note from the venue was on the system) and allowing us to purchase the half price tickets for the next night as we already had tickets for another show at the time The Toxic Avenger was on.

With that sorted we popped into the national gallery and caught a bit of their general exhibition of contemporary Scottish art, which was awesome. After that my Da went back up to see the girls and get food, I spent a lot of time on my own bombing about the Royal Mile seeing street performers and stuff and allowing myself to be flyered. The last time I was in Edinburgh that was how I found a lot of the better stuff I ended up seeing. I only caught a couple of shows that day before hooking up with the rest of the fam much later. I saw Bare Threads a physical theater piece about the relationship between clothing and the human body, which just re-iterated to me that dance based physical theater isn’t really my thing. I saw ForniKateRess at the Banshee Labyrinth, a one woman show from Kate Smurthwaite talking about what being in a poly/open relationship is actually like which was pretty good. It was a very small intimate venue. I’d not heard of Kate before that I could remember but I liked her and enjoyed the show. Poly and non-binary gender seem to be such a big part of the conversation around sexual politics these days that it featured quite a lot in the festival in general. One thing I noticed that was different to the last time that I was there that any show where there was a compare they always started “ladies, gentlemen and anyone in between” or words to that effect rather than just “ladies and gentlemen, etc.” Kate Smurthwaite is a sort of left wing Katie Hopkins, in the sense that she’s carved out a niche for herself by trolling the right wing tabloids and broadcast media. Which is fair enough like, you need to do or say very little to trigger those fuckers and nothing on the level of moral reprehensibility of Hopkins. The show was entertaining and informative as intended.  I found her personable, engaging and funny, so you can imagine my annoyance when I got home looked her up and it turned out she was a massive SWERF.

After that I finally saw Jerry Sadowicz live for the first time ever after being a fan since I was literally a little kid. It was everything I dreamed it would be any more, raw, dark offensive humour, manic delivery, card tricks, you know the score, he started hard and didn’t let up, the first five minutes of the show was him introducing himself with a series of rapid fire one-liners delivered breathlessly and already hitting you with the next one by the time the last one had landed. The man is a legend. It was a nice tonic to the decidedly lefty humour that everyone else was doing. During the show he managed to tell a two line gag, which I dare not repeat, that is simultaneously the most racist and sexist joke I’ve ever heard in my entire life. No mean feat in its own right but it was made all the funnier when he said that he had actually woke up with that joke in his head. “Imagine waking up at four in the morning with something like that going through your mind and thinking, fuck, that’s pretty good!... you think its hard listening to me, try being me”. That to me is Jerry Sadowicz in a nut-shell, that’s why even after the massive cultural shifts of the last decades he and he alone really gets away with that type of humour and why I, card carrying Trot SJW and all that that I am, still find him funny and if asked seriously who my favourite comedian is will shoot back that its him without batting an eyelid. As nasty as some of his jokes are, you just know that the coruscating rage behind his humour is largely directed inwardly. He’s a very troubled man, a real life Rick Sanchez, a genius driven by self hatred but who can do amazing things that appear to defy the laws of physics and carry it off with dank sardonic wit. Rarely in my life have I laughed at live comedy as hard as I have at that gig.

 I was going to go to the Voodoo Rooms after to catch a bit of late night cabaret as the venue was nearby but I got a bit of bad news from home and didn’t really feel like staying out after that.

The next day we got into town in the late afternoon. I had a crack at the VR thing in the half shipping container in front of The Assembly Rooms on George Street which was part of the FuturePlay segment of the fringe. That was cool, if a bit steep at £12 for half an hour but I’ve never seen or done anything like that before so it was well worth it. That was just before we went to see Performers in The Assembly Rooms. Performers was a play by Irvine Welsh that my Ma fancied seeing after seeing him promote it on The Wright Stuff. The play was inspired by the film Performance, a fucking mental art-house movie made in the late 60s about an east-London gangster holing up in a house with an eccentric former rock star played by Mick Jagger. The film apparently featured some real east London gang members playing the other gangsters the protagonist was hiding from and Welsh wondered, considering all the weird homo-erotic sexual stuff in the film, how the casting sessions must have went and this play was his answer. I thought it was good crack but I can totally see why it got panned by the Guardian. Some of the dialogue in the cockney idiom didn’t quite ring true and all the rhyming slang came across as cheesey. Still it had its moments and the plot resolved itself nicely. 

After Performers the folks split to get fed and I went off on my own to see Stephen Baxter in conversation with Ken MacLeod (Scotland’s greatest living sci-fi author who introduced a series of talks) at the Book Festival. It was very interesting. He was talking about his new book The Massacre of Mankind, which was his sequel to HG Well’s classic The War of the Worlds. He’d previously done a sequel to Wells The Time Machine which was quite well received when it come out so he has form. This sounded great, the discussion took in both general chat about his work but also the process of adapting someone else’s work and went into a bit of depth about the history of and what was great about the original. That said its going to have to go onto my massive To Read list and I doubt I’ll be getting onto it any time soon.
The poster from the original movie.

I got some food then caught up with the fam and we finally did get to see The Toxic Avenger: The Musical. It was good fun. It pretty much was what it promised, the plot of which should be familiar enough to any fans of the original but for those unacquainted, the film was the flagship super-heroic franchise from legendary New Jersey indie studio and distribution network Troma. The story is of a Melvin Ferg, a 98 pound weakling who gets bullied by the jocks at the health club in the town of Tromaville N.J. where he works as a janitor and after being thrown by said jocks into a vat of nuclear waste instead of dying like you'd expect he is transformed into a hideously deformed creature of super human size and strength and calling himself the Toxic Avenger vows to clean up the town both figuratively and literally with his mop. The film is a cult classic and both it and its various sequels are excellent slices of horror-comedy with silly gross-out humour, good low budget live effects, titties, and environmentalist themes. The musical did a half decent job of translating the story to the stage with forgettable but fun musical numbers and some good irreverent humour and a Rocky Horror Show reference. I had a good time and thankfully my folks, who had been dragged to it by me, also enjoyed it.

The next day was probably the best one of the whole trip and I had my wee mind blown more times than I could count. We started early, me and my Da hitting the Jacobite exhibition in the national museum while the girls went for a drink. The exhibition gave a fairly entry-level skim of the topic but had the personal battle armour of one of the Stuarts, an amazing array of early-modern weapons, secret toasting cups and other paraphernalia. My Dad really enjoyed it as did I though we did think that it was hilarious that the war in Ireland after the Williamite succession only got one small informational plaque, the same as the massacre at Glencoe where a whopping 37 whole people were killed. The museum itself was awesome and I’m sorry I didn’t have a whole day to do the whole thing, again something I wouldn’t mind doing some other time off season.

The next show we saw was Dan Gordon’s show Frank Carson: Rebel Without a Pause in the Assembly rooms. I wasn’t expecting much from this tbh, it was mostly my Ma’s idea to go and I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it if they weren’t going. Frank Carson was known mostly for his inoffensive humour and cheesy catchphrases and I wasn’t expecting it to be brilliant, though I reckoned I’d probably find it interesting since it was a Norn’ Irish performer doing a show about one of our local minor light entertainment stars. I am happy to admit that I was well wrong about that. Frank Carson had an amazingly interesting and eventful life even prior to getting into show business, his story touches on class, sectarianism, imperialism and actually the frequent jokes that punctuated it make sense It actually did something I never thought I would see done well, capturing our humour and our way of using it to deal with grim reality. And fuck it, the jokes are funny, cheesy dad-jokes are the best.

 After that the rest of them split off back to the flat to give Catherine’s foot a break from the running around. Edinburgh is a class city but getting around the city center to the various festival venues is not easy. It’s not actually that big of a space for a major city but the great big hill in the middle of it and all the streets and back streets make it appear a lot bigger than it is. Doing the festival is physically taxing at the best of times but somewhat less than ideal on a sore foot. My laptop did end up coming in handy. As well as allowing me the use of the internet when I was at the accommodation I also have tons of films and series saved on it so when the girls ended up home bound they had a good few options to keep them entertained, Stranger Things got rinsed among other things.

So they went off and I saw Tago, a Korean traditional drum music / physical theater performance. It was pretty amazing, I’ve always been a huge fan of percussion, this was a masterful display of drumming with the young crew of (extremely fit and often shirtless) young Korean gentlemen playing sets and arrangements using different set ups of the drums used in Korean music. The first bit started simple with a single pounding beat on the huge bass drum which reverberated through the room and slowly built up in intensity from there. So it went with the rest of the show, until at the end there was dancing and spin kicks all over the stage. The lads pulled it off with a lot of humour, bringing elements of physical comedy into their set that seem designed to transcend language (they take this show to festivals all over the world) and audience participation. The leader of the troupe after introducing the performers beat his drum then got us to clap back in time, this got progressively more elaborate until he did one that was impossible to keep up, though one little kid did have a go and just kept clapping his hands like mad back at him, the guy laughed and did the universal “I’ve got my eyes on you” two-fingers hand gesture to the wee’an. You can actually watch the whole show on YouTube if you want to see what I’m on about (recorded a while back in Seoul but it’s the same show).

