First Barron Inquiry Binned ! - What the media will not sayThe joint Dáil and Seanad report confirming widespread collusion between loyalists and the British security forces is not just a vindication of what we have been saying for a long time, it also makes of a mockery of Justice Henry Barron's initial report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombs which tried to fudge the collusion issue. Amazingly, and to the hurt and pain of surviving relatives, Barron's initial report concluded that there was no firm evidence to show systematic collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bommbs of 1974. Now major questions must be asked about Barron's "verdict" following the Oireachtas report which looked at a range of murderous attacks carried out around the same time as the Dublin and Monaghan attacks. Unless, of course, we come to the absurd conclusion that British security forces colluded with loyalists in a large number of attacks but decided not to bother with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings - an attack which irrevocably changed the nature of the conflict as it bulldozed the "Free State" goverment into taking a very hard line against Northern nationalists.
This point will not be made in any newspaper - except perhaps The Sunday Business Post and An Phoblacht.
Following on from this, I have sent another letter to the Irish Times - Will they publish it? Dont hold your breath:
Madam editor a chara,
In an article in your paper recently Olivia O’Leary wrote that the Miami Showband massacre in 1975 was “headline savagery” carried out by loyalists as part of the tit for tat warfare perpetrated by the two “tribes” in the North. I pointed out in an unpublished letter to your newspaper, and reported elsewhere, that Irish journalists have continually failed to report the role of the British security forces in “loyalist” attacks. In the light of the joint Dáil and Seanad report confirming widespread collusion between loyalists and British security forces including the Miami attack, will Ms O’Leary and many other Irish journalists finally admit the “terrorist” role played by British state forces in the conflict?
Undtagelsen – The Exception – a psychological thriller for a cynical Denmark? Undtagelsen – The Exception
If anything could illustrate how far removed modern day Denmark is from the world of Hans Christian Andersen, and indeed from Soren Kierkegaard, then this brilliantly written novel is it. I have the good fortune of being able to read Christian Jungersen’s goosebump inducing thriller in the original Danish version and it will be interesting to see how the book has been translated into English.
Traditionally, Danes move between a world of hygge (comfort or cosiness) and a fierce commitment to the rights of the individual, but where that individual must take his or her contribution to society very seriously. It is no accident that the term ombudsman comes from an old Nordic word umboð which carries both a sense of a civic duty and a civil right. On the other hand, the notion of an individual being able to liberate themselves by exercising a sacred duty to face their own ultimate truth, and thereby take control of their lives, is the essence of Søren Kierkegaard’s belief. Yet, author Christian Jungersen fillets Danish hygge and existentialism apart with surgical efficiency and drops both of them into the dustbin of history.
With his writer’s scalpel, Jungersen marks the psychological fault lines of Danish hygge for what it probably always was once the Danes became affluent - a private affair, full of of mood lighting and heavy doors closed to the world outside. The Exception portrays a Denmark suffering from a multiple personality crisis and the book carries a very clear message that, given the right circumstances, any Dane, any human, is a mass murderer just waiting for the correct roll call. Not one major character in the book is able to break the shackles of their own brilliantly described psychoses and perform the heroic deed necessary to rescue all the protagonists from the quickening vortex which eventually drags them all under. Even where we are led to believe that a breakthrough has been made, Jungersen, quickly disabuses the reader of any illusions they might have had in this regard.
Many readers will already know that the book has become widely sold right across Europe and, indeed, its narrative embraces a large swathe of Europe and further afield. The plot centres around four women, Iben, Malene, Camilla and Anna-Lise, who work at the Danish Centre for Information on Genocide. The centre is state funded and the author’s great achievement is to transform this potentially stultifying scenario into a battlefield of intrigue and emotions. He does this by bringing the genocide which the centre investigates into the very lives of the four main characters themselves. When two of them, Iben and Malene, start receiving death threats, they suspect that Mirko Zigic – a Serbian torturer and war criminal – is stalking them. These suspicions, however, very soon turn into suspicion of each other. There is no hygge anymore and no belief in the sanctity of the individual. What an irony in a centre which is supposed to exist to reaffirm that very gift. This is the essence of the book’s message; that once surface pleasantries are scratched away, we all revert to basic animal instincts. This is the why and how of genocide and now it is happening in an office near you. It is in your office. In your face.
