Sunday, July 15, 2018

Seanad Éireann in Solidarity with Palestine: Irish Senate Votes in Favour of Occupied Territories Bill

Yesterday the Irish Seanad voted in favour of the Occupied Territories Bill which will prohibit the importation of goods or services from illegal settlements in occupied territories, including Israel’s settlements in Palestine which violate the Geneva Conventions. The Bill was introduced by the well-known Irish singer Frances Black whose albums feature both Irish ballads and traditional music. She was elected to Seanad Éireann as an independent Senator on her first attempt in 2016.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomed the Seanad vote (25 in favour, 20 against) in support of Senator Frances Black’s ‘Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill. According to the IPSC Chairperson, Ms. Fatin Al Tamimi (a Palestinian-Irish citizen):
“We in the IPSC, and Palestinians around the world, warmly welcome this historic vote, the first of its kind in any Western country. Once again, Ireland is making history and leading the way in its solidarity with the Palestinian people. We thank and salute all those Senators and parties who have pledged to support the Bill, and we will be asking the Irish people to ensure that these politicians support its passage at all stages of the lawmaking process.”
Black has been campaigning for some time now for the rights of the Palestinian people. She states:
“I have long been passionate about the struggle of the Palestinian people, which shows clearly how trade in settlement goods sustains injustice. In the occupied territories, people are forcibly kicked out of their homes, fertile farming land is seized, and the fruit and vegetables produced are then sold on Irish shelves to pay for it all. We condemn the settlements as illegal but support them economically. As international law is absolutely clear that the settlements are illegal, then the goods they produce are the proceeds of crime. We must face up to this – we cannot keep supporting breaches of international law and violations of human rights.”

According to an explanatory note on the bill’s main provisions:
“Under international criminal law, the transfer by a State of its civilian population into a territory it has militarily occupied is a ‘war crime’, as well as a ‘grave breach’ of international humanitarian law. Importantly, it is also a crime under Irish law, no matter where in the world it is committed. Ireland has a duty to ensure these laws are respected and to uphold the humanitarian principles outlined in them. To this end, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 seeks to prohibit trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law. It would restrict the import and sale of goods produced in such settlements, Irish involvement in the provision of services in such settlements, and the extraction of resources from occupied territories without the consent of the legitimate authority of that territory. This economic support underpins the long-term continuation of illegal settlements, established in clear violation of international law. In tabling this bill we are stating that Ireland should not provide economic or political support for them, wherever they arise.”
The Bill, inter alia, specifically covers the importation and sale of settlement goods:
“6. Importation of settlement goods
(1) It shall be an offence for a person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.
(2) It shall be an offence for a person to assist another person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.
(3) For the purpose of the Customs Act 2015, the import of settlement goods is hereby prohibited.
7. Sale of settlement goods
(1) It shall be an offence for a person to sell or attempt to sell settlement goods.
(2) It shall be an offence for a person to assist another person to sell or attempt to sell settlement goods.”
Many Irish politicians believe that the passing of the Occupied Territories Bill will send a strong message that the issue of illegal settlements is being taken seriously and needs to be addressed.
The Israeli Embassy in Ireland has been highly critical of the Bill and commented that:
“The absurdity in the Seanad Éireann initiative is that it will harm the livelihoods of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.”
However, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It was Palestinian Civil Society that called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights in 2005.


Source: Trocaire

Earlier this month former Pink Floyd star Roger Waters urged people to support the Occupied Territories Bill 2018 at a concert in Dublin.
Ms. Fatin Al Tamimi also commented that:
“These have been great months for Palestine in Ireland, a country which punches well above its weight when it comes to solidarity. At least seven local councils have voted to support the Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, including Dublin, the first EU capital to take this stand, and most recently Mid-Ulster Council and Fermanagh & Omagh District Council.”
She said that last month saw the launch of a campaign for an Irish boycott of Eurovision 2019 and noted that barely a week goes by without solidarity vigils or protests outside shops selling Israeli products in Ireland.”
As the activist for Palestinian human rights, Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh says:
“I find that ingenuity in resistance, the ability to persevere — what we call sumud — to be tremendously inspiring. Our people are able to continue their lives despite the incredible odds arrayed against them and not only to persist but also to find some measure of success. As the graffiti on the wall says, to live is to resist.”
*
Global Research, July 12, 2018

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country here. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

A Journey to Iran: Elections, Ramadan and Couchsurfing

In the current media build-up against Iran it is easy to get lost in the confusion and hype about the Iranian government and miss out on an understanding of the problems facing the Iranian people and how they are coping with them. The current economic situation is worsening as the UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran begin to bite. Major sectors of the Iranian economy have been affected such as the energy/petroleum industry, banking, the Central Bank of Iran, shipping, insurance, international trade and foreign firms dealing with Iran. In addition to these problems there is a shortage of fresh water, a problem associated with climate change as drought and rising temperatures put stress on existing reserves. Other environmental issues include vehicle emissions, refinery operations, and industrial effluents which have made Tehran one of the most polluted cities in the world.
Even under so much pressure from so many different economic, environmental and international stresses the Iranian people have managed to maintain their dignity and famous hospitality as I found out traveling there last year. I was invited over for a conference for five days but ended up staying for five weeks, traveling north, west, and then south of Tehran. I took a train north to Tabriz and then on through the mountains to the border of Armenia and similarly west through plains to the mountains on the Turkish border. But it was in Tehran and in the south to Isfahan and Shiraz that I had most of my experiences meeting Iranian people. Everywhere I went – restaurants, cafes, galleries and on the streets – people approached me to practice their English and make friends.

There are many interesting places to see in Tehran, e.g. the 435-meter-high Milad Tower which was completed in 2007, the more recent 270-meter pedestrian overpass of Tabiat Bridge (2014) and the Azadi Tower the 45-meter-high marble-clad monument commissioned by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, to mark the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran in 1971. The latter is surrounded by about 4 or 5 lanes of traffic but can be negotiated like most streets in Tehran by raising one’s hand Moses-like and parting the traffic.


Elections in Tehran

I happened to arrive on 19 May 2017 during the presidential election campaigning between incumbent president Hassan Rouhani (MDP – Moderation and Development Party – a pragmatic-centrist political party) and Ebrahim Raisi (CCA – Combatant Clergy Association – a conservative organisation). Out on the streets of Tehran campaigning between opposing groups with posters of their respective candidates was generally by young people and mainly good-natured. While I was advised not to go out on the streets at night, I found the street campaigners to be very friendly and they in turn advised me to be careful with my camera and not to take photos of police and soldiers which could result in confiscation (especially as I did not have a journalist visa). During the polling I visited two polling stations and was offered tea and invited in to sit down and observe the electors queuing and voting.

Outside I made some conversation with the armed soldiers guarding the station who were also friendly and quite relaxed. After the voting took place, the twelfth such election in Iran, Rouhani was re-elected for a second term. Again the streets filled up with people and cars coming to a standstill for the celebrations. He received 23.5 of 41 million votes counted and was inaugurated on 5 August 2017.


Azadi Tower, Tehran

Soon after I visited various historical and cultural sites in Tehran. In terms of recent history it is interesting to visit the former Embassy of the United States, the site of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and which is now a museum. One of the best known historical sites in Tehran is the Saadabad complex that covers an area of 110 hectares and is located at the northernmost part of Tehran. It has 18 palaces which belonged to the royal families of Qajar and Pahlavi in a beautiful garden. Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty lived there in the 1920s, and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, moved there in the 1970s. After the 1979 Revolution, the complex became a museum.

I also visited the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Honarmandan Park (Artists Park) learning about a wide range of past and present Iranian culture. Honarmandan Park has the Iranian Artists Forum which is a set of galleries located inside the park along with a vegetarian restaurant, a theatre and outdoor sculptures. Here I met 2 Iranian artist sisters who discussed with me the difficulties they encountered trying to show work abroad. Both are now in Canada, at least temporarily.


Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square), Isfahan

During the day the streets were quiet as it was the Holy Month of Ramadan (May 27 to July June 25, 2017) but in the evening, after sundown, the city came alive as people went out to the cafes and restaurants or to picnic in the parks. I got to know a regular taxi driver, Ahmed, and his English-speaking son, Mojtaba, who brought me to Mount Tochal, a mountain and ski resort located on the Alborz mountain range, close to the metropolitan area of Tehran. Mountain climbing is very popular in Iran (another Iranian acquaintance of mine from Mashhad lost 9 friends in an avalanche last December). Life is tough for a taxi driver in Tehran with so much air pollution and traffic, one of the downsides of having cheap petrol.

Ahmed and his wife lived in an apartment in Tehran along with Mojtaba, a languages student who hopes to continue his studies in Germany. On one taxi journey to the National Museum, Ahmed passed me back a dinner his wife had made for me as he knew it was difficult to get food during the day during Ramadan. When I decided to go south, Mojtaba helped me to get train tickets to Isfahan. Iranian trains are slow but comfortable and are a great way to see the countryside. Mojtaba came down to Isfahan with me for the day and we were met in the train station early in the morning by Atefah (just graduated from art college) and her sister (medical student) and their mother who had invited me to stay with them through the Couchsurfing website.

During the day we went to  visit Chehel Sotoun (“Forty Columns”), a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool. It was built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions and beautiful paintings of such scenes adorn the walls of the pavilion. Later we went for a picnic at night in Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square), the jewel in the crown of Isfahan architecture (constructed between 1598 and 1629) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid dynasty, one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran, often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history.

Around a thousand people sat around with their families on rugs and enjoyed picnics. Atefah’s mother also laid out a picnic while Atefah rushed over to two foreigners whom she had spotted to ask them to join us. Turned out to be an Australian mother and son who were traveling around Iran together. We were all taken off to see some of the famous Isfahan bridges over the Zayandeh River which was completely dried up at this time of the year. We visited the Si-o-se Pol pedestrian bridge which was built in 1632, the Joui pedestrian bridge built in the 17th century, the Khajou pedestrian bridge (1650), and the Marnan pedestrian bridge (1599).

In conversation with Atefah, she told me that the water shortages have become so serious that they have water only 4 days a week at home now. Iranian meteorological services say that 97% of the country is affected by drought but it is particularly bad around Isfahan where demonstrations have broken out over water in the  past. She also said that foreign goods are becoming more and expensive and the inflation rate is around 10%. She is trying to go to Germany for further study and says that the decreasing grants and the worsening exchange rate is making it increasingly harder for her to get the visas necessary.



Si-o-se Pol Bridge, Isfahan

The next night I was brought to hospital by Atefah’s family due to dehydration as I had not been drinking enough water. I dreaded going in as I was used to very long waits at home. However I was seen very quickly and was soon moved to a cubicle and put on a drip. After about three hours I was released and brought to an overnight bus I had booked to Shiraz. Couchsurfing again I stayed with Mohammed and his family. Over the next couple of days he showed me around Shiraz and then drove me to Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). It is situated 60 km northeast of the city of Shiraz and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Persepolis is believed to have been a grand ceremonial complex but only occupied seasonally. Mohammed also talked about similar problems regarding water, inflation and food prices. At this time in June the temperatures in Shiraz were nearing 40 degrees. That same week the temperature in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz (between Isfahan and Shiraz) soared to 53.7 degrees (29/6/2017), Iran’s highest temperature ever recorded and the highest June temperature in Asia on record.

I decided to fly back to Tehran and stay in a hostel for the last night. I arranged to meet Ahmed and Mojtaba in a cafe to drive me to the hostel. Upon inquiring if they knew where the hostel was they answered in the affirmative but that they had already decided that I was going to be staying with them instead. And so I was taken off to their apartment to meet Ahmed’s wife, have dinner, a last walk around Tehran streets and then given Mojtaba’s bed while he slept on the couch. In the morning we arose and they brought me the 40 kms to Imam Khomeini International Airport for my flight home.
*
Global Research, July 05, 2018

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country here. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.
All images in this article are from the author.

Is This the Real Culture War? Art Movements and the People’s Movement

Introduction
Ever since the achievements of Renaissance humanism with the triumph of art over nature, with the development of new artistic techniques (the optics of perspective, the structure of anatomy, the mixing of pigments, and the development of movement) art was strengthened and, combined with the scientific explorations and achievements of the Enlightenment, led to the idea that Man could become stronger and better and hold an optimistic view of the future. He could improve his well-being and even take control of nature to create a better life for all.  This view continued through the decades and was associated with social revolutions and political activity which connected progressive ideas about society to artistic forms of expression which would illustrate and advance the hopes and desires of the masses for a better life and future. These artistic movements changed and developed from the Enlightenment to Realism to Social Realism and then to Socialist Realism as artists both inspired and reflected the people’s progressive movements the world over.

However, at every juncture, oppositional movements also stepped in and opposed progressive change and revolution by the people; from the Romantic movement in Revolutionary France to the Modernist movement to Postmodernism and now Metamodernism. These movements have derided every aspect of the progressive forces, from the quietist “l’art pour l’art” of Romanticism to the attack on artistic form by Modernism, to the later attack on ideological content by Postmodernism and now the ‘oscillation’ between the two (form and content) of Metamodernism, a movement caught between self-obsession and the pressing desire of the masses for ideas and culture that will deal with climate change, financial crises, terror attacks and the neo-liberal squeeze on the social welfare system.
These two movements, Romanticism and the Enlightenment, have their basis in attitudes towards and beliefs in the efficacy of the burgeoning scientific movement. Romanticism, beginning in the 1770s formed the basis of an anti-scientific strand in culture over the last two hundred years while the Enlightenment formed the basis of a scientific strand roughly between between 1715 and 1789. Both strands have been in opposition ever since, their ideas reflected through various cultural movements which sprang up in different countries and at different times, some revolutionary and some reactionary.
Let’s take a look at these two opposing strands in more detail.

The Anti-Scientific Strand
Romanticism
One of the most important movements is Romanticism particularly as it still has a strong anti-science influence today. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism and glorified the past and nature, putting emphasis on the medieval rather than the classical traditions of ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order.  The Romantics rejected the norms of the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific rationalization of nature which were  important aspects of modernity. Isaiah Berlin believed that the Romantics opposed classic traditions of rationality and it basis in moral absolutes and agreed values which led “to something like the melting away of the very notion of objective truth”.
Objective truth and reason were elevated by the artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment to understand the universe and solve the pressing problems of the world. However, Romanticism promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to strive for a close connection with nature to escape elements of modernity such as urbanisation, industrialisation and population growth and therefore allowed them to avoid questions centred around the working class, such as alienation, the ownership of the means of production, living conditions and conditions of employment. The Romantics pursued the idea of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake) believing that art did not need moral justification and could be morally neutral.
According to Arnold Hauser in The Social History of Art:
“Revolutionary France quite ingeniously enlists the services of art to assist her in this struggle; the nineteenth century is the first to conceive the idea of “l’art pour l’art” [ital] which forbids such a practice. The principle of “pure”, absolutely “useless” art first results from the opposition of the romantic movement to the revolutionary period as a whole, and the demand that the artists should be passive derives from the ruling class’s fear of losing its influence on art.” [1]
This position originated with the elites in the nineteenth century and serves the same function, Romanticism being the main influence of culture today.