Earlier in the day I saw a poster for Andrew O’Neill’s Black Magick Fun Hour at the Free Fringe. I sort of remember seeing O’Neil on TV, but what caught my eye was that he spelt ‘Magick’ with a ‘k’ at the end which usually connotes that we’re not talking card tricks, illusions and shit, but the ‘Real Thing’. The show started with Andrew entering the room stage right wearing antlers and incanting a prayer to the trickster god, thus inducting us into his cult for the duration of the show. It was an interesting performance themed around the occult and how he uses it in his every day life and in his work as a writer and performer “a joke is a spell that causes the diaphragm of another human being to vibrate” etc. so it was a very informative window into his world and belief system as well as being an incandescently funny stand up routine. Next to Sadowicz he was probably the funniest comic I saw at the festival and felt like he was really good crack, would be a good laugh to hang out with and I was sorry I didn’t have the time to chat with him for a wee minute after as I had to rush off to another show.

And rush off I did, to see the legendary slam poets Sage Francis and B. Dolan’s show Tricknology. This was one of the shows I clocked on day one and knew I was going to hit at some point in the week, so it was a short trek down the mound back to George’s street, this time to the Masonic Hall. Their show was unreal. I thought it was just going to be them doing their tunes and whatnot, instead what I got was a comedic interactive performance where they were pretending to be gurus / motivational speakers, we were inducted into their program, the Tricknology of the title. It got the boot into Scientology, PUA culture, psychics and poetry slam culture. Hilarious, relevant, Brilliant. 

After the show let out it was about 8pm-ish and I had a tour around and found something to eat (no mean feat for me with my incredible list of physical allergies), I got a call from the folks to say that Catherine’s toe was still bothering her but my Dad was in town. We found each other near the museum and went to a bar to have a drink that was participating in the Free Fringe and had some live music. When we got to the bar there was no live music, because it was an Irish bar and it was showing the Celtic match so instead we managed to catch the last half + extra time of Celtic hammering some Kazakhstani team 5-0 in the European Champions League and see the last three goals. Neither me nor my Da are big football fans or anything, nor are we Celtic supporters per se but that was unreal. The atmosphere in he bar was tense, every goal was one step closer to the next round and closer to the next round, any goal by the Kazak side would be one up for the next match so even though they were winning and had decisively won by the time we got to the bar every second was still a big deal. The drama of the match and the way the room lit up when Celtic scored, gown men singing and crying in each others arms, it was up there with the best things I saw at the festival all week. Never mind the distinctly average guy playing his acoustic guitar that came on after, they should have been flyering for that, like that deserved its own listing on the festival program – enjoy the cutting edge Multi-Media installation (aka big screen TV’s showing the fitba’), an authentic slice of proletarian sporting culture, Celtic FC in a real Irish bar in Scotland!

So that was a nice bit of male bonding for the lads anyway. Later on found me at a venue I hadn’t been to before – The Black Market down by the railway station. It was quite a nice venue and again, somewhere that I reckon would be good crack off season. It was quite a big venue with lots of small rooms. I reckon that with a bit of forwards planning you could spend all day here if you weren’t too fussy about what you were watching and hang in the bar between shows, in fact there’s a few venues you could do that if you were forewarned, which would probably be a lot more sensible than hoofing up and down the mound all day, like an idiot, like me that particular day. Anyway, I was the only person who turned up for the show I wanted to see, which was an interactive gaming thing you needed at least two punters for, and I ended up getting lured into a small room for something called I AM THE SEX. That was a bad move. It looked good on paper and the two performers were affable enough as they hustled people up to their show but Je-sus. It was supposed to be a sort of sex-positive feminist stand up but it was just grim. The girl couldn’t tell jokes, it was all really shit single-entendre gags, delivered artlessly and with a smug self-congratulatory drawl. The less said about her mate the better, like seriously if you have suffered a recent trauma and need therapy, get therapy, don’t visit that stuff on an unsuspecting group of punters expecting to be entertained, especially if you genuinely can’t hack your own material yourself yet. This was not just the only show at the Free Fringe I didn’t even chuck a few quid towards.  I actually got up and left, awkwardly, in the middle of it.

When I was getting my stuff together to leave, the girl who was sitting next to me whispered, “are you going?”.

“Yeah”, says I.

“Please take me with you…”

So, I managed to make my own escape and facilitated another person’s exit. My only regret about that is that I didn’t have the energy in me to heckle. I swear I am too nice for my own good sometimes. Rarely have I ever felt the need to tell anyone involved in any creative or artistic pursuit that they were irredeemably bad at what they were doing and that the world would be a better place if they just gave up and put their time into something else but that was one of those times and honestly it was apathy and fatigue after running around Edinburgh all day that stayed my tongue rather than civility.

The next morning we all got ourselves together early and trekked out to the Camera Obscura. This wasn’t part of the festival it’s a tourist attraction (the oldest one in the city) that is permanently in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile just before the castle. It’s a museum of optical illusions, at the very top of which is the Camera Obscura itself, a live moving image projection of the street around the tower that’s been there for 175 years.

The first show we saw that saw was Nick Hall: Spencer at the EFF. While the main reason we went was that the performers girlfriend an old friend of the family and we went mostly to see her, the show itself was pretty good. It was a one man show about Spencer Perceval the only Prime Minister in British history ever to be assassinated and why nobody really remembers him or knows anything about why he was shot. It was quite an interesting story too, like right enough I reckon most people, most Brits could name at least two US presidents who’ve been assassinated in office but I doubt most people would even be aware that a sitting UK Prime Minister had ever been assassinated, never mind who he was or why. Also not a bad little factoid to keep up your sleeve for pub quizzes and the like. 

After that I caught a talk at the Book festival. It was a discussion between Adam Roberts (a well known sci-fi author who is also an academic), Farah Mendlesohn (academic and scholar of genre fiction known for her non fiction writing about Sci-Fi who’s also had some fiction published) and Jo Walton, a fan critic and writer, chaired again by Ken MacLeod, on the subject of ‘What Makes Science Fiction So Great? This was a very useful event for me as I am currently working on a bit of long-form prose in the genre and listening to the discussion, especially the actual argument that broke out among the panellists at one point, helped me firm up my own ideas about how I should approach writing the genre.

After that I hooked up with my folks for a meal at a pop-up restaurant in a bicycle shop. This was something that my Mum, huge foodie that she is, was very keen on doing. The guy running the pop-up is the cousin of one of my good friends and he and his staff made sure that I was well catered for with my horrendously large amount of food allergies. That was pretty cool, class setting, proper fancy restaurant food and me being well sorted. It was the sort of thing that you couldn’t do easily back in Belfast, the sort of thing you come to the festival for.

Later that evening I caught The Bubble Show For Adults Only, a burlesque show involving bubbles, lots of bubbles. I liked it, the two performers were good at what they did and quite hot. Great stuff, if you like burlesque and particularly if you kink hard for bubbles (is that a thing? That’s bound to be a thing...).

I then did manage to see the Cabaret at the End of the Universe in the Voodoo Rooms before going home that night. It was good being back in that venue, which was one of the more interesting ones that I’d found on my last Edinburgh adventure. The acts were good but that night’s crowd were awesome and I get the feeling that the guys running and compèring the thing were having as much fun on the job as we were watching it.

On returning home I was conscious of the fact that the next day was my last full day at the festival and I resolved to try and fit in as much that day as I could.  I also realised that I still hadn’t seen any real serious theater up to that point except Bare Threads. Live drama is something I’ve always had an interest in and enjoyed but an its interest I tend to neglect. I had been looking forwards to catching some at the festival but it just hadn’t happened. So I promised myself that the next day I’d get into town early and try and squeeze as much of that as I can, if I could, and that I’d be happy if I hit 3 or 4 shows of that type. I went through the programme for the festival marking out shows that looked interesting, times and noting location, distances, estimated times between and so on.