The immediate suspect for the death threats is the recently recruited Anna-Lise who finds, as many before her have found, great difficulty in breaking in to an already well established set of office relationships. Jungersen’s description of the besetting and cruel isolation of Anna-Lise, for her failure to get “on message”, is quite the most disturbing depiction of workplace bullying that I have ever read. It is all the more convincing because Anna-Lise is a not particularly sympathetic character and those conspiring against her are youngish, cool and trendy. Anna-Lise is not just sent to Coventry, she is sent to that dark warren of self doubt and paranoia which Kafka always warned us about. The depiction of Anna-Lise’s annihilation is like reading a dark Jacobean tragedy with the difference that the potential killers are the office colleagues who sit around you and conspire to erase your personality. These are perverse potential killers who are supposed to be working against genocide. And there is no escape.
The greatest potential heroine in the novel, Iben, eventually breaks ranks and offers support to her colleague but we then find that she may be the real culprit behind the death threats. In fact, the reader is very skilfully led to believe that each of the four main characters in turn might possibly have been the person sending the death threats and it is the psychoanalysis of these characters that tells us that no one is really innocent, either in this particular story, or in the world at large. Of course one of the main objections to psychoanalysis is that disparate elements of the subconscious can be used to prove, or disprove, just about anything. Nor does it readily accept socio-economic reasons for trauma and the splitting of personalities. Freud, for example, spent very little time analysing the rising power of the Nazi party when examining the bad dreams that his middle class Jewish patients were having.
Similarly, The Exception spends a lot of time discussing the reasons why seemingly ordinary people can suddenly allow themselves to become part of a murder machine. Iben’s frantic reports on the Psychology of Evil are very accurate on the way humans are prone to act in groups and Jungersen has done a vast amount of research in order to give her documents the vicious stamp of authority. The example is given of a German citizen who succumbs to the group pressure to give a Heil Hitler salute and then eventually reconciles himself to this action, so as to stop feeling bad about it, but then of course the ground is laid for further nazi actions. The example is a telling one but the overwhelming amount of detail endangers the narrative. After many many graphic descriptions of cases of torture in the book, do we really need to be told that Serbian captors forced their prisoners to bite the testicles off their children’s bodies?
The key moment in the story, for me, is where Iben forces herself to use her own knowledge and research into social intimidation to admit that this is exactly what her own group has been doing to poor Anna-Lise who just wanted a nice hyggelig job as a librarian. Here is a truly Kierkegaardian either/or moment, where the hot breath of seconds counts down the decision to either make an individual stand, or to continue to cleave to the group. It is a “test”, a “trial”, of one of the most important characteristics a human being can possess. Iben does the honourable thing and the audience lets out a gasp of relief. There is catharsis. We know that Iben may yet be killed but she has grasped that moment of transcendence where mere mortals can reach beyond their own powers to achieve immortality. Except that there is no relief. Iben quickly descends into the nightmare world of a mental breakdown and her internal monologue (or perhaps dialogue) reveals that she could well have been the one who sent threats, switched pills, filled containers with blood and imposed a reign of terror in the office. Yet right to the violent end, we are never sure who was sending the death threats
Perhaps the author wants the characters and readers to resolve the issue themselves as is the post modern way. Or perhaps he truly wishes to emphasise the absence of heroes and clear thinkers in today’s world. In either scenario, the effect is the same. The reader, certainly on first reading, cannot be sure who the real villain is and the issue is darkened still further when the Serbian torturers actually do appear, which raises the question as to who was in touch with them and how. At first the knife edge of doubt works to the book’s advantage but by the end it becomes a real weakness. Maybe this is a suitable ending in secular, privatised Denmark where God is not just offstage but doesn’t even have a walk on part. It is my view, however, that Jungersen’s studied ambivalence has prevented what is an outstanding novel from becoming a masterpiece which says something very profound; not just about Danish society but about Western society in general where millions upon millions of people feel that they are at a spiritual and moral dead end. They know it and cannot face it unless they can look at it from all angles and have a justification for each one. The story is bound by the same multiple angst which affects its characters so dramatically.
For all that, The Exception is a tour de force examination of the dark side of human relationships. It truly is, “unputdownable”.
