Saturday, April 28, 2007

Talks: At the Franco-Irish Literary Festival in Dublin Castle

I went along to the Franco-Irish Literary Festival in Dublin Castle yesterday to hear two panel discussions, one on the notion of islands as utopias, the other on islands as penitentiaries and places of exile. While both in theory sounded interesting, the latter debate never got going as the four writers on the panel - Liam O Muirthile, John F. Deane,Irene Frain and Gisele Pineau - first were asked at length about their own careers and then proceeded not to really talk about the topic at all except save for a brief mention by Deane of Heinrich Boll's life on Achill island. While all individually interesting (well Frain did drone on a bit), the moderator didn't manage to get them ever to actually discuss the idea of islands as prisons.
The other debate was more enjoyable, thanks in part to a fiery performance from poet Theo Dorgan (above) , who said that when he was asked in Japan to explain the Irish 'miracle', simply answered "Lie down and let them walk all over you." While noting the absurdity of a poet trying to account for economics, Dorgan warned of Ireland's 'colonisation by international capital' and the innate conservatism of the idea of utopia. Life in all its fizzing ferment can't be reduced to a map or plan or scheme. However, on the upside, Dorgan said that, because being born on an island inevitably makes you want to get off it, the Irish are a particularly well-travelled bunch with ninety six percent of us owning passports, a vastly higher percentage than those pesky Americans. Not only that but we get a lot of visitors too and the current influx of Poles, Russians, Africans and so on is just the latest chapter in our polyglot history. Dorgan counseled us to remember this if any huckster politician starts to harp on about a uniquely Irish identity.
Also on the panel was a Jean Raspail, a veteran travel writer who told an amusing story about a 19th century French explorer who declared himself the King of Patagonia. His reign was cut short by a deportation order from the Chilean government, meaning he sat out the remainder of days away from his people in exile. Anyway Raspail and a few pals revived the kingship in the late 1970's and proceeded to sail a boat to some uninhabited islands off the coast of Britain to claim it for themselves. Terse correspondence from the Foreign Office followed, which Raspail claimed, was recognition of his regal status.
The other speakers were Peter Sheridan who weighed in with a sea shanty and a fairly lame story about the Cuban owner of a downtown LA bar who - shock horror- didn't know Ireland was an island. Finally, poet (or file) Brid Ni Mhoran spoke interestingly about St. Brendan and his voyages and how they are described in his navigatio.

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