They say that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. That was the case that friday morning as I slept in a little and didn’t manage to get into town quite as early as I had intended and missed all the early and pre-afternoon stuff I’d pegged as interesting. So in spite of my mission the first thing I saw was a comedy gig, Star Wars Vs Star Trek. This was a young Scottish comedian conducting a debate between two other festival performers on the merits of the franchises. This is a conversation I’ve had many times with a host of different people and have developed some very definitive ideas about over the years (basically that he two franchises share only superficial similarities and are when you get right down to it are quite different beasts so there’s no fair basis for comparison). It was good fun. My favourite bit was after being asked from the stage whether I personally was for Star Wars or Star Trek hitting back immediately, “Babylon 5” and being told to “fuck off“ by all three of them.

Next I saw my first serious theater of the day, Crazy Horse, a Dream of Thunder, a one man show about the Sioux Warrior Crazy Horse’s life story. It was a tale powerfully told that got you right into the mindset of the man himself and his people and actually did go deep on their internal politicking which led to Crazy Horses betrayal and eventual death. The way it was framed was that Crazy Horse, the night before his death was summoning the spirits for a vision quest and we in the audience were the spirits and he spoke to us as such. Great stuff, I find that whole period of history heart-breaking, especially in the knowledge that their oppression never ended and continues to the present day, I got pretty emotional watching the whole thing, especially at the end.

After that I bounced down the hill and had a crack at the FuturePlay Tech Zone. This was a series of machines and what were essentially gaming apps in stand up cabinets and the like in a dome in the street front of the Assembly Rooms on George Street. Some of it was good fun but I reckon it should have been about half the price, not mind blowing or unique like the VR experience. I have apps like this on my phone and can get more for a couple o quid each, why pay £12 or whatever to do this for an hour?

I then bate my way back up the mound to see The Fall. I’d had this one on my to-do list from getting flyered for it on day one and it did not disappoint. An hour and twenty minutes on South African student politics may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it. As someone who is a member of the organised left and former student activist / occupado myself I’m pretty much the target audience but I really rated the stage craft, the acting from the young cast and all the writing which was able to convey the inherent drama of protest politics and the debates and disagreement’s brilliantly. The Fall was so called because the Students Movement kicked off from a campaign to take down a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the Cape Town University campus and rolled on from there making the subject matter timely and relevant, particularly in the wake of Charlottesville which had happened that week. Each performer represented a different facet of their student movement, I’m guessing an amalgam of actual people involved, a queer feminist student, a couple of lads from the shanty towns, one of whom was doing medicine, a trans student, one from the struggling middle etc. The scenes were punctuated by the sort of harmonised sing-chanting that they do on demos there. It was stirring stuff and as I say, a well done bit of theater arguable the best thing I saw in the whole trip. At the end they announced that in the wake of current events the performances were dedicated to all those struggling against oppression world-wide.

After that I had a cup of tea and a dander. I ended up going to see Evocation. That was... interesting. Well, it wouldn’t be Edinburgh if I didn’t go see something really artsy and pretentious, some of which I really enjoyed. This took me a while to get into to and while I did eventually come to like it, it didn’t really captivate me the way a performance like that should have. I was just attracted by the promise of an industrial noise soundtrack and glove puppets, which I got tbf.

I wanted to see a thing called The Gun Show after reading about it online above but that night’s showing wasn’t on for some reason. I ended up going to see Anathema, a story about a young man dealing with a sexual assault. In the program it mentioned that this was the first thing had been completed by this particular playwright. It showed. It was very raw. Whilst the dialogue was decent, the cast did a fantastic job and it did tease out some of the subtleties of the issue at hand in a sensitive way it didn’t all quite hang together and the “twist ending” thing didn’t work for me, though on reflection maybe the parts of it I had issues with were sort of ‘the point’. The B plot about the other flatmate’s more complicated sexual encounter rang a lot truer imo. Anyway, it was a good effort and I reckon that the team behind this would be ones to watch in the future.

After that having met my goal of hitting four non-comedy shows I went down to The Voodoo rooms for some Illicit Thrills. I’m not sure if I should I describe this as “immersive feminist physical theater”? Or should I just call it what it was, a strip show – an informative one with quotes from one of the performers PHD thesis in the subject, irony and meta-jokes but still a strip show with real strippers? Take your pick, either way I kink hard for politically conscious ethical perving so I had a good time watching it. Going home in the taxi I knew that that might have been my lot for that year as we were leaving the next afternoon and I hadn’t managed to get into town before 12:30pm once that trip. If that had been the case at that point I actually wouldn’t have been too annoyed and felt that I’d got the most that I could out of the festival.

I did however manage to drag myself up early enough the next morning to get into town in tome to catch a couple of shows. I saw a play called NSFW, which was a satire of the publishing industry, specifically ‘Mens’ and ‘Women’s’ Magazines. It was ace, it was a bit like watching a live episode of The Thick Of It if they’d done an episode set in that world, tight script, razor sharp dialogue and similar-ish tone. I thoroughly enjoyed it, which was just as well since it was actually a plan b. I’d intended to see a stage production of Ray Bradbury's famous dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 (based off Bradbury's own script) but the box office had sold out when I went for a ticket, they’d actually sold out of NSFW tickets too but said they might have them at the venue itself if I went round, which I find a bit odd as the show itself wasn’t packed out our anything. That’s one of the peculiarities of the festival that I’ll have to make a note of for the next time, ticketing and allocation is weird. When I bought something from the various different box offices I had to create an account for some reason, which did come in handy with the Toxic Avenger: The Musical tickets but was a bit annoying. They might have that fixed for the next one or it may even be easier purchasing the tickets through the apps for the Fringe and Free Fringe (something I only discovered late I the game and will probably make a lot more use out of next time).

I had a bit more luck after. At that point I had no plan, wasn’t fussy and just wanted to see one last thing, I had a dander and managed to get the last space in the room to see Phil Jupitus reading his poetry at the EFF in Bannermans for that day. It was brilliant. I’ve always liked him on TV, was only vaguely aware that he did poetry (he’s a cracking DJ and all) but I’ve never heard or seen any of it. He kept apologising for not being in a good mood but I thought the show was awesome, funny as you’d expect from such a comedy veteran but at times touching and profound as great poetry can be. The two guests he had on were pretty good too, one was from the show that was on after, a showcase for black performance poets. Had it been a different day I’d have considered sticking about for that but I’d a ferry home to catch so that was my festival over for 2017.

 So, congratulations to anyone that’s read this far, particularly if you’ve done it all in one sitting. I should be giving out prizes or something and I swear I will finish soon. There is one last thing that I need to get off my chest before I wrap up. The one thing I regret about being at the festival though was that being there prevented me from getting to the funeral of my mate James Kerr who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and whose funeral that week. James was someone I always had a lot of time for and was more to me than just someone to get wrecked with. I felt bad about not being home to grieve with the rest of our crew. I’d considered coming back home for it but the I honestly couldn’t have afforded to and the way I looked at it, if the boot was on the other foot and it was me and he’d been over the water with his kids or something I’d not have expected him to drop everything and get home for mine. James was someone who read my previous blog post about the 2015 Bangface, took the time to tell me how much he enjoyed reading it and was very encouraging about my writing. Getting feedback like that from someone you know and whose opinion you respect is fantastic and a good boot up the arse towards taking all this more seriously. I appreciated his encouragement at the time and still do. So for that reason as well this one is for him. Rest in peace chum.

So with that said, and to not finish on too much of a downer I’d like to say in conclusion is that the festival is amazing (in case that point hadn’t been hammered home quite enough in the near 8k+ words above). Your art is the trace that your soul leaves on the world as it passes through; it’s a big part of how we connect with each other and across space and time. It’s that connection that the festival was intended for in its inception and what after 70 years it still delivers. That was my Edinburgh experience and is largely reflective of my tastes and interests at this time. It is the biggest arts festival in the world with thousands of shows, whoever you are and what ever you are into you will find a ton of stuff there that will reflect yours, and find yourself giving stuff a go that you might never think you’d like but find you actually love. Anyone who is involved in any creative enterprise of any sort should get on this put make performing at the festival at least once something to strive for. I do appreciate that it’s not all fun and games for the performers, getting over getting a venue, putting the show on and accommodation and all that can be difficult and expensive as hell. Friends of mine did a musical comedy show and brought to the fringe about ten years ago and to the best of my knowledge are still paying off the debt to this day. That said, for anybody in comedy in particular it can make your career. For me I left feeling tired but stimulated and encouraged in my particular thing and resolved to get my head down and write. I’d love to say that I’ve been dead productive since getting home, in all honestly I’ve not been at it as hard as I should be but I have been a lot busier than any time previously in the last couple of years and have taken steps towards doing more in the future. I’ve said it before and I’ll finish by saying it again, Edinburgh is a really cool city, one I will be back in some day and I will return to this festival again and hopefully not leave it as long this time.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cartoons all Revolutionary Socialists should make their kids watch, Part VI Steven Universe

Welcome back to this occasional series which I haven’t updated for way too long.  This installment is a bit of a departure because it doesn’t deal with a series from my childhood or a more recent feature film, but with a series that is currently ongoing and yet to reach its completion, something I hadn’t anticipated doing way back when I started this.