The Chief of Police, the “Lunatic” and the Yellow PressSir Hugh Orde is one of the most senior police officers on the island of Ireland. That is, he is a most senior officer of the Law. An officer of the Law, moreover, who plays an overtly political role more in keeping with a Chief of Police, or District Attorney in North America. In the aftermath of the allegedly DIY attempt at murder of republican politicians at Stormont yesterday, Orde is quoted as describing Michael Stone’s irruption on to affairs at Stormont as "a sad publicity act by a very sad individual". Now my question is, will this senior police officer be bringing this evidence to court when Stone appears accused of these new attempts to murder? What else will Orde be able to tell the court? After all, he would appear to be in a better position than most to tell us about Michael Stone. Yet, as far as this writer can see, not one journalist has so far challenged Hugh Orde regarding Michael Stone’s relationship with the police in the North, or the fact that he regularly received police files on individuals during his murder campaign against Catholics.
The most pertinent questions are:
1) Are there any former members of RUC Special Branch now serving in the Police Service of Northern Ireland who had a relationship with Stone?
2) Are any of those RUC officers who queued up outside Stone’s cell to get his autograph after his gun and bomb attack at Milltown cemetery now serving in the “fully reformed” PSNI?
The other remarkable aspect of this escapade is that most journalists have, with the usual indecent haste, accepted assertions from the civil power and from loyalist paramilitaries that Stone was acting on his own. The usual terms like “maverick” and “go it alone” have been dutifully trotted out. Yet, who has benefited from Stone’s murder bid? The answer of course is the leadership of Ian Paisley’s DUP which thereby has attention drawn away from its severe discomfiture and internal split over having to share power with Sinn Féin. But then, the DUP’s long standing relationship with loyalist paramilitaries is a No Go area for official Irish journalism and for this reason any talk of possible collusion between elements within the DUP and Michel Stone will be dismissed as the ravings of uninformed individuals who have a political axe to grind.
If readers want to know more about the real relationship between the DUP and loyalism please consult chapter 19 (Permanent Resistance – The Slightly Constitutional Party) of the author’s book A Very British Jihad. Discussion of the book, and in particular the above chapter, is banned in polite circles here but is gradually working its way through the political watercourse in this country. Tá an fhírinne searbh ach tá sé fíor. The truth has a bitter taste but it is still the truth.
An Irish Times agus an fhírinne(Translation below)
Deir an Irish Times sa leathanach litreacha an méid seo a leanas faoin bpolasaí foilsithe a bhfuil aige:
(i mBéarla ar ndóigh)
“It is our policy to represent as wide a range of views as possible within the constraints of libel and taste….”
Ta líon mór rudaí eile ann sa ráiteas fosta ach seo an rud is tábhachtaí, go bhfuil an páipéar is mo le rá sa tír seo (dar leis), The Paper of Record mar a dhearfá, ag deimhniú go bhfuil polasaí foscailte aige; sin a rá go bhfuil an páipéar sásta réimse leathan dearcaidh a fhoilsiú ar an leathanach litreacha. Níl ann ach fadhb amháin leis an ráiteas sin, áfach, agus sé sin gur bréag amach is amach atá ann.
Le gairid scríobh mé an litir chuig an Irish Times atá le feiceailt thíos agus seo an cúigiú litir chuig The Paper of Record le 18 mí anuas nach raibh an eagarthóir sásta a fhoilsiú. Mar go bhfeicfidh sibh ar ball beag, bhí an litir is déanaí ag plé an tuaiscirt agus léirmheas a scríobh an t-iriseoir Olivia O’Leary ar leabhar úr Kevin Myers. Scéal fada a dhéanamh gairid, d’úsáid O’Leary an deis chun ardmholadh a thabhairt ar lucht iriseoireachta na hÉireann agus an dóigh gur choinnigh siad a gcuid neamhchlaontachta agus an cogadh ag dul ar aghaidh. Seo bréag eile ar ndóigh agus silim féin go bhfuil muineál ag O’Leary an méid seo a rá nuair atá ceann de na scannail is mó sa tír seo an dóigh gur chlaon an cuid is mó de na hiriseoirí leis an bpolasaí cinsireachta agus frith phoblachtacha a chur an dá rialtas i bhfeidhm. Bhí iriseoirí na hÉireann ina “embedded journalists” sular tháinig an téarma fiú ar an tsaol. Nach bhfuil O’Leary ar eolas gur ceap magaidh lucht iriseoirí na hÉireann ar fud an domhan maidir le seo?