Modernism
By the  beginning  of  the  20th  century, the  Modernist  movement was generally referred to as the “avant-garde” until the the word “Modernism” became more popular. Modernism  was  the rejection of tradition, and the creation of new  forms  using reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision  and  parody. The Modernist ‘rejection of tradition’, like with Romanticism, is the rejection of classical notions of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). Modernism (like Romanticism) also rejected  the  certainty  of  Enlightenment thinking.  Modernism emphasised form over political content and rejected the ideology of Realism and Enlightenment thinking on liberty and progress.
The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to Romanticism, and Modernism was a revolt against the ‘traditional’ values of Realism. Realist painters used common laborers, and ordinary people in ordinary surroundings engaged in real activities as subjects for their works. However, Modernism rejected traditional forms which over time became less and less ´real´ and more abstract and conceptualised.
The Great War brought about more disillusionment with Enlightenment ideals of progress among the Modernists who turned inwards and attacked art forms, instead of war-mongering capitalism. The Romantic continuity in Modernism produced individual, horrified reactions but were ultimately no threat to the ruling elites. Like an angry child smashing his own toys, the Modernist attacked his particular cultural forms and then expected the public to pick up the pieces. What was left was atonalism and abandonment of traditional rhythmic strictures in music, the departure from traditional realist styles in art and the prioritisation of the individual and the interior mind and abandonment of the fixed point of view in literature. The Dada movement, for example, was developed in reaction to the Great War by ‘avant-garde’ artists who rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society but then only to respond with nonsense and irrationality in their art works.
As for the Great War, the avant-garde and Modernism – like the Romantic movement and the French Revolution – failed the masses again as it stood outside the people’s movement, turning in on itself and attacking reason instead of uniting with the progressive forces against war. In the end it was mainly the political movements of James Connolly in Ireland and V.I. Lenin in Russia (the two geographical ends of Europe) who organised the working classes against the war and destruction.
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), the revolutionary artist and founder of the Mexican Mural Movement, had this to say about the Modernist ‘avant-garde’:
“If we look closely at their work it is the most reactionary movement in the history of culture. It has not developed anything new in composition or perspective and has lost much of that which has been accumulated over twenty centuries. It is based on the hysteria of novelty for the sake of novelty, in order to satisfy a parasitic plutocracy. The artist who changes his style every 24 hours is the best-known artist. When he has exhausted all the solutions, the others become his followers and sink into repetitious imitation.” [2]
The allusion here presumably to Picasso (1881–1973), famous for changing his style many times, is interesting in relation to Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923) the great Spanish artist whose  depictions of ordinary Spanish people in monumental works of social and historical themes was overshadowed by Picasso until relatively recently. Cubism, credited to Picasso as its inventor, was an art style that conflicted with the representational system in art that had prevailed since the Renaissance, as the subject was depicted from differing viewpoints at the same time within the same painting.
Many pseudo-scientific explanations were given to explain Cubism regarding art in modern society, new scientific developments etc but even Picasso himself ridiculed this:
“Mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, psychoanalysis, music and whatnot, have been related to cubism to give it an easier interpretation. All this has been pure literature, not to say nonsense, which brought bad results, blinding people with theories”. [2]
Indeed, Cubism is probable the most parodied of all forms of Modernist art.
Other Modernist forms such as Expressionism have been seen to be at least critical of capitalism and war, but according to Lotte H. Eisner who quotes a ‘fervent theorist of this style’, Kasimir Edschmid:
“The Expressionist does not see, he has ‘visions’. According to Edschmid. “the chain of facts: factories, houses, illness, prostitutes, screams, hunger’ does not exist; only the interior vision they provoke exists.” [p10]
Therefore, the external reality of life and death for the working class is ignored for the ecstasy of ‘interior visions’.
For Eisner, writing in The Haunted Screen, German Expressionist cinema is a visual manifestation of Romantic ideals. She writes:
“Poverty and constant insecurity help to explain the enthusiasm with which German artists embraced this movement [Expressionism] which, as early as 1910, had tended to sweep aside all the principles which had formed the basis of art until then.” [pp9-10]
Richard Murphy also notes:
“one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to realism and the dominant conventions of representation.” [3]
Expressionists rejected the ideology of realism, and Expressionist art, in common with Romanticism, reacted to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities with extreme individualism and emotionalism, not collective social empathy and political change.
After the Great War and the Russian Revolution, in the 1920s and 1930s, the idea of depicting ordinary people in art spread to many countries in Realist and Social Realist forms especially as a reaction to the exaggerated ego encouraged by Romanticism. In the United States the Ashcan School was well know for for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York city’s poorer neighborhoods. However, the unsettling depictions of the darker side of capitalism by the Ashcan School was soon displaced with Modernism in the Armory Show of 1913 and the opening of more galleries in the 1910s that promoted the Modernist artwork of Cubists, Fauves, and Expressionists.
This takeover by Modernism in New York continued into the 1940s and 1950s with the development of Abstract Expressionism, an art form which was soon promoted globally as a counterweight to the Socialist Realism style developed in the Soviet Union, especially during the Cod War. The loose, splashing and dripping of paint in the work of Jackson Pollack became used as a symbol of the ideology of freedom and free enterprise in the United States. The victory of Modernism in the United States served two purposes: national and international. It dampened down the critical dissent of the Ashcan School while at the same time serving as a useful tool of foreign policy.

According to Frances Stonor Saunders in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Abstract Expressionism was “Non-figurative and politically silent, it was the very antithesis to socialist realism. It was precisely the kind of art the Soviets loved to hate.” [4] This was Modernism at its zenith as the wealthiest of art investors and the most influential art critics promoted Abstract Expressionism as “independent, self-reliant, a true expression of the national will, spirit and character.”[5] However, the size of the confidence trick being perpetrated on the unsuspecting public became unsettling. According to Saunders:
“It was this very stylistic conformity, prescribed by MoMA and the broader social contract of which it was a part, that brought Abstract Expressionism to the verge of kitsch. ‘It was like the emperor’s clothes,’ said Jason Epstein. ‘You parade it down the street and you say, “This is great art,” and the people along the parade route will agree with you. Who’s going to stand up to Clem Greenberg and later to the Rockefellers who were buying it for their bank lobbies and say, “This stuff is terrible”?” [6]
The imposition of Modern Art on the public was also noted by the journalist, Tom Wolfe, who wrote about the 1960s and 1970s art scene in New York in The Painted Word:
“The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. […] We can now also begin to see that Modern Art enjoyed all the glories of the Consummation stage after the First World War not because it was “finally understood” or “finally appreciated” but rather because a few fashionable people discovered their own uses for it.” [7]
It was also in the early 1970s that the Irish artist Seán Keating (1889–1977), a Realist painter who painted images of the Irish War of Independence, the early industrialization of Ireland and many portraits of the people of the Aran Islands, was brought face to face with Modernism. In a well-known televised interview, Keating, now in his 60s, was brought around the ROSC’71 exhibition and asked to give his opinion on the exhibits. As Eimear O’Connor writes:
“When confronted by The Table, made by German artist Eva Aeppli (b.1925), Keating said it was ‘downright horrible perversity, nightmare stuff … an old lady who had gone completely mad and is dangerous … I think it is morose … vengeful against the human race…'” [8]
This baiting of a famous Irish humanist whose love of the Irish people and progress displayed the new confidence of the Irish elites who had jumped on the Modernist bandwagon as an symbol of fashionability and of final acceptance by the European elites who would allow Ireland to join the EEC (EU) in 1973.


Economic Pressure by Seán Keating (1949)
Scene of man bidding farewell to his family as he prepares to emigrate from Aran Islands.
(The Irish peasant betrayed: elevated as a national symbol before Independence yet ignored afterwards.)