What it’s about:

Thousands of years ago a race of immortal crystalline alien beings from another part of the galaxy (the Gems) came to the planet earth in order to harvest it for its mineral properties.  Some of the Gems realised that the merely organic life-forms, the animal and plant life that lived on the planet which would inevitably be exterminated by the harvesting process had intrinsic worth no less than their own and rebelled against their home-world.  They succeeded, saving the planet and the life on it but at a cost, all but four of the rebels being destroyed in the final battle.  In the centuries and millennia since as human civilisation has grown up around them these surviving crystal gems have been quietly protecting the organic life on this planet from the odd crystalline mutants that occasionally threaten it.
Steven and his girlfriend Connie training to fight the bad Gems

More recently, the leader of the rebels, Rose Quartz, fell in love with a human called Greg Universe and in order to procreate (something the crystal gems can’t do by themselves) she gave up her own mortal form to give birth to a son, Steven.  The series picks up when Steven is just on the cusp of adolescence, and follows him on his adventures as he learns to use the powers and abilities he inherited from his mother to take his place as a defender of the Earth, and learns to be a young human being as well.

Why it’s Good:

I think its easy for our generation to get overly emotionally attached to our childhood memories and easily dismiss any contemporary animated series in favour of nostalgia for the stuff we used to watch when we were wee.  This would be a mistake and Steven Universe is but one example of something that is as good as if not better than any of the stuff we used to have.  In fact one of the things that makes it good, and I believe should be accessible to people my age who might have kids of their own, is that it is quite clearly the product on one of our generation.  

From the little chip-tune bassline in the opening titles to the background art and character design the whole aesthetic of the show is permeated by 8 and 16 bit computer gaming culture.  You can also see the influence of Anime through the look and the story lines of the whole series.  It’s kawaii without being sickeningly cutesy (a balancing act that is often tried and utterly failed at in Western animation).  

The show is light, funny, full of charm but also has this epic backstory and various arc-plots that run throughout it and lots of big sci-fi concepts that are jut casually implanted into the story in a way that seems perfectly natural and wouldn’t confuse or alienate its younger viewers.  Its emotional when it wants to be and when the arc plots kick into gear towards the apex of the seasons it is genuinely exciting.

What the Young ’Uns will hopefully take from it: 

The underlying philosophy of the show is intensely humanist.  Steven, our hero’s main attribute is his humanity and empathy.  he sympathises with the mindless crystal shard creatures which he and the Gems have to hunt down, and this sympathy can be an advantage, something which he has over the Gems.  

While much of the premise of the show is quite personal (it is inspired by the relationship between the show’s creator and her younger brother) there is some very deep subtext going on that should be of interest to readers of this blog.  As alluded to above, the Gems come from a rigidly hierarchical society that is prepared to commit ecocide for its own material gain and the goodies in the series are rebels that defy their social norms by becoming more than their designated roles. Which is great and everything but so far, so liberal.  The really interesting stuff is what the show does with gender and sexuality.

Greg with an infant Steven from a recent episode
In the series the Gems don’t procreate organically and so needn’t have any particular gender but yet are all female.  Which essentially means that the characters with Super-Powers are all women.  This was a deliberate move on the part of the show’s creator Rebecca Sugar to "tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children”.  The show isn’t intended to be an action adventure show for boys or a cutesy show for girls but to break the gendered social norms of the medium and create something genuinely inclusive.  There’s implied lesbianism, the show has touched on gender queerness.  The one adult male figure in the shows main cast, Greg Universe (Steven’s dad) is kind of a bum, though he is sympathetically realised and still quite a good dad.  Basically we are a long long way from He-Man.  This is perhaps the main reason that it has the massive multi-generational fanbase that it has.

What’s also really interesting on the show is the concept of Fusion.  In the context of the show two Gems can, through a delicate dance particular to their pairing, come together or ‘Fuse’ into a single being with the qualities and attributes of each.  What this concept is used to explore on the show is the nation of human connection, relationships, taboos around sex and sexuality.  This is done with deftness of touch and a sex-positivity as well as body positivity and acceptance of difference.

Capitalism is structured around patriarchy and the behavioural norms associated with the nuclear family, heteronormativity and cis-sexism.  Cultural projects like Steven universe that are about consciously breaking down those structures could be argued to be part of a re-alignment within bourgeois society, or alternatively as being an inevitable part of the gradual realignment of the system into something else.  Either way it would seem to be a step in the right direction, and its great that the show itself is so good while wearing its deeper meaning on its sleeve.  Its one of the few shows rom recent years I’m sorry i didn’t get to watch when I was younger but I’m glad exists now.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

On the Impeachment of Dilma Rousseff

For anyone unaware of what is happening in Brazil, the president has been formally impeached under spurious charges of "corruption", which in the context of Brazillian politics reminds me of the line in Apocalypse now about handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. About 60% of the people who voted for Dilma Rousseff's impeachment are themselves under investigation for corruption.
Basically this is a right wing coup against a popular president with a leftist background but whose coalition government has been in-acting pro-austerity policies. In the local context you could compare Rousseff to Gerry Adams or the current leadership of the ANC, someone who in the distant past was a Marxist guerrilla fighter when the country was under a corrupt anti-democratic junta in a state of civil war but in the intervening decades has made the long journey to parliamentary politics and eventual power through the normalisation of the political process and a series of increasingly extreme betrayals of their leftist principles and capitulations to neo-liberalist orthodoxy, while winning a few minor reforms.

Mug Shot from her Guerrilla days
So basically she's gone from Ché to Tony Blair over the course of her career. But apparently that wasn't enough for the shower of bitter old bastards that make up the Brazillian ruling elite who have never forgiven her for being what she once was and have now mounted what is effectively a coup. These are the same old bastards that were behind the '64 coup, but this time they are using the judiciary and constitutional means rather than the army because an armed coup d'etat wouldn't fly these days.

And it looks like its going to be successful. It also shows up the limitations of reformism. The Workers Party was cobbled together out of a broad left alliance of the old militant left, Labourists and Trades Unions and were generally elected over the last 13 years on fairly innocuous social-democratic platforms and in power never really challenged the status quo or American imperialism in the region and were used as a wedge to beat down other more progressive genuinely leftist leaders in the global south. They never tried to mobilise the masses behind them, create a social revolutionary movement on the streets or do anything about shifting the power relations that constituted the old order.

Which goes to show, the various competing factions of the ruling class and their representative parties, left right and centre, they're all just spokes on a wheel, this ones on top, then that one's on top, and on and on it spins, generating profit for those on top and crushing those on the ground. Our aim should not be to stop the wheel (as the WP tried to do), but to break it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

On the Eve of the EU referrendum

In 2014 when the Scottish referendum happened what could have been a typical politically empty, nationalistic / jingoistic (from both sides) shitty spectacle actually became something more than it was intended to be. The Scottish left and activist spectrum turned it into a real debate, one centered around Austerity and the real fight happening within contemporary society beyond the circus side-show that is political discourse in the UK.
This year we're voting on the UK's continued membership of the EU, and nothing of the sort has happened. The focus of the debate has been skewed from reality of what the EU is and what the member states will be facing in the near future to a lot of petty squabbling and wars of position for hegemony within the Tory party being presented as the breath of the debate. The British left has shown no leadership in terms of getting the word out that, and I know this may surprise a lot of people, there are actually plenty of good reasons for wanting to leave the EU and that you don't have to be a slathering xenophobe to want out. and actually a lot of the arguments for staying are on extremely shaky foundations. The Left-Exit argument has been so marginalised and the Leave position so thoroughly dominated by the right that I am genuinely embarrassed to be voting to leave tomorrow, though that isn't actually going to stop me - it just pisses me off.
I can see that there are plenty of arguments for voting to remain, from the personal fear of what might happen with regards to their pensions, because they do benefit from the EU's internal migration policy, out of spite at the loyalist thugs merrily shouting 'vote leave' as they beat up random people they presume to be catholics (this is literally what happened to people I know) - the fear of a resurgent right capitalising on a Brexit vote is a legitimate one The EU at least recognises Palestine and is its biggest provider of international aid and is at least critical of Israel, though that aid is channeled through the PA and is in no small part responsible for the maintenance of the corrupt PLO leadership over the PA and consequently the continuing divisions within the movement. There's a certain validity to the argument that the EU has provided an amelioration of the excesses of the British political establishment, consensus politics in Europe does tack slightly to the Left of consensus politics in the UK (though even with the Human Rights Act, it didn't stop Section 28, or what what was going on over here during the Troubles). They're right that the Exit camp haven't really put forwards a viable or inspiring vision for an alternative outside the EU, they're right, that would have been the job of the British organised left and they fucked that one up. I honestly wouldn't think less of anyone who voted to stay in tomorrow.
Personally though I can't justify it to myself. I can't not think of Alan Kurdi, and all the other people murdered by the EU's immigration policies. I look at Greece and see the Troika doing to the Greeks what the English did to us during the Great Potato Blight of the 1840s, killing people with the ruthless application of Free market economics to ineptly fix a problem created by free market. Seriously, what they've done in Greece is disgusting, its imperialism pure and simple and I've no wish to be a part of it. That hasn't quite gone down here but at some point should we ever attempt to break in earnest with austerity, it will.
You can say that my position with regards to Brexit is abstract or idealistic but I don't see reforming the EU from within as a viable option, Syriza tried that one and got kurb-stomped for their efforts.
So, stay / go, either way its not a great choice and either way the real fights are still to be had. It didn't have to be like this, it could have been a party. Again getting back to my initial point in this post, looking at the way the debate around the Scottish referendum went I can't help but think of how different it might have been. Anyway, in spite of the class-baiting scare mongering in the popular press, its been a foregone conclusion since the start, we're definitely not leaving the EU, the vote will go to the Stay option, though probably by a slimmer margin than expected at the outset of the campaign. None of this bodes particularly well for the future.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Bodies in Revolt: Embodied discourses and the experience of bodies in the Easter Rising of 1916