Téann sin díreach isteach i mo phointe deireanach sa bhlag seo. Bhí achan litir a dhiúltaigh an Irish Times thar ar dhá bhliain anuas ag plé an Tuaiscirt, an cogadh sa tír seo, chomhcheilg idir fórsaí rúnda na Bhreataine agus na dílseoirí, nó an ról a bhí ag iriseoirí na hÉireann na rudaí seo a chur i bhfolach. Leanann an chinsireacht ar aghaidh agus tá sé mar cheann de na dualgais is mó ar na Gaeil an slabhra nimhe seo a bhriseadh.
(Short resumé of above):
The Irish Times letters page states that its letters policy is:
“..to represent as wide a range of views as possible within the constraints of libel and taste….”
The paper, and its stellar journalists, likes to style itself as the Paper of Record and there is no doubt that it is the most influential paper in Ireland. There is only one problem with the above statement about openness, however, and that is that it is a lie. I wrote the letter below to the Irish Times in response to journalist Olivia O’Leary’s review of Kevin Myer’s latest book. O’Leary uses the opportunity to praise the role of Irish journalist in covering the so called Troubles. O’Leary specifically uses the phrase impartiality in her praise if Irish journalism in its coverage of the war.
It goes almost without saying that the Paper of Record declined to publish my criticism of O’Leary and this is the fifth time in the space of two years that they have refused to publish correspondence from me. All five “declined” letters dealt either with collusion between British secret forces and loyalists or the role of journalists in covering the war. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I regard the behaviour of Irish journalists during the conflict as a scandal because of their failure to report fairly on what was happening. Is O’Leary not aware that Irish journalism in this period is regarded as a travesty of the word by specialists and ordinary people alike across the world?
My final point is that it is up to Gaels everywhere to highlight and indeed to break this circle of censorship.
Here is the letter to the Irish Times:
In her review of Kevin Myers’s recent book about his time as a journalist in Belfast (IT Weekend Review Nov 4th 06), Olivia O’Leary congratulates those many journalists who have reported on the North for being able to retain their “impartiality”. I presume here that Ms O’Leary is referring to the same “impartial” Irish journalists who failed so spectacularly to report the routine murder of Irish citizens by covert members of the British security forces and loyalists who had been recruited to their cause. These are also presumably the same “impartial” journalists who supported the censorship of nationalist and republican viewpoints in such draconian legislation as Section 31. For many many years, those same impartial journalists simply ignored the rising evidence of serial collusion between the civil power in the North and loyalism. So much so that it has been left to British journalists and senior police officers drafted in from the UK to tell the collusion story.
As further evidence of the above, Ms O’Leary tells us that the Miami Showband massacre in 1975 was “headline savagery” carried out by loyalists. Yet, almost to a man, the Miami Showband killers were serving members of the British Army. This fact, however, does not fit the cosy “Free State” journalist mantra which has the British keeping two warring “tribes” apart. Another fact is that, outside of the self congratulatory world of Dublin 4, southern Irish coverage of the Troubles is regarded as anything but impartial. It is not the role of a journalist to be impartial. Journalism must simply tell the truth and let the very heavens, or indeed the state, fall.
Standing at the grave of Søren Kierkegaard – 1-11-06 – Lá na Naomh Uile - All Saints DayToday, the 11th of November 2006, is the 151st anniversary of the death of one of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers – Søren Kierkegaard. A fitting day, to post a tribute to him in the wake of the author’s recent tip to Denmark; a place he had not visited for nearly twenty years.
Standing at the grave of Søren Kierkegaard
I was supposed to be in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city and “København” to its natives, to watch Manchester United demolish the local soccer team. As it turned out in this first real week of winter in Denmark, the famous Manchester United suffered an embarrassing defeat; by which time I had worked out that soccer was nothing to do with my real reason for being in Copenhagen that week. On All Saints Day, November 1st 2006, and the day after the beginning of the Celtic New Year, Søren Kierkegaard had called me over from his grave outside the city centre for a chat, or perhaps, to force me to endure a rite of passage. It was possibly himself that turned the winds to the North so that the previous days’ precipitation came under the influence of arctic draughts sweeping down from Norway and Sweden as I slept snugly in my hotel bed. All ready to dump snow on my coat as I emerged from the hotel and turn my journey of homage into an examination of how much I desired to see him and at the same time look into myself. This would be his way of doing things.
