Thesis student Andrew Schlag was one of New College’s inaugural James Joyce Scholars. While on his fellowship, he attended a poetry reading that led him to think about how the country has produced and inspired so many writers.
The association between islands and isolation does not hold for Ireland; things fall apart when one attempts to define its boundaries. Irish history (as narrated by our guide, Kevin O’Halloran) and my experience of Dublin so far underscore this fact.
The Irish are everywhere and everywhere is in Ireland. At first it seemed a strange contradiction that Irish identity and place have come to be defined by the very writers that denounced and went into voluntary exile. Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, O’Casey — their lives and works determine the material and cultural landscape of Dublin. Yet the Irish condition seems to allow for such contradictions, I’ve come to think.
I attended a reading by the American experimental poet Susan Howe at Belvedere House. Joyce, of course, attended Belvedere, a beautiful Georgian structure with an interior of sky blue walls and rococo plaster ornamentation. But the connections between the reading and Irish literature do not stop there. An objective of the reading was to analyze Howe’s connections with Dublin, which turned out to be many.
Howe’s Irish mother, Mary Manning, before moving to Boston and begetting a daughter, adapted Finnegans Wake for the stage, and later made a name for herself as a critic upon returning to Dublin after her husband’s death. Howe would visit Dublin in her youth and later apprentice at The Gate, a Dublin theater. As a child, Yeats was her Mother Goose, and Joyce her initiation into the magic of language — the ear as the eye and the eye as the ear, she mused.
She confessed that she has always felt a sense of placenessness resulting from her sense of belonging in both the United States and Ireland, having crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic so many times in mind and person over the years. Howe offered that she wouldn’t mind being claimed by Ireland, suggesting some of her books were American and some Irish.
Unexpectedly, Howe turns out to be a great example of the borderless quality of Ireland — a place of migration and experimentation — which is the very source of its vitality.