Monday, 24 September 2007

Fifth International Dante Seminar

On Thursday and Friday I went to the Fifth International Dante Seminar entitled Dante Etico e lirico. There were some fascinating papers delivered, with highlights being a stunning contribution by Robin Kirkpatrick and George Corbett on the use of Dante in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, and another being the marvellously erudite and rich contribution of Claudia Villa on the eclogues, Par 22 and Giovanni del Virgilio. Lots of famous people there, the usual putting faces to names.

Very happy also to have learned about the Leeds Centre for Dante Studies, which looks very interesting and dynamic. There is also a podcast, the first of which deals with key moments in Inferno 1.1-3. It is very good and worth listening to.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

100 Words and Pictures That Define Time

This is Jonathan Harris, a sickeningly talented young web artist who has developed all sorts of fascinating web-based concepts, seeking to explore and understand the human world through the artifacts people leave behind on the Web. It's nice kind of variation on the idea of found art.

One of his websites is the beautiful 10X10, which takes the top 100 words being used in cyberspace during any one hour. It creates its own kind of narrative, at once isolated and beautiful, yet completely fleeting and plugged in to what we're hearing. It generates its own logic of strangeness while remaining oddly familiar. I think it's a brilliant idea; it makes you look at the world differently. It's marvellous.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Prosperity, dir. Lenny Abrahamson, written by Mark O'Halloran (RTE Television, 2007)

The past two weeks have seen the first two episodes of RTE's new drama Prosperity, directed and written by the highly talented Abrahamson and O'Halloran and being aired on Monday nights at 21.30 BST on RTE Network 2. They have also been made available by RTE online, along with lots of other info on the series as well as the scripts. Those without access to Network 2 are strongly urged to watch it online. The quality of this drama is uncharacteristic of RTE and it surely represents a high-water mark for the season, and for future Irish-made drama. The series explores they way that the new-found prosperity experienced in Ireland has not brought everyone with it. Many of the scenes serve to reinforce this: the boys walk across their crumbling estate with the skyline crowded with cranes, testifying to the building boom that has not reached their own high-rise flats. Stacey hangs around a shopping centre full of people buying things she cannot afford.

Each episode is someone's story: the first, Stacey's Story; the second, Gavin's. Stories are the heart of this drama, not plots. Stacey is beautifully rendered as a young mother passing each day with her baby wandering the streets and hanging around the Jervis St shopping centre, dealing with problems that might not even occur to some: finding a place to change the baby; finding a way to charge her mobile telephone after losing her charger; trying to be alone with her on-off boyfriend and father of the child.

Gavin is a young boy who wants a new toy and cannot afford it. He and his friend Conor play truant from school and spend the day trying to find a few euro to make up what he has saved and buy the toy. The boys meet a young mother and try to sell her the beer they have stolen. Instead they barter a can for three cigarettes and sit looking at the rabbit that Gavin has stolen from a neighbour's back yard. The story follows the boys as they make their way through the day, a day that culminates with a confrontation with the friend of one of Gavin's neighbours and an absolutely stunning and shocking final scene.

The stories run in parallel, and in each episode you will see a reprise from an earlier episode, so they weave in and out of each other, a bit like the dynamic of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Trois Couleurs. There are some stunning shots, like the beautiful portrait of Gavin looking at his father with a strong sunlight behind his face. Anyone familiar with Abrahamson and O'Halloran's Adam and Paul will recognize many echoes in this episode and there's much more to say about the way that O'Halloran has chosen to explore the themes of innocence and child-like language in both of these works.

Something very very special is happening in Prosperity.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Ian Sansom, The Mobile Library: The Case of the Missing Books (Harper, 2005)

The Mobile Library is the first in a series featuring “one of literature’s most unlikely detectives”, Israel Armstrong, a Jewish vegetarian sensitive type who arrives in a small Northern Irish village to take up a position that just might make his CV look passable. Everything that can go wrong does to wrong in his first twenty-four hours. Not least of his problems is that the books have gone missing, and in order to get out of his contract, he must find them.

Sansom is a very smart writer and there are many laugh-out-loud moments in the book. I like the twist of a Jew trying to navigate all the religious and political sensitivities in the North. I like the way this detective is an outsider. I like some of the characters in the book.

But I’m not sure that it is a sincere book. And sure, perhaps it is not meant to be. (I can just hear the cavils now about sincerity...but not to sound too much like one of Sansom's characters, you'll know it when you see it). It is a book that just screams something like “Postmodernity can be fun kids”, and I have at least three problems with such a statement. There are some genuine moments, certainly, but my overall impression was an unsettling sense of being manipulated by cleverness rather than invited to share in the playfulness.


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