After the celebrations of Oíche Shamhna, or what many call Halloween, it was fitting to be standing at the grave of a martyr on this day of martyrs. An unacknowledged saint, if you like, whose commitment to describing and defining the highest form of spiritual humanness burned bright before quickly expiring across the Nordic skies. As far as I know, he had never called himself a philosopher but, in Danish, an eksisterende Tænker- an ‘existing thinker’. His essential, existential, urge was to reconcile the divine and the human within mankind and the contradiction which emerges from this double state of being. How can we be both divine and of mankind? Have the possibility of transcendence and be close to the gods (or God), and at the same time be utterly human and therefore full of doubt and angst about what we are as humans and who we are and why we are here? As Kierkegaard put it, existence is “ a child of the immortal and the mortal, the eternal and the temporal, and therefore (a state of) continual striving.”
More than any other thinker, Kierkegaard stressed that unless human beings answer the unending call to address the question of who they really are, then they will be continually at odds with themselves. There will be no harmony, there will be no real truth. Unlike most thinkers who have come and gone since, and who talk in terms of global concepts and systems, Kierkegaard brought everything down to the very core of the individual and also stressed that every individual, rich or poor, was faced with that same burning question. The greatest riches, the possession of power, pomp and ceremony were as nothing when faced with this essential truth. In fact, he came to argue that the striving for and the accrual of great wealth and influence was “hypocrisy” and a negation of the individual’s striving for spiritual freedom. The negation of being truly Christian. A perhaps surprising comparison can be made here with Karl Marx who also attacked state religions and their edifices as being a part of the problem of oppression and not the solution. In this sense, Kierkegaard was a radical who bowed to no earthly power. For him, all humans, regardless of wealth, carried a fault line of angst which no priest, or scientist, could reveal to the individual. Nor was sin the only issue. Kierkegaard sought to set the imagination and faith free from material considerations so that an individual’s self determination was made possible. As always, there was a price to be paid for such dedicated self reflection and a price, also, to be paid by Kierkegaard for his perceived insolence and insubordination.
I walked to his grave in blizzard like conditions. Once I left Rådhuspladsen and walked to the end of Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard, I realised that I would have to turn to the North as I crossed between Sankt Jørgens and Peblinge lakes. Thus, I would be walking right into the teeth of the wind and the snow. Squadrons of copper brown leaves swirled and dipped as I walked along Peblinge lake which provides a stunning vista of Copenhagen whatever the weather. A reminder that, unlike Dublin say, it is an imperial and continental city with all the scale and grandeur that goes with it. Swans rode the chopping water at their ease, a slight grin on their face I felt. Danes winged by on three-wheeled bicycles containing beings in a covered box at the front, which I presume were children. They too went by with a slight smile on their high boned faces, as if in relief that the waiting for winter was finally over. Then a group of Muslims passed me and they speaking Danish with scattergun Copenhagen accents and flashing smiles. The wind sought to tip my balance into the frozen water and leaves and twigs attacked my face. “He would have liked all this”, I grimaced.
I had to walk. For some reason, there could be no other way of travelling. Pilgrims can only walk. The first gate I came to at Assistens Kirkegård was locked (“Kirkegård” means churchyard or graveyard and, yes, that is what Kierkegaard’s surname means in Danish). I wondered whether the cemetery was going to be open at all that day. He would have liked that too. Nothing is achieved unless it is worried at, fought over, persisted at. I would have to come back tomorrow and me foundered with the cold. However, there was a main gate on Nørrebrogade that was open. I walked in and suddenly all the noise and commotion of the elements ceased. I stopped under a tree to get my bearings and to work out roughly where I needed to go. I then blundered about in the snow which was deathly quiet in the trees lining the myriad passageways until I found the green sign pointing to his resting place.