This is a paper I wrote nearly ten years ago for one of the modules on my MA in Cultural History at the University of Essex.  In retrospect it is an amalgam of the fairly advanced and theoretical Po-Mo academic culture in UoE and the more straight forward empiricist approach of the Queens University Belfast history department.  For the uninitiated, what I casually refer to here as Body History is just basically the academic concept of the human body as a historical subject, rather than say, more amorphous things like the history of a nation, a movement or looking at an individual through their physical experience of the world around them rather than their writings, which would be the typical historians approach.  I present it here on the 100th anniversary of the Rising with a few pictures added.


One of the advantages of the recent development of body history is that it can throw into sharp relief a period of history or event that is quite well known and studied, but not well understood.  As Dorinda Outram says in her introduction to her monograph on Bodies in the French Revolution,

            “Like a prism, the body has a unique capacity to concentrate together in the same space…(I)ntentionality and episteme come together and objective subjective experience can be assessed as something other than simply a personalised anarchy.”[1]

 In this study what I am attempting to do is to examine the Easter Rising of 1916 through an analysis of the body in the discourse around the Rising in its immediate aftermath and much later and the bodily experience of those who participated in it in order to see how this analytical technique can better help us understand the complexities of the events in that week in Dublin, their relation to events elsewhere and their place in history.

Even by the standards of Irish history, the Easter Rising of 1916 was an unusual and problematic incident.  By turns tragic, comic, heroic, romantic and farcical, it nonetheless remains one of the key events in Irish history.  Organised and instigated by a conspiracy within a secret revolutionary organisation within a larger paramilitary movement, doomed to failure from nearly the start, and defying any logic of conventional revolutionary or military tactics, it nonetheless succeeded in changing the orientation of Irish history.  In taking the tool of the body-as-sociological-method from Foucault’s conceptual tool-box and applying it to the Easter Rising, much of what traditional political and military historians of the rising have found hard to comprehend becomes much clearer, particularly when viewed within the context of the bodily experience of the Great War.

The contribution of an analysis based on body history immediately does three things.  Firstly, implicit in the notion of a social order being based on the restriction of bodies[2] is the notion of what happens when the social order is broken, i.e. when the bodies are in revolt.  Secondly it brings into focus the use of body imagery in the discourse around the rising in both the propaganda for the rising[3] and the use of the rising by various parties and movements in Ireland subsequently.   Finally by looking at the body in the Easter Rising the lived experience of participating in and being around the rising is brought to prominence.  In this survey I’ll be looking at some of the subsequent events in Irish history, as well as some recollections of the rising and reflections on the rising in literature and poetry.


To begin with however, it is important to frame the Easter rising within the correct historical contexts.  The most important of these, is the Great War.  This provides the opportunity and the justification for the Rising to take place.  As much as the Ulster Crisis, which occurred around the Third Home Rule bill in 1912, had led to a pronounced millitarisation and radicalisation among the Unionist, Irish Nationalist and a section of the Trade unionist/Socialist political currents in Ireland before the war began, without the war it is unlikely that the crisis would have taken the particular form it did.  The war also provides an episteme of conflict, which informed the discourse around the insurrection and the actions and practice of the insurrectionists throughout the rising.  Another major effect of the war on the Rising was demographic.  Because of the war, emigration was impossible for the large numbers of young men who would normally have left Ireland in this period.  These surplus (and predominately male) bodies and the unvented male energy were to have a profound effect on the period[4].

Another important context of the rising is its place in the tricky historical relationship between Britain and Ireland.  Hitherto in the British imagination, Ireland was considered as an integrated part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland[5] – commonly embodied, for example in the pages of Punch magazine, as Britannia’s younger (and feebler) sister.  The rising was the beginning of a process, combined with the electoral victory in 1918 of those who were either participants in, mistakenly associated with[6] or at least supportive of the rising, that marked a fundamental shift in that assumption. 

Concurrently in Ireland since the Gaelic revival of the Fin De Siecle, Irish writers and cultural nationalists had come to assert a national identity in the form of the Shan Bhan Bocht – the Poor old woman, also referred to as Cathleen Ni Houlihan.  This feminised and maternalised national figure would provide ample resource for the nationalist propagandists and polemicists.  This worked to create an image of Ireland as the Mother, a figure that had to be protected and which had authority over you and to which you owed your existence[7].  In the writings of the insurgents, Ireland is unfailingly charcterised as female.  The most famous and striking example of this, the fabled Declaration of the Irish Republic, begins thus;

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.[8](my emphasis)

The theme is also present in the writings on non-republicans.  One recalls for instance James Joyce’s famous description of Ireland as

“The old sow that eats her farrow”[9].

Another important context in which to consider the rising is the revolutionary tradition.  There is a tendency to place Irelands’ revolutionary tradition as outside of European revolutionary currents, particularly among popular histories[10], on the grounds that Irelands’ unique geographical location and its peculiarity rules this out.  A cursory examination of the dates of the main revolutionary upheavals prior to 1916 (1798, 1802, 1848, 1867) tells another story as each comes at a time of continent-wide revolutionary turmoil.  Furthermore, the influence of the revolutionary tradition on the rhetoric of the insurgents is also evident, and particularly, though not exclusively, in the general revolutionary mentality concerning bodies and bodied metaphors. For example, James Connolly’s Workers Republic editorial of the 5th of February 1916, which ends with,

“…of us…it can truly be said, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no redemption’.”[11]

is usually cited by historians as evidence of Connolly’s descent from more internationalist concerns to quasi-religious messianism, and generally falling under the influence of Pearse[12].  While this may be true, we should also acknowledge that it also and certainly deliberately echoes the words of the old Communard Meillet,

“without the shedding of blood there is no social salvation”.[13]


Padraig Pearse
So, what was the Easter rising and how did it come about?  The first important thing to understand is how it was both like and unlike the revolts and revolutions in the following years, i.e. Russia’s February Revolution and the various revolts across Germany and the rest of Europe in the aftermath of the war.  Nor did the Easter rising occur because of pronounced economic distress (at least not relative to the usual level of Early 20th century Dublin).  Neither did it arise directly out of class struggle, as in the Bolshevik Revolution.  The insurgency happened because of the apparent impending success of the moderate nationalists of the IPP who had gotten the Home Rule bill on the statute books in 1914 just prior to the war.  This home rule bill would grant Ireland a degree of sovereignty and a parliament in Dublin, but crucially, would maintain the historic link between Britain and Ireland.  To cultural nationalists like Pearse this was unthinkable. To Pearse, this was an offense against the notion of Ireland as an embodied entity.  In Ghosts, his pamphlet of Christmas 1915, he says that

“(t)hey have made the same mistake that a man would make if he were to forget that he has an immortal soul”[14].

To Pearse the sin of the IPP was denying the spiritual side of the Cartesian dualism of the nation[15].  The way in which the IPP are characterised in the pamphlet is again tied in to bodily metaphors, this time about their manhood;

“One finds oneself wondering what sin these men have been guilty of that so great a shame should come upon them. Is it that they are punished with loss of manhood because in their youth they committed a crime against manhood?...”[16]

For Pearse, they have not been to make the correct analysis and have been too timid to carry out the true wishes of the Irish people by severing the link with Britain because having betrayed a real man like Charles Stewart Parnell[17] they have been robbed of their own manliness.

