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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Credo - Creidim - I believe

The story – the very heart and soul of humanity. Or – Why philosophers don’t do ordinary language

(Includes a bonus mini Christmas Panto at the end!)

In the times that are in it, I’ve been reading a lot about storytelling. Storytelling and what some fascinating and relatively modern philosophers have said about language and stories. These philosophers (Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell in particular) deal with the signs and symbols we use to communicate with each other, or indeed refuse to communicate with each other. However, I think that they are talking about storytelling. This, if you wish dear readers, is my discovery.

I’m not going to regurgitate exactly what I’ve been reading here as some of it went over my head, and other parts are just too long and complicated to repeat, but in its essence it made me realise that our human imperative to both listen to and tell stories is the cornerstone of human solidarity. Our community.

A profound yet simple truth.

For centuries, philosophers have tortured themselves about what we can actually know. What verifiable proof we have that, say, that tree over there is real, or whether we can ever actually know one and other.

Of course, I don’t have a definitive answer to this question but my point is that I think much of philosophy has ignored the communal evidence in front of them – i.e. that people tell stories. This is one of the reasons for the huge divide between philosophers and the people they are usually talking about. We tell stories. They go off into a huddle and try to ignore us.

It’s not always clear cut and it’s hard to predict, precisely because we are dealing with human relationships, but there is no doubt that people have always told stories and have had an overwhelming urge to describe their world to others. We have constantly sought to bridge the human mind gap in order to communicate with each other. We have an urge to acknowledge each other.

Asger Jorn - Danish artist

In some other work I’ve been doing on a brilliant Danish artist and essayist (Asger Jorn – 3rd March 1914 – 1st of May 1973), I found that he came up with fairly similar arguments to my own. That is, that local cultures told stories through their art - the passage of seasons in different colours, the knowledge of land contours and the Gods and spirits who inhabited rivers and mountains, stories featuring festive excess, or quiet reflection. Readers can see a cool, jazzy collage of Jorn’s striking and sometimes disturbing work here on YouTube:

One of Asger Jorn’s main philosophical arguments dovetails with what Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, in my opinion, have argued in their analysis of ordinary language and that is that art and social discourse has been abstracted to death by an elite group who, often for their own selfish purposes, wanted to turn these things into a mystery. So that art, architecture and even language could not be understood by mere commoners. It was not for us.

I have found this exact same elitist attitude amongst professional middle class Gaeilgeoirí (Irish speakers) in Dublin who will not speak Irish to anyone outside their group, or family, because those “outside” are just not worthy, or have the wrong dialect, or are just learning.

Opinion formers over many centuries have told us repeatedly that there is no such thing as a provable common empathy – it’s a jungle out there and it’s every man for himself I’m afraid. Genuine scientific enquiry, and exciting technological developments, got bound up with scepticism and doubt about the existence of a fellowship of man (and women). Philosophy became speculative and all values relative. Like some kind of drawing room game for toffee nosed sceptics –
"Is that my fellow speculators I see there in the late renaissance coffee shop that seems to be in front of me? Probably not, but feck it, I’ll adjust my wig, powder my nose and sit down to endlessly speculate about what’s real as we drink our imported coffee and sniff snuff. It’s a all a dream!"

The truth is that it most often is not a dream. It’s actually a search for the centre of life, or a better way of expressing how it feels to be alive. It is no mystery that sometimes trying to express yourself can be agony.

Now, I think I am on to something here. Something life changing. But I can’t quite put it into words yet. However, I’ll try below to batter out my central revelation on reading the likes of Stanley Cavell, Wittgenstein and Asger Jorn:

Asger Jorn - Untitled Oil on Canvas

We all carry essentially the same stories with us and we all know them. Moreover, (and this is a key point) we are aware that our neighbour, or fellow citizen, comrade, friend or lover knows these stories as well. Our common skill of language is more than just a question of wagging tongues.

These stories are not the preserve of the privileged few but are in each and everyone of us. The heroin addict is searching for his stories because he thinks he has lost them; the despairing suicide was never told he had them, the corrupt priest has turned them into nightmares. He begins to justify his nightmares because of the power of them. This is the dark side of our endless metastory – the Bayeux Tapestry of the mind.

Of course, new forms of these stories are composed all the time but we know their archetypes. These archetypes are centred around love, hate, revenge, comedy and tragedy. They are inculcated in us –

Take Seamus Heaney’s brilliant and very moving translation of Beowulf - the 8th Century Anglo Saxon epic.