When I found myself finally standing at his graveside, I was shocked at its lack of gravitas. Its unkempt, dishevelled air. It is possible that the weather contributed to my sense of dismay but there was a real sense of disregard hanging over his own gravestone and that of the other members of his family. It could, of course, be the case that there is some family stipulation preventing any greater show of appreciation of this place where one of the world’s great thinkers and writers lies buried. Yet, as the snow fell and fell relentlessly in wet November flakes, I observed that the powers that be could still not embrace him. Even in death, he was “Beyond The Pale” as we Irish would say. Even now. Even 150 years later, Kierkegaard was still kept at arms length by polite society. He came to me and stood by me and told me not to be worrying. That he had peace now but that he was glad that he had wrestled with his own and society’s demons whilst fully human. He laughed at my Danish which he correctly pointed out was part country (jysk) and part town. Many have forgotten how funny Kierkegaard could be. He once said: “It is quite true what philosophy says - that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards!” Then I laughed at his Danish and told him that he sounded like a Danish James Joyce but without the goatee and Joyce’s sometime undergraduate take on life. The snow seemed to cover his face and he moved away from me but I could hear him saying that he was utter reflection and that Joyce was utter imagination.
I wanted to ask him about his decision to jilt Regine Olsen his fiancée so that he could concentrate on thinking and writing. But its hard to ask a ghost about his sex life, or lack of it, especially when its 5 degrees below freezing. Then there was the fact that Regine was buried just a few yards away from him alongside the person she eventually married. I was also conscious that he was slipping away so I asked him what heaven was like.
“Heaven”, he said, “is complete understanding and forgiveness.”
So what was the point of struggling for understanding of the self on Earth, I asked, if it was all made right in the end? He told me that to be human was a precious gift and that to strive for the truth in oneself was the greatest gift of all. Then he was gone and there was nothing but a fog of snow and the cold and the wet. He died penniless and with few real friends. He would not even take Holy Communion ( the Eucharist) unless it was given to him by a layman and not a priest. My dripping clothes made me conscious of how directly horrible life can be and his human loneliness brought me to tears but then I saw that he had lived the way he wanted to live and convinced in the correctness of his thinking. People who are sure of themselves and their beliefs are not generally popular in my experience. I texted my ex-wife from his graveside. We had first met and fallen in love whilst discussing Kierkegaard. The tears returned and I put the wet phone back in my pocket. It would probably never work again. “Jesus”, I cried aloud, “I need a brandy after that”, and somebody somewhere laughed.
Having said my prayers for the soul of this great man, I shuffled and shivered away, still irritated at the lack of respect, in my view, shown to his grave and his memory. This irritation increased as my coat turned completely white and I lost my way and was suddenly standing in front of the grave of another famous Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen. Assistens Kirkegård probably contains the remains of more deceased celebrities than anywhere else in Scandinavia. Kierkegaard had once attacked Andersen in a pamphlet after the “Ugly Duckling” had published an allegedly mediocre romantic novel. Now, however, in this graveyard it is Andersen who has had the last laugh. For the grave of this famous writer of children’s fairytales, far better than his novels, is extremely well kept and dignified. It has neat privets either side of a large pinkish headstone and is obviously well tended.
But then the main thoroughfare through Copenhagen was renamed in honour of HC Andersen, which just goes to show that he is a safe pair of literary hands with no awkward corners and bends to him. To my knowledge, there is not one street named after Kierkegaard in the whole of Copenhagen. This is quite incredible given Kierkegaard’s stature in world literature and philosophy.
Nevertheless, here at this grave I also I paid my respects and told Hans Christian Andersen that some of his writings (Skyggen – The Shadow for example) were masterpieces of human analysis. Then I retired from this remarkable cemetery and place of refuge to the ferocity of the street outside. I battled my way to Sankt Hans Torv (a well known square just on the outskirts of the city) and dived gratefully into the warmth of Pussy Galore, a very bohemian café frequented by artists and writers, where I ordered a brandy and coffee with sugar. I never take sugar. Almost before I got my inside jacket off, I began writing the piece which my good readers now have in front of them. I tried to imagine Kierkegaard sitting next to me and, whilst it is true that he often enjoyed strolling through Copenhagen with friends, he himself admitted that he had mostly neglected the social aspect of his work and personality. It was not hard to see why. All around him, there was hypocrisy and avarice. A mid-1880s bourgeois social set full of dilettantes simply affecting profundity, pretending to think deep thoughts, whereas Kierkegaard instinctively knew that he was the real thing. Nor, given his own comfortable background, could he mix very easily with the great unwashed amongst the lower classes; although from the outset Kierkegaard stressed the essential dignity of every human being before God. As the brandy fired through my veins and synapses and I ordered another one, I realised how radical Kierkegaard had actually been.