Postmodernism

In the meantime, Postmodernism was gaining strength. Some features of Postmodernism in general can be found as early as the 1940s but it would compete with Modernism in the late 1950s and became predominant by the 1960s.
Postmodernism is defined as follows:
“Postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Postmodernism as a philosophical movement is largely a reaction against the philosophical assumptions and values of the modern period of Western (specifically European) history—i.e., the period from about the time of the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries to the mid-20th century. Indeed, many of the doctrines characteristically associated with postmodernism can fairly be described as the straightforward denial of general philosophical viewpoints that were taken for granted during the 18th-century Enlightenment, though they were not unique to that period.”
In other words, Postmodernism had a direct line of descent from Modernism and Romanticism before that. The same Romantic characteristics show up again – the suspicion of reason, subjectivism and denial of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Once again cynicism towards the idea of progress and working class improvement is the mainstay. Every technique and trick of avoidance of the important issues facing the people’s movement is used in Postmodernism: “common targets of postmodern critique include universalist notions of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress” and “postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, subjectivism, and irreverence.”
Postmodernist artists decided that past styles (once criticised for being ‘traditional’) were now usable in a parodic way along with appropriation and popular culture. The Postmodernist critique of universalist ideas of objective reality and social progress, or the Grand Narratives, has particular implications for the working classes and popular political movements as their liberatory philosophy and ideologies are based on them – whatever their supposed successes or failures in the past. To take them away is to fall back on the neo-liberal philosophy of the end-of-history and more of the same globalised capitalism ad infinitum. After the attack on Form in Modernism, we now get an assault on Content in Postmodernism.

When applied to the people’s movement itself, such as the French Revolution, Postmodernist historiography for example, all but wipes out its historic relevance and importance. As Richard J Evans writes in In Defence of History, Simon Schama’s book Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution over-emphasises the bloody and violent nature of the revolution as if the politically-conscious people taking their lives into their own hands were irrational beings exploding with an animal lust for violence. Evans comments:
“In Citizens, indeed, the French Revolution of 1789-94 becomes almost meaningless in the larger sense, and is reduced to a kind of theatre of the absurd; the social and economic misery of the masses, an essential driving force behind their involvement in the revolutionary events, is barely mentioned; and the lasting significance of the Revolution’s many political theories and doctrines for modern European and world history more or less disappears.” [9]
The more opaque forms of relativistic Postmodernist writing and thinking were exposed when Alan Sokal refused to get into line and exposed the French Postmodernists in a hoax essay published in Social Text in 1996. According to Francis Wheen in How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World:
“As a socialist who had taught in Nicaragua after the Sandinista revolution, he [Sokal] felt doubly indignant that much of the new mystificatory folly emanated from the self-proclaimed left. For two centuries, progressives had championed science against obscurantism. The sudden lurch of academic humanists and social scientists towards epistemic relativism not only betrayed this heritage but jeopardised ‘the already fragile prospects for a progressive social critique’, since it was impossible to combat bogus ideas if all notions of truth and falsity ceased to have any validity.” [10]
The obvious contradictions and cul-de-sacs of Postmodernism eventually brought it into decline and soon doors opened for a new obfuscatory philosophy to buttress increasingly crisis-ridden globalised capitalism – Metamodernism.

Metamodernism
According to Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in ‘Notes on Metamodernism‘:
“The postmodern years of plenty, pastiche, and parataxis are over. In fact, if we are to believe the many academics, critics, and pundits whose books and essays describe the decline and demise of the postmodern, they have been over for quite a while now. But if these commentators agree the postmodern condition has been abandoned, they appear less in accord as to what to make of the state it has been abandoned for. In this essay, we will outline the contours of this discourse by looking at recent developments in architecture, art, and film. We will call this discourse, oscillating between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, metamodernism. We argue that the metamodern is most clearly, yet not exclusively, expressed by the neoromantic turn of late”.
So there you have it – this is the best that Metamodernism can offer – a return to Romanticism! We have now come full circle as “the metamodern is most clearly, yet not exclusively, expressed by the neoromantic turn of late”.
And where is this pressure coming from, to allow a little reality back into the arts?
“Some argue the postmodern has been put to an abrupt end by material events like climate change, financial crises, terror attacks, and digital revolutions […] have necessitated a reform of the economic system (“un nouveau monde, un nouveau capitalisme”, but also the transition from a white collar to a green collar economy)”.
So the contemporary crises of capitalism and climate change are finally impinging on the disintegrating Postmodern artistic consciousness and the answer is reformism and ‘new capitalism’. However, Metamodernism is “Like a donkey it chases a carrot that it never manages to eat because the carrot is always just beyond its reach. But precisely because it never manages to eat the carrot, it never ends its chase”. With a little bit of progressive critique, the Metamodern artist can regain credibility without ever really challenging the status quo.

From all of the above we can see the common threads tying Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism and Metamodernism together: individualism, art for art’s sake, suspicion of reason, subjectivism and denial of the ideas of the Enlightenment. All individualist movements that oppose the idea of collectivist ideology and action. Movements that ultimately serve the status quo and the ruling elites. Yet some of these same elites were involved in the development of the concepts of the Enlightenment in the beginning. What happened to them?


Night’s Candles Are Burnt Out by Seán Keating (1927-28)
Ardnacrusha –  Ireland’s first power-station built by Siemens post-independence in the 1920s, a hydro-electric dam built on the river Shannon, north of Limerick.
(Disillusioned Irish workers unemployed and drinking as the new elites begin the process of state-building.)

The Scientific Strand

The Enlightenment
The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century. Enlightenment thinkers believed in the importance of rationality and science. They believed that the natural world and even human behavior could be explained scientifically. They felt that they could use the scientific method to improve human society. For the artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment, the ideal life was one governed by reason. Artists and poets strove for ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order, valuing meticulous craftsmanship and the classical tradition. Among philosophers, truth was discovered by a combination of reason and empirical research.

In the field of political philosophy the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual, the natural equality of all men and the idea that legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people. Therefore the Enlightenment popularised the idea that with the use of reason and logic social development and progress would be the norm for the masses and science and technology would be the instruments of human progress. The ideas of the Enlightenment paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries as it undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church. The French Revolution become the first main conflict between the men of the Enlightenment and the aristocracy. Within the arts this conflict arose between those who believed that art had a role to play and those who believed in art-for art’s-sake. As Hauser notes:
“It is only with the Revolution that art becomes a confession of political faith, and it is now emphasized for the first time that it has to be no “mere ornament on the social structure,” but “a part of its foundations.” It is now declared that art must not be an idle pastime, a mere tickling of the nerves, a privilege of the rich and the leisured, but it must teach and improve, spur on to action and set an example. It must be pure, true, inspired and inspiring, contribute to the happiness of the general public and become the possession of the whole nation.” [11]
However, the rising bourgeoisie who advocated the ideas of the Enlightenment realised that their objectives and those of the revolutionary public were not the same:
“Yet as soon as the bourgeoisie had achieved its aims, it left its former comrades in arms in the lurch and wanted to enjoy the fruits of the common victory alone. […] Hardly had the Revolution ended, than a boundless disillusion seized men’s souls and not a trace remained of the optimistic philosophy of the enlightenment.” [12]
Thus began the conflict between the new rulers, the bourgeoisie, who wanted to set limits on progress, and the interests of the toiling masses who had not yet achieved one of the most basic concepts of Enlightenment philosophy: the natural equality of all men. This struggle for political and social freedom took different forms over the next century or so but had as one of its bases the idea that the arts would play a role.

Realism
As the bourgeoisie stepped up its development of capitalist society building factories and markets, the Realist movement reacted to Romanticist escapism in favor of depictions of ‘real’ life, emphasizing the mundane, ugly and sordid. The Realist artists used common laborers and ordinary people in their normal work environments as the main subjects for their paintings. Its chief exponents were Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Courbet hated the aristocracy and royalty, and advocated political and social change. He painted ordinary people and in sizes usually reserved for gods and heroes. Realist movements, like the Peredvizhniki or Wanderers group in Russia, developed in many other Western countries.