The first page of Beowulf - The Anglo Saxon epic poem

Beowulf performed great feats, slew Grendel the monster, then he slew Grendel’s avenging mother, then he grew old but faced death staunchly and heroically after fighting a final dragon and suffering the disappointment of humanity’s failings when his troops ran away. Sound familiar?

We face monsters within and monsters without.

But we can take the point to an even simpler level than that. My youngest daughter Sorcha tells me stories about DRAGONS “le tine ag teacht amach as a mbéal!” (with fire coming out of their mouths!).

Believe me, those dragons are real.

It gets kind of trippy at this point, and this said by someone who never knowingly took a narcotic in his life (a German lady once made me dinner and her dessert was clandestine cannabis cake, but we’ll park that one).

For accept dear readers that we have all these stories and all these words and gestures that bind us to each other. We look at each other in the eye and recognise our stories or variants thereof. So when someone verbalises their pain at, say, a betrayal (we’ve all been there) or their joy at a victory over evil – say getting one over on the clampers; we don’t just take in the superficial story but also combine with the teller in empathising with our deeper sense of tragedy, victory, farce and so on.

These things are running in the background - never far away in our subconscious. So then we go to the theatre or to watch a film and we see the characters acting out (in the present and in real time) an excerpt of a story whose essence is known all along to us. It’s like a veil being suddenly torn and momentarily the background story becomes fore grounded and we believe. We are there, viscerally, joyously or laconically (or whatever aspect the metastory takes) right in the middle of it. And then we lose it. We lose it, that is, from our immediate consciousness when the lights go up, or the dream ends, or the guy who was telling you the story about the evil clamper returns to his car.

However the watercourse of story that runs deep within us does not go away. It just waits for the next surge. For the next moment when it will rise from the essence of our humanity and bring us tantalisingly close to permanent transcendence.

You’ve heard all this before. My own uniqueness lies only in the fact that I am a different teller of the story. You wait to see how I will tell it.

It turns out that the English comedian Tommy Cooper (whose tag line was - "It's the way I tell em") was right all along.

Nollaig mhaith daoibh agus gach rath sa bhliain úr
Feliz navidad y buena suerte en el nuevo ano
Happy Christmas and best of luck in the new year


A one act Christmas Panto – exclusive to readers of Cic Saor –Free Kick

(Curtain rises and we see a Sceptical Philosopher wandering lonely as a cloud approaching a Citizen who has just apparently relieved himself against a big tree.)

Sceptical philosopher - That tree over there. The one you were just peeing against?

Citizen - Yes, what about it?

Sceptical philosopher - It’s not actually a tree.

Citizen - Oh yes it is.

Sceptical philosopher - Oh no it’s not! Its all in your mind.

Citizen - Oh no it’s not.

Sceptical philosopher - Can you prove it’s a tree?

Citizen - Here, I’ll drag your head against it – BANG!
Now did that hurt?

Sceptical philosopher - Oh yes it did!

Citizen - And is that blood?

Sceptical philosopher - I imagine so.


1 comment:

Finn Anson a cherished comrade and friend (whose father Brian Anson - Grásta Dé ar a anam - died recently as most of you know) made the following comment:

A Phóil/Paul

I shall not tire of thanking you for your words and the subsequent words of others.
Go raibh mille maith agat...
The reality of fantastical beings, and lands, for children is an essential part of knowing the world and the refusal to listen to the chant of an early morning bird who gathers and hails the news is one of the major problems in our world.
Oddly, the intellectual and artistic elite, I would have thought, should be maleable enough to embrace such a 'world'. Maybe considering oneself apart is a protection mechanism for social inadequacy.
The last years of Pop's life were dedicated to story telling and the art of sharing stories.
As a child Patsy Dixon, a wonderful man from Mayo and father of a cracking family, would spell bind us as we ventured through the annals of the fairy world...
The truth is, as you say, that we 'surge' in our relationship with a 'real' world of love, humanity and solidarity. Yes we weep at the happy ending and cringe at injustice but, as you say, up goes the curtain and...This caring world is at all of our fingertips and with the art of storytelling it will once again become more evident.
Blessings on one and all
by: Pol (contact) - 30 Dec '09 - 11:16


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Title: Credo - Creidim - I believe
Date posted: 29 Dec '09 - 17:19
Filed under: General
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