Pearse opposes this in two ways.  Whereas the IPP were selling the nation short because of their pre-occupation with practicalities, he would snub the compromising real-politick of the IPP in favour of actions of symbolic import.  Indeed he makes a virtue of his own impracticality, for example in the poem “The Fool”[18] (characteristically written in the first person with himself as the main protagonist) where the fools insistence on squandering years in attempting impossible things,

“deeming them alone worth doing”[19],

is presented as heroic in contrast with the “wise men”, who, unlike him, for all their wisdom cannot intuitively grasp the power of dreams.

The other basis that Pearse puts forward for his opposition to the IPP is to invoke the revolutionary tradition in Irish nationalism that seeks to fully sever the tie with Britain by way of physical force.  It is this component of Pearse’s platform in which we find his richest and most consistent use of body symbolism.  This can also be subdivided into two areas.

Firstly, there is the classic romantic revolutionary notion of the revolutionary as the embodiment of the people.  Pearse’s poem, “The Rebel”[20] is a classic example of this.  The whole 2/3rds of it is mainly just a series of images re-iterating this over again in intense, emotive language.

I am come of the seed of the people, the people that sorrow

My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born,
I am of the blood of serfs;
The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten

            “I am flesh of the flesh of these lowly, I am bone of their bone

The poem was written shortly before the rising at a time when the plans for the insurgency were well under way.  It feels like it would have taken about as long to write as to read and is as good an example of the mentality of anyone who takes up arms on behalf of an oppressed people, whatever time, place or for whatever political or religious cause, as you are ever likely to find.

Interspersed with the theme of embodiment in the poem are the bodily sufferings of “The People”, that,

Have had masters over them, have been under the lash of masters, …
The hands that have touched mine, the dear hands whose touch is familiar to me,
Have worn shameful manacles, have been bitten at the wrist by manacles,
Have grown hard with the manacles and the task-work of strangers
, ”

While the Poet justifies his actions through his empathy with “The People” in their suffering.

And because I am of the people, I understand the people,
I am sorrowful with their sorrow, I am hungry with their desire:
My heart has been heavy with the grief of mothers,
My eyes have been wet with the tears of children,

I have yearned with old wistful men,
And laughed or cursed with young men;
Their shame is my shame, and I have reddened for it,
Reddened for that they have served, they who should be free,
Reddened for that they have gone in want, while others have been full,
Reddened for that they have walked in fear of lawyers and of their jailors

“I could have borne stripes on my body rather than this shame of my people

Secondly and in conjunction with this, is the way in which Pearse invokes the revolutionary tradition by invoking the bodies of the dead generations of revolutionaries.

It is no accident that some of the most famous words spoken by Pearse were from his oratory at the graveside of the old Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, where he said,

“…the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead - And while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”[21]

In the pamphlet Ghosts he identifies the dialectic in Irish politics between the moderate, constitutionalist position, with which he equates the IPP, and the revolutionary traditions that always seem to occur as a counter to them[22].  In this, “Separatist”, tradition he puts the Irish Volunteers, who will be the organisation through which he will mount the rising and the intended audience of the pamphlet.  To persuade them of this[23] he invokes all the dead generations of men who have opposed British rule in Ireland from the Gaelic princes who fought off the Anglo Normans through the Irish and Old English lords who fought the second wave of colonisation in the Tudor and Stuart eras, the secret societies of the 18th century and the Republicans from the 1790s on.

The solution to the problem Pearse presents us with is to have a rising in order to reinvigorate the separatist tradition - after what was by that time a hiatus from the political mainstream of nearly five decades - is also bodied.  The imagery he used is that of rebirth through a blood sacrifice.  In Peace and the Gael Pearse writes approvingly of the war and its effects;

The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth….

…It is good for the world that such things should be done. The cold heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield.

and readily applies this logic to Ireland[24], where he hopes that

“(Ireland) must welcome it as she would welcome the Angel of God”.

One final point about Pearse’s language of rebirth is its Christian nature.  Pearse, himself a devoted Catholic[25], foreshadowed the liberation theologians in identifying the suffering of “The People”, with the sufferings of Jesus Christ, whose naked suffering body in virtually all of Pearse’s poetry and political writings.  The greatest significance of this for Irish history was that the Rising was timed for Easter Sunday, the day Christ symbolically arises from death[26].  It is also clear from Pearse’s recurring use of the imagery relating to Christ that while Pearse did believe in the necessity of bloodshed and used the imagery of blood a great deal in his political and literary output, he was different to others who have used similar imagery[27], as unlike them it was always his own blood he was referring to rather than anyone else’s.


In understanding the bodily experience of the Easter rising as a revolution, we can adapt Bryan Turner’s model of the social order as based on the restriction of bodies - through their capacity to reproduce, the restraint of their appetites, the regulation of their movement in space and their representation[28]- as a conceptual framework in which to operate.  When we consider that in a revolution the social order is inverted, and the measure of a revolutionaries success is the extent to which the social order is inverted with the eventual aim of replacing it (or doing away with it altogether) then by inverting Turner’s categories we have a sociological model of what bodies actually do, or attempt to do in a revolution.
ICA Volunteers on the rooftops in Dublin
The first category of Turner’s model, reproduction, is challenged and inverted in revolutions through the institution through which it is most commonly maintained, i.e. the female body.  In revolutions the division of labour and the traditional gender roles tend to be challenged, if not on occasion entirely reversed.  Women have been at the forefront of revolutions from France in 1789 to the events in Bolivia earlier this year.  Indeed revolutionary periods tend to coincide with the high-tide mark of women’s participation in politics and women’s rights.

During the Easter Rising there was a paramilitary organisation of women, Cumman na mBan[29] who participated in the insurgency.  Although their role was primarily the traditional female one of providing support and nourishment for the troops in the form of field they played an active role in the fighting under dangerous circumstances, running field hospitals, reloading rifles, ‘spotting’ for snipers, dispatch, “requisitioning” provisions (sometimes at gun point) etc[30]

In addition, a significant proportion of the women who participated in the rising were not in Cumman na mBan but were members of the Irish Citizen Army which excepted women on an equal basis with the men.  Women in that organisation fully participated in the rising.  At least one of the women who was involved in the insurgency and several others who may have been innocent bystanders are known to have been killed in the fighting.  Also, of course, was the famous role played in the rising by the “Red Countess”, Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess Markievicz.  She was a member of the Irish Citizens Army and the Irish Volunteers and commanded the insurgents on St Stephens Green, and had the second highest rank of those who survived the rising[31].

In the second of Turners categories, i.e. policing the bodies appetites, the inversion of this has less to do with the action of the revolutionaries than the response of the people who live through a revolution and usually expresses itself in the looting of shops, off licenses, public houses and other premises where alcohol and food are available.  In Ruth Dudley Edward’s detailed biography of Pearse she details such incidents going on in front of the Rebel HQ at the Dublin General Post Office[32], much to the consternation of the rebel leaders.  Indeed few historians accounts of the rising neglect to mention the working people of Dublin being generally more interested in “epic feats of looting in the damaged Dublin shops”[33] than actually joining in with the rising.  That the insurgents themselves didn’t loot, and indeed were generally respectful of the property seized, issuing IOUs for any food seized, in the uprising, this is probably indicative of the unpopularity of the uprising and the smallness of the numbers.

The looting is also emblematic of the breakdown of the next of Turner’s social order model (and indicative that we should not view the categories as discreet, but rather assume mutually supportive interaction between them).  This category is also the most conspicuously revolutionary and it is the infringement of this that generally characterises the action, and perceptions of the action of bodies in a revolution.  I am of course referring to the restriction of bodies in space.  Whether it be storming The Winter Palace, manning the barricades or freeing prisoners from the Bastille, the momentous events (at least of the beginnings) of revolution all occur around the transgression of restricted space.  It is when the immaterial walls that demarcate the boundaries of allowed space come down and the body becomes capable of going anywhere it is physically able to, that you know something momentous has happened.

In the Easter Rising, this meant occupying and fortifying buildings at various sites around Dublin.  It meant rending portals in party walls with 7 lb. sledgehammers liberated from the Dublin Dockyards to turn whole streets into bunkers as per James Connolly’s theories on urban warfare[34].  It also meant an assault on Dublin Castle, the site of British rule in Ireland since the Plantagenates, on the morning of the first day of the Rising.  Although the Castle remained untaken by the insurgents, due to their inability to believe that it could be taken as easily as it appeared to have been, according to some accounts[35], few historians writing about the rising have missed the historical significance this would have had had they been successful[36].

