Now it’s time for Panel Six chaired by Cian O’Connor. Speakers are Geoff Gould on the position of the ‘playwright’ in contemporary Irish theatre. Secondly Siobhán Fallon on Famine Roads: Breaking Stones and Hearts. Finally today we will hear James Roche speaking about The Connections of Modernism to Fascism in the 20th Century.
First up is Geoff with his first slide entitled The Precarious Position of the Playwright – he asked us to consider three questions: If we had seen a play recently,
was it a new play?
was it a play by a new playwright?
when did you ever see a new play by a new playwright?
The Irish nation has had some of the finest theatre writers of the world. Their plays have been performed a the Abbey theatre. Geoff was not knocking them. He gave as an example his own positive reaction to Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.
Geoff feels that there is not enough support for the playwright in Ireland. Instead he feels that money is going to ‘theatre-makers’. Unlike temporary groups of theatre-makers a playwright needs to ‘hone’ a play into an exciting piece of work. But the playwright needs to be supported by theatres who will nurture them. Generations of playwrights popped up until in the late 90s they began to disappear. Where is the modern generation of playwrights? Unsupported by theatres as only 7 theatres still receive funding – so they have closed.
There are women playwrights out there but their plays have been ignored. Geoff’s own West Cork Theatre Festival has in its lifetime put on 25 out of 32 plays by women. Geoff says that this is a bitter and twisted argument.
Now it was time for the presentation on famine roads. Siobhán Fallon spoke about Antony Trollope’s novel Castle Richmond. Siobhán tells how a young upstart engineer from England arrives to employ starving workers but doesn’t know what to do with them. He makes a comedy out of the famine road projects. The American John Mitchel sees a similar situation as a tragedy. A malign situation.
Two stories from The Untilled Field by George Moore are the main source for Siobhán’s thesis. Siobhán asks how intelligent people could employ people to build roads that end in bogs. Or run parallel to roads that already exist.
It seemed like a good idea at first – to put hungry people to work. Feeding peasants without them working would be an unimaginable idea. So work must be found. And that will also stop them rioting. The slogan in famine years was ‘Irish property must support Irish poverty’. The people of West Cork asked to have a road and a pier built for Crookhaven Harbour. But this project was refused.
Why were there so many ridiculous schemes? Why were sensible ones rejected? Who made these decisions and why? This is the subject of the thesis.
James sees a sinister atmosphere in the way that modernism was used to support racist ideas. Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman in particular was used to support Arianism (Die Übermensch). The futurist movement in Italy went on to merge with Mussolini’s Fascist Party. Both Germany and Italy had governments which were anti parliamentary.
James mentioned the American poet Ezra Pound who came to believe that WWI was caused by usury, and he had anti-semitic ideas. Pound met Mussolini in 1933 but was not taken seriously. Pound became an appendage of Facism’s propaganda regime.
Heidegger was dogged by accusations of anti-semitism as was Le Mans, a Belgian.
Unable to be here, Phil Nannery left a video of his presentation. Unfortunately the sound reproduction was so poor that I cannot really report on Phil’s narrative but his visuals were interesting and varied. Sorry Phil – can you put your presentation on your blog?
And now the day is over and we are all feeling tired and emotional but quite pleased with ourselves.