After all, he had lived through the time of bourgeois revolutions in the late 1840s. He had lambasted the Church (in his case, the Lutheran state church) for its pretence at Christian charity and piety and he had stated that the grasping of power by the rising middle classes in Europe would not fundamentally alter man’s alienation from himself. Again, there is a parallel with Karl Marx whose theory of human alienation from society’s means of production and exchange has never been disproven. Both Kierkegaard and Marx decided that a revolution was needed before humankind could be truly free. For Marx that revolution was economic, for Kierkegaard it was religious.
I sat back in my seat as the snow outside the window thinned out and turned to sleet. Marx, I mused, would probably have called Kierkegaard a mystic and, to use modern language, Kierkegaard would have said that Karl Marx still had “issues” regarding his own identity, even if he saw things in terms of social movements and class. Where was I in this? The brandy felt good and I had the money to buy another one if I so desired. I was warm and was well clothed. I had done all sorts of hard working jobs, a merchant seaman, demolition, a digger of roads and railways and yet I was also educated and could even read Kierkegaard in Danish for God’s sake! I was both privileged, and felt that I had earned that privilege, and the fact that I still have a burning desire to reconcile myself to myself, in a spiritual way meant that I could just discern old Søren K and Charlie Marx winking at me and smiling broadly. I had made both of them happy. I closed my eyes and heard my Grandfather Tommy Larkin’s voice:
“You show me a good Catholic and I’ll show you a good communist”.
I was raised on that phrase and it is the essence of what I believe. Unlike Marx, I have a faith in miracles, the communion with the dead and the power of revelation, yet like Marx, I believe in communal living and thinking and that there can be no such thing as authentic community (and I am not referring here to the State Capitalist monolith that was the old Soviet Union which also banned religious practice) until capitalism is destroyed. It seems to me that both Kierkegaard and Marx sought a utopia that could never quite be reached but that the individual was imbued with new powers in the very striving to reach that utopia. In fact both Marx and Kierkegaard have shown that the struggle for freedom is in itself a source of liberation.
There is one final point that needs to be made and that refers to the personal and the political. In many ways, my Grandfather Thomas Larkin epitomised the best and worst of Kierkegaardian and Marxist thought. Very early on, he rejected organised religion and threw himself into trade union and antifascist activities (in his day, this meant the struggle against Franco’s Spain). He spent all his free time pondering the world and man’s place within it. Yet, gradually, he withdrew from the world around him. He lost contact with his workmates and concentrated solely on his love for his wife Sarah and being the good and generous family man that he was to the end. One day, whilst still a teenager, I breezed in to see him as the Grandfather Clock chimed twelve and announced, with the usual pompous attitude of youth, that I had embraced revolutionary socialism. I had assumed that he would be pleased but my Grandfather took off his reading glasses and gave me a baleful look.
“Do you ever intend to get married?”
“Well, I suppose one day granddad….”
“So how can you be a revolutionary? To be that, you have to be prepared to sacrifice everything; to die. If you die, how can you look after your family? Death is final.”
Many years later, I worked out that this was why he had, as it were, withdrawn from society. This and the fact that his wife, and my grandmother, Sarah had been seriously ill when having a child which died after only a few days on earth and my Grandfather had carried his little coffin to a pauper’s grave. Of course, the poor child was
in limbo, still believed in in those days, and could not possibly have received a Christian, not to say, Catholic burial as it had never been baptised. And it is on such Christian rules that a church is built. At least, these are the rules that are imposed upon the poor.
