Monday, October 24, 2005

The Decline of Christopher Hitchins

Christopher Hitchens was once my favourite political commentator. Something happened him during Clinton's reign. Whatever it was turned him from an acerbic, astute and witty writer into a irrational ranting bore. His recent comparison of himself to Gore Vidal is a measure of how deluded he has become.

His hatred of Clinton seemed personal and visceral. Maybe he got snubbed at some Washington party. The Hitch's hubris is Caligulean. In attacking Clinton he found himself with some unusual allies for an old Trot. Now with Clinton gone he remains stuck with the world view of his new buddies. Against all evidence he still supports Bush and the War on Iraq. And of course his recent rant about Pinter getting the Nobel Prize is more of the same.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Zeno and the Dog Fuck

A perfect Radio 4 moment this morning (on Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time" programme): In the course of a discussion of the philosophy of the Cynics one of the protagonists alluded to the "Dog Marriage" of Crates and Hipparchia. He was corrected by a fellow guest who declared, in a perfect Oxbridge accent, that "it was more a dog fuck than a dog marriage". Priceless.

He then went on to describe how Zeno came upon the couple screwing in the street and removed his cloak to cover their nakedness. This moment, he said, represented the move from Cynicism to Stoicism. As I drove slowly through Dublin's daily traffic debacle, the debate progressed. It was a virtuouso display of erudition, insight, and serious intelligence. What a credit to the Brits Radio 4 is. Our national broadcaster offers the Ryans (Gerry and Tubridy) at the same time. The one providing tabloid radio for shop girls; the other having an identity crisis on air: "What am I doing here?".

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Storm at Sea - Banville and the Booker

The victory of John Banville in the annual Booker debacle has been greeted with less than universal acclaim. Certain sections of the London literary media have been less than fulsome in their praise - some even suggesting that it's a disaster for the Booker. This is of course nonsense - Roddy Doyle winning it was a disaster for the Booker; Banville is the most deserving victor since the last time Coetzee won it. It's a victory for art over ephemeral writing (Zadie Smith et al).

The reasons for the lack of enthusiasm are probably twofold. Julian Barnes was the warm favourite and is well got with the London literary mafia. He seems like a very nice man and I'll bow to none in my admiration for "Flaubert's Parrot". He would have been a very popular winner. Another darling of literary London, Ian McEwan was recently critically roasted by Banville in the NYRB for his 9/11 novel "Saturday". Must try harder was the master's verdict. The chairman of the Booker panel John Sutherland came to McEwan's defence in the letters page of the NYRB and he too felt the full blast of Banville's blow torch. Imagine then the piquancy of the situation where Sutherland was put in the position of giving the casting vote. His magnaminity in giving Banville the nod does him great credit.

Monday, October 10, 2005

John McGahern's Son

I finished reading John McGahern's "Memoirs" recently - and a fine read it was. It's fundementally the story of his love affair with his mother - and his corresponding hate affair with his father. One affair as intense as the other. Its also a wonderful evocation of childhood in rural Ireland in the forties.

There was however no mention in these memoirs of the son he fathered himself and who he continues to ignore in real life. I met someone recently whose mother is the sister of the woman who had a son by McGahern about 30 years ago. McGahern refused to acknowledge the child as his and made no contribution to his upbringing. All this happened in London. Years later the son came to Ireland to meet McGahern but once again he refused to get involved. The son was very hurt by this rejection.

For most writers such behaviour would be engender little comment. However McGahern has made a literary career out of his mistreatment by his own father - so we are probably entitled to expect a little more sensitivity in this area.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fred Wolf

Had dinner last night at Fish in Monkstown with fabled Hollywood animator Fred Wolf. Fred lives in Ireland for about 3 months every year - the balance is spent in Laurel Canyon near LA. He's the man behind "The Flintstones", "Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles", the Frosties tiger etc.

While I was meeting him on art business, he currently has a show in the OSB Gallery, he is usually more than keen to talk about his encounters with Franz Zappa, Ringo Starr and various other luminaries. He told of being on his way to London to meet the Beatles to discuss the "Yellow Submarine" project when he met a woman on the plane and went off with her for a few weeks and lost the project as a result. He was only mildly regretful about this.

He was particularly friendly with singer Harry Nillsson and told a funny story about his first record. While Fred was living in Malibu, Nillsson sent Fred a copy of it and he and his wife Maya played it non-stop for weeks. They left it out in the sun one day and the record became warped and the sound distorted. Maya conceived the notion of putting it in the over to heat it up and then press it back into shape. This was spectacularly unsuccessful, the record warped even more. In a fit of pique Fred went out on the balcony and heaved it into the ocean below. A couple of days later Nillsson came to visit. Being unsure of the location of Fred's house (you know Malibu - all the backs look the same) he made his way around the front, to the ocean side, and walked along the beach looking for some familiar sign. As he walked by the edge of the ocean he came upon Fred's discarded copy of his record. Picking it up he resumed his search and eventually found Fred's house. When Fred answered the door he presented him with the record saying "I think this is yours". Fred, who is a gentlemanly type, was mortified. Their relationship must have recovered as they went on to make "The Point" together.

Monday, October 03, 2005

IT Has Gone to Hell

The Irish Times has been in steady decline for years. Most of the stuff worth reading has already been published in the Guardian - and that includes sport. If it weren't for Fintan O'Toole and the occasional gem from Eddie Holt (OK, I'll add John Banville and Eileen Battersby's book reviews), I'd give up on it entirely.

Last Saturday's was a fair indicator of how standards have dropped. The whole first page of the magazine section is devoted to Roisin Ingle describing in detail a night spent baby-sitting. I have yet to read anything she's written that hasn't been trite and tedious. This set new lows. Does anyone vet this stuff? I wouldn't let it out the door if my 14-year old came up with it. When I pick up a paper I want to entertained or educated - this did neither.

So I throw aside the magazine in disgust and pick up the Review section. Turning to the book reviews what do I find but Rosin Ingle's collected columns being reviewed my Marian Keyes. In addition to her columns she'd added some stuff about being a fat twat who fucked around a lot. Now to be fair, Marian Keyes is a lightweight, she's no John Banville. She purveys harmless chick-lit to women whose brains (for whatever reason) have turned to semolina. So perhaps it's not surprising that she gives Roisin an easy ride instead of excoriating her for boring Ireland.

I turn to the facing page and lo and behold there's Marian Keyes latest novel being glad-handled by some other hack. It's all too much for me. I toss it aside and pick up the Racing Post.