Social Realism
Meanwhile, as the the Industrial Revolution grew in Britain, concern for the factory workers led to a meeting betwen Marx and Engels and a major change in the ideology of the working class organisations seeking better conditions. While the Romantics believed that the Industrial Revolution and its exploitative extremes in the factories was the result of science, the Marxists instead questioned the ownership of the factories and who benefited from the greatly increased power of the new means of production, means that could benefit society as a whole. Therefore while the Romantics looked back to the medieval artisans and peasants, the Marxists saw science creating new possibilities for a better future for everybody.

Social Realism grew out of these changes as Social Realist artists drew attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor and criticised the social structures which maintained these conditions. The Mexican and Russian revolutions gave a fillip to the Social Realist movement which reached its height of popularity during the 1920s and 1930s when capitalism was under severe pressure from the global economic depression. The Ashcan School in the USA and the Mexican muralist movement were two groups who exerted a huge influence at the time and many of the artists involved at the time were supporters of political working class movements. While contemporary Social Realism has been kept in the background it is still a popular style with progressive artists.

Socialist Realism
As nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century changed into socialist struggles during the twentieth century, the style and form of the art changed too as ordinary people were now depicted as subjects with dignity and power. This style became known as Socialist Realism. It was pronounced state policy at the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934 in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in other socialist countries. Like Social Realism, Socialist Realism also met with fierce denunciations and controversy. However, despite its caricature as a style that depicts people as naïve, happy, joyous ciphers, its originators condemned any attempt to portray people living in an idyllic paradise as the work of shallow artists who would never be taken seriously by the populace:
“An artist who tried to represent the birth of socialism as an idyll, who tried to represent the socialist system, which is being born in hard-fought battles, as a paradise populated by ideal people – such an artist would not be a realist, would not be able to convince anyone by his works. The artist should show how socialism is built out of the bricks of the past, out of the material which the past has left us, out of the material which we ourselves create in the sweat of our brow, in the blood of our toil and struggle, in, the hard battles of classes and in the hard toil of man to remold himself.”
Socialist Realism went into decline in the 1960s as the Soviet Union itself went from crisis to crisis until its end in 1991. Today it is a style which is still much criticised. Why is Socialist Realism such a taboo? Because Socialist Realism is a quadruple whammy – it contains four elements that elites don’t like:
  1. Anything to do with the Soviet Union (then) or Russia (today)
  2. Any depictions of the working class anywhere (which are not subservient)
  3. Any discussion of socialism or socialist ideology (past, present or future)
  4. Any realist depiction of opposition to capitalism (that could influence others)
If one looks at ‘history of Western art’ books it becomes apparent that there are very few positive images of the working class but plenty of images glorifying monarchs, aristocrats, the middle classes and Noble Peasants (the useful idiots of nationalism). Representations of peasants usually take the form of non-threatening genre paintings and any Socialist Realist art is excluded.


Irish Industrial Development (oil on wood panels) by Seán Keating (1961)
International Labour Offices (ILO) Geneva, Switzerland
(Positive images of Irish workers by Irish artist in Geneva – must be Socialist Realism!)

Conclusion

The fact is that Romanticism in its different forms has made sure to keep the working classes out of the picture and the only response of the people’s movements should be to keep Romanticist influences at arms length. Romanticism has become the capitalist art par excellence. Romanticism vacillates between cultures of despair and Nihilism. It is opposed to logic and reason and its extreme individualism ensures a divisive affect on any collectivist organisation. Romanticism pervades most mass culture today and sells egoism and impotence back to the very people who turn to it for solace from desperation.
The long conflict between Romanticism and Enlightenment ideas contained in art movements over the last two centuries is set to continue as new responses to the contemporary crises of capitalism try to ameliorate the situation or fundamentally change the system underpinning it. What is needed are new national debates on the role and function of art in maintaining or changing the structure of society. Debates similar to those described by an eyewitness to the Paris Commune, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who wrote: “a whole population is discussing serious matters, and for the first time workers can be heard exchanging their views on problems which up until now have been broached only by philosophers.” [13]
*
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Notes:

[1] Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol 3 (Vintage Books, 1958) p147
[2] D. Anthony White, Siqueiros: Biography of a Revolutionary Artist (Booksurge.com, 2008) p413
[3] Richard Murphy, Theorizing the Avant-Garde: Modernism, Expressionism, and the Problem of Postmodernity (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,1999) p43
[4] Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press, 1999) p254
[5] Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press, 1999) p254
[6] Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press, 1999) p275
[7] Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word (Bantam Books, 1987) p26/7
[8] Eimear O’Connor and Virginia Teehan, Sean Keating: In Focus (Hunt Museum, 2009) p33
[9] Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (Granta Books, 2000) p245
[10] Francis Wheen, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World (Harper Perennial, 2004) p89/90
[11] Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol 3 (Vintage Books, 1958) p147
[12] Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol 3 (Vintage Books, 1958) p157
[13] Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, in Le Tribun du Peuple, May 10, 1871, quoted in Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune 1871 (Quadrangle, 1977) p283

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Michael Inside”. The Prison System in Ireland

“Michael Inside”. The Prison System in Ireland

A Movie Review

 
 
Michael Inside is a new Irish movie which looks at the prison system in Ireland and the people who serve their time in it. The film is about a young man who is sent to prison for the first time after being caught with drugs he had stashed in his grandfather’s house who he shares with. In prison he is taken under the wing of an older experienced prisoner who helps him to stand up for himself but also ensnares him in a cycle of violence in the prison itself. We see the emotional and psychological growth and strengthening of Michael with these harrowing experiences. The big question of the film is then: will he become like his father, also in jail, or learn from his grandfather’s advice?

The most important aspect of this new Irish film is its cinematic approach to telling the story. Ireland has a long history of theatre and successful drama which spilled over into its film-making too. Irish films in the past have been worthy and wordy with directors more comfortable with theatrical styles than cinematic imagery. It was also difficult to achieve cinematic lift-off with the gravity of so many winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ireland won four times in the 20th century: W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Séamus Heaney (1995), all of whom wrote plays. Not forgetting, of course, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, George Moore, Oscar Wilde and Seán O’Casey. The developing language of cinema filtered slowly into Irish film-making either for reasons of fear of audience reaction (more used to theatre) or a lack of an appreciation of the idea that sometimes less is more.

Michael Inside has at times an almost documentary feel to it in the way the prison and the prison officers are portrayed. They come across as empathetic and generally respectful of the prisoners. The director of Michael Inside, Frank Berry, stated the story-line was “researched with former prisoners” and authenticity was desired even to the point of using former prisoners as extras.


The use of the camera has a Tarkovskian feel with long takes, blurring and choreography before the camera. Some scenes like in the grandfather’s house are performed in front of a stationary camera with minimal lighting and wonderful blocking as actors move in and out of shot during the dialogue. Michael’s life outside of prison seems almost as oppressive as inside. Sparse dialogue, sparse rooms and ennui add to this feeling.

The tyranny of montage is felt though when Michael goes into his cell for the first time and sits down on the bottom bunk. This would have been a perfect moment to let the camera linger and linger to illustrate the timelessness of prison life. Steve McQueen, the British director, does this brilliantly in Hunger (2008) (also a great movie) when he has a fixed camera on one end of a long prison corridor pointed at a person washing the floor and stays on him until he finally gets to the other end. A similar very long take is used in the Irish Traveler film, Pavee Lackeen  (2005) to illustrate the difficulty of such basic things as making a cup of tea as we see the young girl go outside and walk to a hose behind a metal fence, fill the bucket and walk back to the mobile home. However, in Michael Inside, it cuts all too soon in the prison cell to the next shot.