Finally, the last category in Turners model, – the representation of the body.  In Turners model this relates mainly to the clothes we put on our bodies and the social significance of certain types of clothes.  An example of the most extreme examples of the transgression of the prescribed dress codes would be the situationists in Post-Revolutionary Soviet Russia who on occasion would jump naked onto the Petrograd public transport.  More generally, what happens is that fashions in clothing and hair will shift towards the pre-Revolutionary fashions of the classes and groups involved in the revolution or the ideologies that inspired it.  Examples of this in history include the Irish Republicans of the 1790s-1800s adopting the ‘Cropped’ hair of the French ‘sans culottes’, or the Black Power groups of the Afro-American Diaspora adopting more obviously ‘African’ hair such as Dreadlocks or Afro-puffs and African clothing like dashikis.

Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess
Markievicz, Irish rebel and fashion icon
In the Easter Rising the way in which this aspect of the social order was transgressed was in the use of military uniforms by the insurgents.  Although not officially prescribed, the wearing of uniforms did have a profound psychological effect on the rebels.  In his autobiographies the playwright Sean O’Casey[37], recalls seeing the ICA in their

“new Dark green uniforms…(the) dire sparkle of vanity lighting this little group.”[38]

The putting-on of uniform also had a particular significance for the women participating in the rising.  For the Cumman na mBan women in their uniforms of skirts and tunics it ,

“signified their Millitarism and femininity”[39],

and for the ICA women wearing the same uniform as the men signified their equality in defiance of social norms, indeed on of the iconic images of the Rising is that of Countess Markievicz with pistol in hand in full ICA uniform of jacket, trousers and knee length army boots.


The exercise of the state power over the bodies of those who oppose it would in the aftermath of the rising play an important role in its eventual outcome.  While the rising hadn’t been greeted with the enthusiasm or support it’s leaders had expected, the way in which they were disposed of would eventually do the job it had been intended to do.

In the aftermath of the rising bodies become contested grounds, both the physical bodes of the insurgents and the rhetorical bodies they become. As the rising is put down, the physical form of the insurgents become forfeit to the forces of order as it is re-imposed.  During the arrest and internment of the leaders of the rising, they found their bodies treated with casual brutality, mainly by an Irish captain in the British army by the name of Lee-Wilson who was charged with holding them while they were still being corralled in the open immediately after the surrender.  Among the privations he was responsible for carrying out on the Prisoners were ordering the prisoners to relieve themselves where they lay, taking away Sean McDermott’s walking stick[40] having the elderly fenian Tom Clarke stripped, ripping of the sling he was wearing and re-opening the bullet wound in his arm[41].

The most extreme manifestation of the states’ control over the unruly bodies of the insurgents was of course the executions of 16 of the Rising’s leaders and most prominent figures.  These executions were to have a profound effect on the public reaction to the rising.  Through consciously embodying the mythic tropes of militant separate tradition, Pearse, as he had intended, created the conditions where,

“Myth and reality were themselves warring in the Irish mind”[42].

Nor did it end with the executions.  One of the leaders of the rising who had survived the executions, Thomas Ashe, would die on hunger strike in the Frongnoch prison in Wales through choking to death while being force-fed, the first person to die in such a way in the 20th century.  The imprisoned insurgents and the other members of the Republican movement at home would also defy their confinement through successfully running one of their number as a candidate in a by-election in Longford.

The indignation of a large proportion of the Irish and British people at the physical treatment of the bodies of the insurgents would eventually result in the electoral victory in Longford and the eventual electoral victory of Sinn Fein in 1918.  Indeed the bodily experiences of the insurgents resonate right into the present.  In his account of the rising the nationalist historian Tim Pat Coogan almost gleefully relates how Michael Collins would avenge the treatment of the prisoners by tracking down and killing Captain Lee-Wilson during the Irish War of Independence[43].  The imagery of the executions[44], is indelibly seared into Republican consciousness and the hunger strike would be utilised by different shades of Republicans at various times for the next 65 years.  The overall effect was to recreate a cult of martyrdom around the leading figures in the rising that would be exploited by the revived nationalist movement in the struggle for independence, in the creation of the state that came out of the struggle and by the dissident Republicans who opposed it.

To those critical of the rising, both at the time and subsequently, the bodies of the participants in the rising would become, and indeed remain, contested.  For example, in the immediate aftermath of the Rising there was a pronounced reaction to the transgression of the patriarchal sexual norms.  Early press responses to the rising would continually downplay the role of women in the rising, usually just by ignoring them and in some reports claiming that male rebels would disguise themselves as women[45].  The less easily dismissed figure of Countess Makievicz, a woman in male uniform leading 120 men was used to,

“…emphasise the nonsense of the rising, denying it any legitimacy.”[46]

In Irish popular culture there has emerged an iconoclasm as an antithesis to the popular nationalist sentiment regarding the rising, particularly in opposition to the use of the rising by the state in imposing its own social order.  This particular tradition begins with the socialist playwright Sean O’Casey writing only a decade later.  One of the series of plays written about the revolutionary period in the early 20s, The Plough and The Stars[47] being the first play written by an Irishman to depict the rising.  This tradition continues through the rest of the century right up until the present with two of the most popular and critically acclaimed Irish books of recent years being purposefully iconoclastic depictions of the events of the rising – A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle[48] and At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Neil.

In these revisionist depictions of the rising, one of the main themes is the problematic and sordid reality underneath the glorious rhetoric of the rising.  Naturally this often comes out in the depiction of the physical bodies of the participants.  In his Autobiographies, in the passage cited above, O’Casey goes on to describe James Connolly in his new uniform, and gives particular attention to how he

“didn’t look well in it for he had a rather awkward carriage and bow legs…added to the waddle in his walk”[49]

Pearses’ and squint his supposed vanity about it is another recurring feature in this literature.[50]

Also, in the wider context of the history of revolutions and revolutionaries attacks on the physicality of revolutionaries are not uncommon.  In his survey of the French Revolution the Marxist writer and broadcaster Mark Steel notes that most of the leaders of the revolution were commonly described as ‘ugly’ by bourgeois historians, often against the available evidence[51], though O’Casey and Doyle both oppose the Rising from the left.


So what, if anything, was the experience of bodies in the Easter Rising?

In relation to the body experience of the First World War the Easter rising stands as both a reflection and counterpoint.  Both reflect contemporary assumptions about the nature of warfare.  In what Robert Kee had remarked on as the

“essentially static nature of the rebel command’s psychology”[52]

we see how the leaders of the insurgency were unconsciously recreating the bodily experience of the western front.  In this context the seemingly bizarre decision to waste precious time constructing a trench in St Stephens green is de-mystified.  Also, some of the psychosexual elements of the First World War are evident in the rising.  For example there is a striking parallel between the association of the exposure of the body to injury and sexual exhibitionism suggested by some accounts of the war[53] with the ending of Patrick Pearse’s play “The Singer”[54], which was finished just before the rising, in which the main character strips naked before heading off to fight “the Gall[55]”.  Furthermore, in its radical nature the space given to women to women to express their militarism and patriotism beyond the norms of conventional warfare makes the experiences of women in Cumman na mBan and the ICA stand out against that of women in and around the conventional military forces.

Ultimately, the Easter rising represents an intersection between the physical bodies of the insurgents and the rhetorical bodies of the Irish Republican tradition.  As we have seen, it was Pearse’s intention from the beginning for a symbolic gesture to be made to revive the flagging separatist tradition by joining it to the now.  Pearse evoked the ghosts of those who had almost passed from living memory.  By creating the conditions of the physical annihilation of their own bodies they were able to discorporate and so become ghosts, reborn in symbolic bodies that would achieve in death what was impossible in life, thus overcoming the physical constraints of their own bodies.  As the poet Takahashi puts it,

“…(after falling before the firing squad) Death
stands up in their stead each time,
climbs freely over the walls,
roaming streets and villages
like bad news to inflame and
inspire their comrades-in-arms.”[56]

As much as either Pearse or Connolly would have been appalled at the Ireland that came out of the revolutionary period, their actions would shape Irish politics, society and culture for most of the next century.


(N.B.  Anything quoted from Pearse would have been written initially in Gaelic and any quotations may have translations that are peculiar to the source, which are the Garrity book for the poems and Rose Tempany-Pearse’s WebPage for everything else.)