From all what I have subsequently learned, my Grandfather from then on, rather like Kierkegaard, lived the life of a stoic. Reading, thinking and yet not engaging with the world in the way that he had in the past. I think this was wrong of my Granddad and wrong of Kierkegaard. Despite the flaws which all individual possess, there is wonderful power and learning to be found in simply coming together with like minded people. When Kierkegaard finally did begin to engage in debate with the powerful public/religious bodies and their supporting power groups, they were soon able to marginalize him and ridicule him, using cruel caricatures in particular newspapers, because he had never established a social set, or movement of his own. Sadly, he became a focus of ridicule on the streets and was indeed a martyr sacrificed on the altar of public cruelty for having the temerity to question the status quo. My Grandfather Tommy Larkin, meanwhile, lost all contact with his former comrades and very rarely ventured outside the front door for any reason other than the most mundane. However, before he died, and despite having once renounced the Catholic Church, he took the very beautiful sacrament of extreme unction, or last rites, and these seem to me as good an argument as any for the continued worship in the mystery that is Christ and the miracle of faith. It is my belief, particularly in a spiritual place like Ireland, that ceremony and traditional rites are important things. The hard part comes in separating this from a religious hierarchy which has no contact or empathy with the people, just as the likes of Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard and also Thomas Larkin have pointed out.
I rose slightly unsteadily from my seat in Pussy Galore. A name which tickled me given the serious nature of my meditations whilst I had sat in its comfortable lap. As I headed back across the bridge to the heart of Copenhagen, I resolved in the name of Kierkegaard, Karl Marx and my dead Grandfather to redouble my efforts to think, write and to engage with the material world, and to attempt to make it better, whilst I am still of this world. Then a miracle happened.
The sceptics and atheists reading these lines will refuse to believe this, but then who will deny this scribe his own right to revelation? Later on, on this day of miracles and martyrs, I had a meeting with the English language editor of the world renowned Gyldendal dictionaries. What I did not know was that Gyldendal is based on Klareboderne in the very heart of Copenhagen and that Kierkegaard had gone to school there. The Gyldendal offices lie in an interior square which is accessed via an arch and the wall of that arch displays a plaque which marks the spot where Søren Kierkegaard walked to and from school every day. Call it karma, call it synchronicity, call it what you will. I call it a miracle and I stood looking at the plaque for what must have been an age. Long enough for some men standing nearby to cast suspicious looks in my direction.
The dictionary editor came downstairs to meet me. She was tall, gracious and beautiful but not in the stereotypical Nordic way and she pointed out where Kierkegaard had indeed gone to school. I spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the meaning of words in dictionaries, and therefore the meaning of life, and pondering the privilege that comes from believing in miracles and a loving God. It struck me forcefully on meeting the people from Gyldendal publishers that Denmark, just like Ireland, is a small country containing a huge repository of knowledge and wisdom. Then I had to watch Manchester United get beaten but then that could have been just one more of Kierkegaard’s little trials to test my resolve.
My new artistic and reflective resolve, my Kierkegaard resolution as it were, will not weaken and I certainly left Denmark a much wiser and enriched person. Part of that, of course, is due to my realisation that I have neglected my knowledge of Danish and Scandinavia generally, particularly where the arts and philosophy are concerned. Now I feel that I have rediscovered a precious jewel. Scandinavia has given, and still gives, the world some of its greatest thinkers and writers and it is my task to comment on and reinterpret their works for an Irish audience. May this first stumbling account of my return to Denmark be the first of many which, hopefully, provides elucidation and entertainment where matters Scandinavian are concerned.
A CYBERSPACE POSTSCRIPT
In posting the above essay on to my blogsite, I realised what a difference the internet has made to the lives of writers and artists. Many of my regular readers are aware that part of the reason that I set up Cic Saor (Free Kick) at fadooda.com was because of the censorship which prevails in our country where radical, nationalist or indeed religious views are concerned. The allegedly liberal intelligentsia which controls the Irish media simply refuses to give any meaningful space to any of those three tendencies. Nor will it tolerate anyone who criticises the former colonial power in this country – Britain. It was for these very reasons that I wrote my book – A Very British Jihad and set up Cic Saor. Imagine if Søren Kierkegaard had had access to the internet! Once the powers that be began to attack him and ridicule him, he was reduced to running around Copenhagen with flyers and leaflets in trying to present his own case. A Kierkegaardian web and blogsite would have destroyed his opponents attempts to censor and marginalize him. Nor would he have felt the same isolation in his pauperised state. The same goes for my Grandfather Thomas Larkin who could have maintained, and even developed, his network of comrades and pin sharp intellect without even stepping outside the door had the internet been available. Now the internet is here and censorship will never be as powerful again.