Cinema fans who liked A Prophet (French: Un prophète), the 2009 French prison drama-crime film directed by Jacques Audiard will also enjoy Michael Inside. Unlike A Prophet, the protagonist of Michael Inside is exposed to alternative paths for his future as a former prisoner who has studied for an MA and is progressing towards a PhD gives the inmates a talk on the importance of education. This is an important moment in the film as it demonstrates one way with which to break the cycle of violence and transgenerational incarceration. Indeed Michael plans to further his education despite the bias against former prisoners.

Michael Inside is a wonderful film about the Irish penal system, the sparseness of some working class lives and the potential for positive change. The irony of this depiction of working class poverty and hopelessness is the fact that the film is conceived, researched, and acted using the imagination, talents and experience of Irish working class people. It points to a new self-awareness and education happening in sections of Irish society that augur well for the future.


Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

The Origins of Violence? Slavery, Extractivism and War

The Origins of Violence? Slavery, Extractivism and War


“And the land, hitherto a common possession like the light of the sun and the breezes, the careful surveyor now marked out with long-drawn boundary lines. Not only were corn and needful foods demanded of the rich soil, but men bored into the bowels of the earth, and the wealth she had hidden and covered with Stygian darkness was dug up, an incentive to evil. And now noxious iron and gold more noxious still were produced: and these produced war – for wars are fought with both – and rattling weapons were hurled by bloodstained hands.” 

– (Ovid, written around 8AD which laments humanity’s loss of its original Golden condition [Ovid Metamorphoses, Book 1, The Iron Age]) [1]


The privatisation of property, extractivism, the necessity for food-producing slaves and a warrior class to sustain and further extend the aims of the elites are all neatly summed up in this quote from Ovid. What is noticeable and notable is that over the millennia very little has changed in substance. We still have today wage slaves, standing armies, extractivism and industrialised agriculture that is oriented and controlled according to the aims and agendas of a warmongering elite. However, it seems that things were not always thus.

The coming of the Kurgan peoples across Europe from c. 4000 to 1000 BC is believed to have been a tumultuous and disastrous time for the peoples of Old Europe. The Old European culture is believed to have centred around a nature-based ideology that was gradually replaced by an anti- nature, patriarchal, warrior society. According to the archaeologist and anthropologist, Marija Gimbutas:
“Agricultural peoples’ beliefs concerning sterility and fertility, the fragility of life and the constant threat of destruction, and the periodic need to renew the generative processes of nature are among the most enduring. They live on in the present, as do very archaic aspects of the prehistoric Goddess, in spite of the continuous process of erosion in the historic era. Passed on by the grandmothers and mothers of the European family, the ancient beliefs survived the superimposition of the Indo-European and finally the Christian myths. The Goddess-centred religion existed for a very long time, much longer than the Indo-European and the Christian (which represent a relatively short period of human history), leaving behind an indelible imprint on the Western psyche.” [2]

The Goddess Timeline
Click image to enlarge: A chronological record of archaeological images of women and goddesses on a uniform time scale from 30,000 BCE to the present.
(Copyright © 2012 Constance Tippett)

Gimbutas notes that it was at this time that a relatively homogeneous pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in southeastern Europe was “invaded and destroyed by horse-riding pastoral nomads from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (the “Kurgan culture”) who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages”. While this model has been disputed over the years recent research has broadened and deepened our understanding of these movements.

In 2015 an international team of researchers conducted a genetic study which backs the Kurgan hypothesis, that “a massive migration of herders from the Yamna culture of the North Pontic steppe (Russia, Ukraine and Moldavia) towards Europe which would have favoured the expansion of at least a few of these Indo-European languages throughout the continent.”

Another disputed aspect of the hypothesis is the ‘how’- whether “the indigenous cultures were peacefully amalgamated or violently displaced.”

However, the representations of weapons engraved in stone, stelae, or rocks appear after the Kurgan invasions as well as “the earliest known visual images of Indo-European warrior gods”. [3] The beginning of slavery is also seen to be linked to these armed invasions.

According to Riane Eisler, archaeological evidence “indicate that in some Kurgan camps the bulk of the female population was not Kurgan, but rather of the Neolithic Old European population. What this suggests is that the Kurgans massacred most of the local men and children but spared some of the women who they took for themselves as concubines, wives, or slaves.”[4] Gimbutas believed that the pre Kurgan society of Old Europe was a “gylanic [sexes were equal], peaceful, sedentary culture with highly developed agriculture and with great archtectural, sculptural, and ceramic traditions” which was then replaced by patriarchy; patrilineality; small scale agriculture and animal husbandry”, the domestication of the horse and the importance of armaments (bow and arrow, spear and dagger).[5]
“Not so th’ Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tirn’rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch, (and curs’d be he
That envy’d first our food’s simplicity!)
Th’ essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg’d the sword to murder man.”
-Ovid Metamorphoses Book 14
The idea of a fall, the end of a Golden Age is a common theme in many ancient cultures around the world. Richard Heinberg, in Memories and Visions of Paradise, examines various myths from around the world and finds common themes such as sacred trees, rivers and mountains, wise peoples who were moral and unselfish, and in harmony with nature and described heavenly and earthly paradises.

In another book, The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, Steve Taylor takes a psychological approach to the concept of the Fall examining what he calls the new human psyche and the Ego Explosion (which created a lack of empathy between human beings) and resulted in our alienation from nature while making us both self and globally destructive.

However, James DeMeo takes a more radical approach in his book, Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World. He believes that climatic changes caused drought, desertification and famine in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia (collectively Saharasia) and this trauma caused the development of patriarchal, authoritarian and violent characteristics.



God creates Man 
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7)
Author unknown, Creation of Adam, Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century. 


The arrival of violent, enslaving tribes and of a supreme male deity led to the eventual demise of the of the female deities through demotion or destruction of temples and statues.[6] Over time, the many traditions of pre-patriarchal nature worship were destroyed (such as cutting down sacred trees) or eventually assimilated into the new patriarchal religions.[see my Christmas article] Thus many of the nature-based ideas of matriarchal religion were turned on their head as the male deity creates man and Adam gives birth to Eve.

 


Adam ‘gives birth’ to Eve
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man” (1 Corinthians 11:8)
From: Master Bertram, Grabow Altarpiece, 1379-1383 


In Christianity the rulers had a religion that assured their objectives. The warring adventurism of the new rulers needed soldiers for their campaigns and slaves to produce their food and mine their metals for their armaments and wealth. Thus, Christ was portrayed as Martyr and Master. In his own crucifixion as Martyr he provided a brave example to the soldiers and as Master he would reward or punish the slaves according to how well they had behaved.



 
 Featured image: Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390 – 9 July 1441) Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, c. 1430–1440. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Christianity, according to Helen Ellerbe,
“has distanced humanity from nature. As people came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In Christian eyes, the physical world became the realm of the devil. A society that had once celebrated nature through seasonal festivals began to commemorate biblical events bearing no connection to the earth. Holidays lost much of their celebratory spirit and took on a tone of penance and sorrow. Time, once thought to be cyclical like the seasons, was now perceived to be linear. In their rejection of the cyclical nature of life, orthodox Christians came to focus more upon death than upon life.”[7]
Pagan festivals chart:


[From The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe] 


 "Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
     in the image of God he created them;
     male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” "
(Genesis 1:26-28)

According to Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams:

"A rigidly anthropocentric view stemming from biblical conceptions of the domination of nature and placement of earth at the service of humans holds that humans are not only the center and most important part of life on Earth but sit at the apex of biological development. It is therefore our right to dominate and exploit the rest of nature. This view is a complete misunderstanding of the science of evolution and ecology. However distantly, all living organisms are connected to one another through evolution. We are one of an estimated 8.7 million species living on Earth. Even among mammals, Homo sapiens is only one of more than 5,000 species."
Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation by Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams (2017) p.158


Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology (study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order) and the idea of linear time took over from the people’s strong connection with nature and the ever-changing seasons. Although, in early medieval times, according to David Ewing Duncan in The Calendar, the peasants still lived and died “in a continuous cycle of days and years that to them had no discernible past or future.”[8] Different seasonal festivals such as the solstice, the Nativity, Saturnalia, Yuletide, the Easter hare and Easter eggs etc.all had pre Christian connections but old habits died hard and left the church no choice but to incorporate some aspects of them into their own traditions over time.