Tim Pat Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising (London: Pheonix, 2005)

Michael Cronin, Romantic Ireland revisited: sexuality, masculinity and nationalism in some recent Irish texts (Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Sussex, 2003's_diss.pdf)

Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999)

Owen Dudley Edwards & Fergus Pyle (eds.) 1916 The Easter Rising (London: McGibbon & Kee, 1968)

Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure (Dublin: Poolbeg, 1990)

R. Fitzroy Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Penguin, 1989)

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: OUP, 1977)

Devlin A Garrity (ed.), The Mentor Book of Irish Poetry (New York: Mentor, 1965)

C. Desmond Greaves, The Life and times of James Connolly (London: Laurence and Wishart, 1972)

Alvin Jackson, Ireland 1798-1998 (Oxford:OUP, 1999)

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London : Jonathan Cape, 1930)

R. Kee, The Green Flag; A History of Irish Nationalism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972)

Sean O’Casey, Autobiographies I: I Knock at The Door, Pictures In the Hallway, Drums Under the Windows (London: Macmillan & Co., 1963) 

Dorinda Outram, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex Class and Political Culture (New Haven: YUP, 1989)

Annie Ryan, Witnesses: Inside the Easter Rising (Dublin: Liberties Press, 2005)

Louise Ryan, ‘”Furies” and “Die-Hards” Women and Irish Republicanism in the Early Twentieth Century’ Gender and History, Vol.11 No.2, (July, 1999) pp256-275

Mark Steel, Vive La Revolution (London: Scribner, 2003)

Mutsuo Takahashi, Beyond the hedge: new and selected poems, translated by Frank Sewell and Mitsuko Ohno (Dublin: Dedalus, 2006)

Bryan S. Turner, The Body and Social Theory (London: Blackwell, 1984)

[1] D. Outram, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex Class and Political Culture pp5
[2] As in the work of Bryan Turner, which I’ll come to later.
[3] Particularly in the language used by Padraig Pearse in his various public speeches, proclamations, publications and literary efforts.
[4] Indeed thanks to the work of historical geographers such as David Fitzpatrick this is one of the few areas on which there is currently a consensus opinion.
[5] In spite of the sometimes erroneousness of this supposition, as evidenced by the events of the Irish Famine, the experience of Irish immigrants in Britain and the ongoing popular support in Ireland for various forms of Irish nationalism.
[6] Specifically, Arthur Griffiths’ Sinn Fein.  Although Sinn Fein was the political platform on which the republicans stood after the Easter rising, Sinn Fein actually played no part in the Easter rising.  What happened was that in the early witnesses and contemporary press reports of the rising mistakenly referred to it as a Sinn Fein rising, Sinn Fein being the largest group of Irish nationalists outside the Irish Parliamentary Party.
[7] The non-sexual connotations of this are interesting and worth commenting on.  After the demographic changes wrought by the Famine, particularly after the shift from paritable inheritance to non-paritable, for those who stayed on the Island the opportunity to marry young was significantly reduced, compared to before the famine.  The average age of marriage shot up as it became incumbent on the individual to make a good match as the family farm could no longer be subdivided between the children.  In this sexually stultifying atmosphere, as captured in the works of Joyce, Synge, Brian Friel, and poetry such as Patrick Kavanaghs’ The Great Hunger, the most significant female relationship a man tended to have right into adulthood was with his mother.
[8] P. Pearse and J. Connolly, Declaration of the Irish Republic (
[9] J. Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
[10] See for example the episode of Kenneth Clarke’s television series Civilisation dealing with revolution and romanticism or the A.J.P. Taylor television series and book Revolutionaries.
[11] C.D. Greaves, The life and times of James Connolly, pp396
[12] R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 pp479 – to give but one example.
[13] C.D. Greaves, The life and times of James Connolly, pp396
[15] Something he saw as intimately bound up with the Gaelic language and culture.
[16] P. Pearse, Ghosts ( – The crime referred to in the passage is the betrayal of Charles Stewart Parnell, who unsuccessfully attempted to pass the First Home Rule bill in 1887 and died four years later after being savagely turned on by many in his own party after his long standing affair with the wife of one of his lieutenants was made public.  Many of those who were active on savaging Parnell such as Tim Healy were, at the time of Ghosts being written, leading figures in the Party.
[17] Who while he may have been as basically constitutional in his aims as they were, had worked with the Irish people from the land agitators of the Land Leauge in the Gaelic West of Ireland and the IRB, and has seen the Home Rule issue as a means to the end of Irish freedom – or so Pearse belived.
[18] D.A. Garrity The Mentor Book of Irish Poetry pp320-321
[19] D.A. Garrity The Mentor Book of Irish Poetry pp320
[20] D.A. Garrity The Mentor Book of Irish Poetry pp319-320
[21] P. Pearse, O’Donavan Rossa: Graveside Panegyric (
[22] P. Pearse, Ghosts Ch. V (  Specifically, Grattans Parliament – Tone’s United Irelanders, O’Connells Emancipationists – Thomas Davis’ Young Ireland.
[23] They were after all intended to be used to defend the IPPs home Rule policy.
[24] P. Pearse, Peace and the Gael, (  It should be added that Pearse’s belief in the glory of war wasn’t an acceptance of the logic of conquest but recognising the transformative radicalising power of the war and is more analogous to Lenin’s desire for the war to become a revolutionary war than the apologists for the war itself, though some of the language used is closer to theirs in its religiosity and nationalism.
[25] Though not so devoted as to follow the actual rules of the Church with regards to revolution or not to associate with noted atheists like James Connolly or Anti-Clericists like the old Fenian Tom Clarke.
[26] Though in the event due to last minute complications in the shape of Eoin MacNeil’s countermanding order, the rising ended up taking place on the Monday.
[27] Such as Enoch Powell for example.
[28] B. Turner, The Body and society, (ch4, ‘Bodily Order’pp103-125)
[29] Translates as either “Organisation of Women” or “Women’s Association”.
[30] L. Ryan, ‘”Furies” and “Die-Hards” Women and Irish Republicanism in the Early Twentieth Century’ pp258-9
[31] The highest ranking survivor, was Commandant Eamon DeValera who was not executed as he technically wasn’t a British subject having been born in America.  Originally sentenced to death by the courts martial that tried the insurgents her sentence was later commuted in view of her gender.
[32] R. Dudley Edwards. Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure pp285-6
[33] R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 pp482
[34] A. Ryan, Witnesses: Inside the Easter Rising, pp109-110
[35] E.G. In T. P. Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising pp105
[36] Though according to the statement given by Frank Robbins, a veteran of the rising, to the Irish Bureau of Military History some decades after the rising it had never been the intent of the insurrectionaries to capture the Castle, but to isolate it (A. Ryan, Witnesses: Inside the Easter Rising pp214), whether this was an accurate description of what happened that morning or whether he was replying to later criticism of the rising is unknown.  What is known is that most of the guards who should have been on duty at the time had slipped off to watch the Irish Grand National (T. P. Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising pp105).
[37] Who was the general secretary of the ICA for a time but did not participate in the Rising.
[38] S. O’Casey, Autobiographies Volume I pp647.
[39] L. Ryan, ‘Furies’ and ‘Die-Hards’ Women and Irish Republicanism in the Early Twentieth Century pp257
[40] Without which he couldn’t walk having been crippled by polio years before the rising.
[41] T. P. Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising pp142
[42] R. Kee, The Green Flag; A History of Irish Nationalism pp568
[43] T. P. Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising pp142, Interestingly id describing Collins’ revenge he picks up and employs the reference to urination from earlier in the paragraph. 
[44] Particularly that of James Connolly who had to be strapped into a chair to be executed because of his injuries.
[45] L. Ryan, ‘Furies’ and ‘Die-Hards’ Women and Irish Republicanism in the Early Twentieth Century pp260
[46] L. Ryan, ‘Furies’ and ‘Die-Hards’ Women and Irish Republicanism in the Early Twentieth Century pp261
[47] The Plough being the emblem of the ICA.  The other plays in this sequence being ‘Juno and the Paycock’ and ‘Shadow of a Gunman’.
[48] Whose first book “The Commitments” has been filmed by Alan Parker.
[49] S. O’Casey, Autobiographies pp647
[50] E.g. R. Doyle A Start Called Henry pp115
[51] M. Steel, Vive La Revolution pp60 – he goes on to add that its likely that if a revolution broke out in America led by Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow, “in a hundred years time historians would write ‘Pitts frame jerked in an ungainly fashion, his boulbous pot belly wobbling hypnotically with each malevolent cry of Power to The People, while Paltrow’s straggly unkempt hair hung menacingly across her piggy nose and obtrusive unaligned eyes’”.
[52] R. Kee, The Green Flag; A History of Irish Nationalism pp572
[53] Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory pp271
[55] Literally - foreigners
[56] Mutsuo Takahashi, ‘Visit to Kilmainham Jail’ in Beyond the hedge: new and selected poems, (translated by Frank Sewell and Mitsuko Ohno)