Feminism vs class
While some aspects of the culture of prehistory are with still with us today, interpretation of the artefacts from archaeological digs has always been open to controversy. For example, Cynthia Eller in her book The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future believes that the theory of a prehistoric matriarchy (female rulership) was “developed in 19th century scholarship and was taken up by 1970s second-wave feminism following Marija Gimbutas.” However, the feminist historian Max Dashu notes that Eller
“makes no distinction between scholarly studies in a wide range of fields and expressions of the burgeoning Goddess movement, including novels, guided tours, market-driven enterprises. All are conflated all into one monolithic ‘myth’ devoid of any historical foundation.”
The important point here is that ideas of matriarchal prehistory have been used in feminist theory to blame men for war and violence today (ignoring Thatcher and May). Sure, men have been dominant in the warring elites but many, many more men were caught up in the enslaved soldiers, miners and farmers classes. And as it was violence that was used to enslave them in the first place historically, then surely it would be no surprise if violence is used by them in the fight back against their slavery (class struggle).

The reappraisal of our ancient past and our relationship with nature has become an urgent necessity as climate chaos occupies more and more of our time and energy. It is not too late to learn from the myths of the Golden Age and Ovid’s ancient complaints to create a better future.
“This let me further add, that Nature knows
No steadfast station, but, or ebbs, or flows:
Ever in motion; she destroys her old,
And casts new figures in another mould.”
-Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 15

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.


Notes
[1] From Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age by Richard Heinberg (1989)
[2] The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas / Joseph Campbell (2001), pxvii.
[3] The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1998) p49.
[4] The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1998) p49.
[5] The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas / Joseph Campbell (2001), pxx.
[6] See: When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone (1978) pps66-67.
[7] The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe (1995) p139
[8] The Calendar: The 5000-year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens – and What Happened to the Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan (2011) p137.

‘Black 47’: The Irish Famine of 1847

‘Black 47’: The Irish Famine of 1847

Review of Film Directed by Daly

 

 


“Weary men, what reap ye?—Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye?— human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers — what do they round your door?
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping— would to God that we were dead;
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.”


- Speranza (Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde)[1]


Last Wednesday I attended a preview for a forthcoming Irish film, Black 47 (Director Lance Daly), about the worst year of the catastrophic Irish famine and is set in the west of Ireland in 1847.
The story centres around an Irish soldier, Feeney (James Frecheville), returning from serving the British Army in Afghanistan only to find most of his family have perished in the Famine or An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) as it is known in Gaelic.

The English and Irish terms for Ireland’s greatest tragedy are infused with different ideological approaches to the disaster. By emphasising the failure of the potato crop only, the impression is given that there was no food to be had on the island when the opposite was true – there were many other crops which did not fail but were not accessible to the vast majority of the people – hence, the Great Hunger.

In Black 47, the colonised fight back as Feeney puts the skills he has learned abroad with the British army to effective use in Ireland. He kills or executes the various people involved in the British colonial system he blames for the starvation and death of his family: from the bailiff to the judge to the colonial landlord. Moreover, Feeney goes a step further as he refuses to speak English to those in power before he kills them, reflecting back to them an immediate understanding of the powerlessness of those without the linguistic tools to negotiate compromises (as was seen in the film when a monolingual Irish speaker gets tough justice for ‘refusing’ to speak English in court).

Back in the late 1980s a book entitled ‘The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures’ [1989] showed how the language and literature of the empire, English, was used by colonised peoples in the creation of a radical culture to aid their resistance to the hegemony of imperial power. However, now with many of his family dead, Feeney has ceased to be a Caliban profiting on the language of his masters and becomes a powerfully drawn hero who is uncompromising in his insistence that the Irish language and culture will be a respected equal to the imposed English language and culture of the colonists.

In the film the ruling class and their hierarchy of supporters are flush with food and the army is used to transport harvested crops to the coast and exportation. This fact is displayed symbolically when one of Feeney’s victims is literally ‘drowned’ in food, as he is found head first in a sack of wheat.

The international aspect of the Black 47 narrative hints at the geopolitics of the day with Feeney’s return from Afghanistan and the concurrent mass emigration to the United States from Ireland. Feeney’s indignation at finding out how his masters have treated his own family and compatriots as he risked his life for them abroad is similar to the treatment of the African-American soldiers of the Vietnam war on their return to the United States.

But this is not a black and white, Irish versus the Brits, movie. There is complexity as some of the British show empathy for the desperate Irish and pay the ultimate price or go on the run.
“Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more a man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” (Francis Bacon)
Black 47 is a revenge movie which is cathartic for an audience feeling the utter helplessness of the victims living in a brutal system without real justice, where what should have been their protectors (the law, the state, the army, etc.) became their attackers and betrayed them. In previous food crises, according to Christine Kenealy, the –
“Closure of ports was a traditional, short-term response to food shortages. It had been used to great effect during the subsistence crisis of 1782-4 when, despite the opposition of the grain merchants, ports had been closed and bounties offered to merchants who imported food to the country. During the subsistence crisis of 1799-1800, the government had placed a temporary embargo on the export of potatoes from Ireland. In 1816 and 1821, the British government had organised the shipment of grain into areas in the west of Ireland where there were food shortages. The grain was then sold on at low prices. Similar intervention and market regulation occurred in Britain.” [2]
Unfortunately for Ireland, Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886), a British civil servant and colonial administrator, was put in charge of administering famine relief. Trevelyan was a student of the economist Thomas Malthus and a believer in laissez faire economics and the free hand of the market. Trevelyan described the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God”. [3]


​Famine Memorial in Dublin by by artist Rowan Gillespie (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


With this change in attitude on the part of the British government towards food shortages, the crisis was doomed from the beginning. Kinealy states:
“In 1847 alone, the worst year of the Famine, almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the major ports of Britain, that is, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. Over half of these ships went to Liverpool, the main port both for emigration and for cargo.” [4]
Ultimately, one million people starved to death and one million emigrated reducing the population by about 20% – 25%.

Black 47 is an uncompromising film that depicts the harrowing results of a crop failure combined with an ultra exploitative system that knew no moral or legal boundaries. Sure, attempts were made by well-meaning people to alleviate the crisis but the failure of the state to end the crisis on a macro level resulted in an unprecedented disaster for the Irish people. It will go on general release in September.

Further research:
For those interested in finding out more about the Great Hunger, here is a select list of material covering different aspects.

Art
The preview showing of Black 47 was to complement a concurrent exhibtion of art in Dublin Castle showing at the Coach House Gallery until June 30. The exhibition, titled ‘Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger’, is an exhibition of the world’s largest collection of Famine-related art.
See this.

Belfast mural
Poetry
The full poem by Jane Wilde (Speranza, mother of Oscar Wilde), ‘The Famine Year (The Stricken Land)’ can be seen here.

Music
Sinéad O’Connor – ‘Famine’
Damien Dempsey – ‘Colony’
Christy Moore – ‘On a Single Day’

Books
The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith
The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan
The Graves are Walking by John Kelly
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine edited by J. Crowley, W. J. Smith and M.Murphy.
(Massive hardback volume covering almost all aspects of the famine throughout Ireland, lavishly illustrated.)
National Famine Commemoration Committee
The National Famine Commemoration Committee was first established in 2008 following a Government decision to commemorate the Great Irish Famine with an annual national famine memorial day. See this.

Film
Ireland 1848 – ‘An experimental documentary of the Great Irish Famine. Shot as a film might have been shot in 1848 fifty years before the cinema was invented.’
See this.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.


Notes

Remembering the Irish Easter Uprising

Remembering the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916 against the British Empire? The Art of Obfuscation



 
 
First published on March 30 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Irish Uprising. This Easter we commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the heroic Easter uprising of 1916.

It has been one hundred years since the heroic Easter uprising of the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) and the ICA (Irish Citizen Army) against the might of the British Empire in 1916.
The planning of the 2016 commemoration was thrust into the hands of the conservative Fine Gael/Labour government who would have been at least a bit uneasy about the potential for increasing the political support base for the more politically radical Sinn Féin. However, the problem of artistic representation of the events was at least partially resolved by the well-worn techniques used by successive conservative Irish governments over the years since the Easter Rising: mythologisation, diversion and counternarrative.

The fact that there is still no major monument representing the leaders of the 1916 rebellion in a realist or social realist style (unlike the sculptures of the constitutional nationalists Parnell and O’Connell that top and tail O’Connell St in the centre of Dublin city) is not just indicative of the passing of time and the change in artistic trends.


Social realism as an international movement arose out of a concern for the working class and the poor, and criticism of the social structures that kept them there. As an artistic style, social realism rejected conservative academic convention and the individualism and emotion of Romanticism. It became the chosen style of artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers and composers who wished to document and highlight the harsh realities of contemporary life.

In the context of 1916, artistic representation presented a political dilemma for elites. How do you portray events that essentially forged current political independence yet potentially could also destroy that power if the masses decided to bring its ideals to full fruition? The answer was to proceed tactically. Mythologisation allows for representation to be distanced from the actual events, diversion focuses attention on less important aspects of the events and counternarrative sets up alternative, less threatening or even completely oppositional views of the same events.



Mythologisation
It took until 1935 before a public monument to 1916 was unveiled. A bronze statue, The Death of Cuchulain, was at the centre of a public event which included a military parade, bands playing and trumpets from the rooftops. According toSighle Bhreathnach-Lynch in History Ireland:
Christian ideals, legend and revolutionary nationalism come together in the best known and most artistic of all 1916 monuments, the statue of Cu Chulainn [sculptor Oliver Shepherd] in the General Post Office, Dublin, headquarters of the Rising. It depicts the legendary hero of ancient Ireland bravely meeting death, having tied himself to a stone pillar to fight his foes to the last. Although originally modelled as an exhibition piece in 1914, before the Rising had taken place, it was subsequently deemed to be the most suitable symbol of the event partly because the Cú Chulainn legend was perceived by Patrick Pearse as embodying ‘a true type of Gaelic nationality, full as it is of youthful life and vigour and hope’. The religious feeling invoked by its similarity to the Pieta theme in the pose of the figure also coincided with Pearse’s own ideology which fused Christian ideals with revolutionary nationalism.
The linking of ‘Christian ideals with revolutionary nationalism’ was also apparent in the design of the Garden of Remembrance at the former Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square, a Georgian square at the northern end of O’Connell Street. The Garden of Remembrance was opened in 1966 on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising by the then President Éamon de Valera. The garden ‘is in the form of a sunken cruciform water-feature. Its focal point is a statue of the Children of Lir by Oisín Kelly, symbolising rebirth and resurrection, added in 1971.’ According to the myth, The Children of Lir were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother:
As swans, the children had to spend 300 years on Lough Derravaragh (a lake near their father’s castle), 300 years in the Sea of Moyle, and 300 years on the waters of Irrus Domnann Erris near to Inishglora Island (Inis Gluaire). To end the spell, they would have to be blessed by a monk. While the children were swans, Saint Patrick converted Ireland to Christianity.
It is interesting to note that the original design was to include ‘busts of prominent patriots in niches’ but while the proposal was approved ‘the project was deferred’ [p. 158].
The connection with Christian ideals also acted as anantidote to any left wing or secularist tendencies in the political movement which had long strived to avoid sectarian divisions:
For the IRB, Irish nationality had nothing to do with religion and nationality superseded all sectarian divisions. The question was Ireland against England, not Catholic against Protestant. It was defined not by blood or faith, but by commitment to this world view. In fact, several of the most prominent republicans of the early 20th century – notably Bulmer Hobson and Ernest Blythe, were Ulster Protestants.
This is particularly true of the ICA (Irish Citizen Army) which was set up in Dublin for the defence of worker’s demonstrations from the police. Seán O’Casey, the dramatist and socialist, was a member and wrote its constitution, ‘stating the Army’s principles as follows: “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland” and to “sink all difference of birth, property and creed under the common name of the Irish people”.’
The Christian emphasis has also been shown in the choice of Easter in March (a moveable feast) for the days of the 2016 commemoration rather than on 24–29 April, the actual dates for the Rising in 1916.

Diversion
Moving from sculpture to filmmaking, RTÉ (the national broadcaster) showed a five-part 1916 commemorative drama, Rebellion, set during the days surrounding the Easter Rising. There was much criticism of the minor roles played by the leaders of the Rising with the main emphasis on fictional characters instead.  As one commentator noted:
Colin Teevan [the writer] made the ambitious choice to have the fictional characters as the main dramatic drivers, while the Rising’s familiar protagonists operate on the sidelines. […] Brian McCardie, with the Edinburgh burr of James Connolly, makes one dramatic entrance; Countess Markievicz (Camille O’Sullivan) gets just a single, hammy scene.
Another commentator wrote:
1: Key Characters Were Not Brought Convincingly To Life. One of the pivotal scenes in the final episode was the execution by firing squad of James Connolly. Yet the socialist leader had been thinly-sketched and viewers will have greeted his death with a shrug. We never really knew him – why did we care that he was gone? And did RTE have to slap a Six Nation countdown in the corner as he was sent to his maker? Historians will also surely quibble with the portrayal of De Valera as fascist sociopath.
Éamon Ó Cúiv (a Fianna Fáil member of parliament) described the portrayal of his grandfather Éamonn De Valera, one of the leaders, as an “embarrassment”:
There is no basis at all for the representation of Éamonn de Valera or of the common perception of him at the time on the programme Rebellion. It was entirely made up and it’s an embarrassment to RTÉ to spend public money – and they spent a lot of it – on this type of programme and not give a truthful portrayal of real, historical people – including Markievicz, Pearse and de Valera.
Counternarrative
Most controversial of all in this centenary commemoration was the choice of Henry Grattan, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond for four large portrait banners which Dublin City Council hung to the front of the Bank of Ireland on College Green for the duration of the Easter Rising commemoration period. While three of these constitutional nationalists come from different times, John Redmond had encouraged thousands of Irishmen to join the British Army and fight in the Great War. He ‘lateracknowledged that the Rising was a shattering blow to his lifelong policy of constitutional action. It equally helped fuel republican sentiment, particularly when General Maxwell executed the leaders of the Rising, treating them as traitors in wartime.’
The presence of Redmond on such a prominent banner drew the ire of an activist group called Misneach who stated that they ‘drew over Redmond’s face last night in a protest against “revisionist propaganda”. The group said it painted the figure 35,000 on the banner to represent the number of Irish people estimated to have died during World War I.’

Changing times
Such actions against the counternarrative and the popularity of the commemorations show that the consciousness of the 1916 ideals are alive and well in the general populace. A similar consciousness among cultural creators in Ireland, dealing directly with the many social, economic and political problems in Ireland today will go a long way towards reaching those ideals.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes (http://gaelart.net/). His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.