Friday, 28 July 2017

Pre op

Softly now. Softly.
Turn the dial.
Great toe gone.
Two: foetid; necrotic.
Three: challenged; purple.
Four: sunset red; could it survive?
Five: viable; could it be left alone?
Softly now.
Oil the saw.
Check the notches in the blade.
Ache for healing.


Thursday, 6 July 2017


The guarded affirmation of a national voice speaking through Philip Roth’s writing eludes me.

I baulk at his end-line:
the rich native tongue of which I am possessed
Writers in Ireland, including mono-linguists, live in proximity to a language – Irish, Gaelic, Erse, Celtic – often controversially described as a ‘language of the dispossessed’, which complicates the voice of the writer so that the strength of assertion that Philip Roth can muster is elusive.
Certainly a great slew of magnificent Hiberno-English writings, from voices across social, geographical and religious locales, have been heard from Ireland.
Would Louis MacNeice, Thomas McCarthy, Maeve Binchy and Eavan Boland, all writing in English in the 20th century, each hold to an assertion of being an Irish writer in the manner in which Philip Roth asserts he is, above all other divisors of ethnicity, social class, religion and parish, an American writer?
Perhaps a nation requires American gigantism; perhaps it needs to occupy a high position in the pyramid of national measures, from a base of ‘occupied’ to an apex of ‘free’, in order for its writers to hold such a view of themselves.
Held up to closer inspection, perhaps it is possible to ring-fence the multiplicity of voices writing in America into one great corral that is that federation of states which were welded together by a model of economic development so intense it took the furnace of an horrific internal war to re-define a brutal form of enslavement and to open the way for increasing waves of European immigrants to industrialise the plains and cities of the mid- and far west.
That certain writers’ voices, and Philip Roth’s is one of them, can soar above their own particularity and glide upon the rising thermals of a national voice, is no doubt possible. Jose Saramago is a Portuguese writer? Yes? Nadine Gordimer is a South African writer? Yes? James Joyce is an Irish writer? Or is he?
He wrote marvellously in the ‘rich native tongue’ of which he was possessed, as dynamically and creatively as Philip Roth, ironically for both of them and for us, their readers, in a close cousin of each others English which superseded and fully absorbed the indigenous languages it encountered.
Would Philip Roth say he was an American writer if he wrote in Yiddish? Or Hebrew? Or in Lenape, a language of the swamps and coastal plains along the Delaware River basin, around which the industrialised urban sprawl of New Jersey grew?
If James Joyce wrote in Irish any question as to his being an Irish writer would be superfluous. But would he be read? And so lauded?
A conjecture then, on languages and contingency in Ireland and America:
Demographic changes consistent with Philip Roth’s description of the American Dream as ‘radical impermanence’ indicate that, in the future, writers in America may possess American-Spanish as their ‘rich native tongue'. Historically, a 16th century war between Spain and England ended in Ireland in 1588 with an armada of Spanish warships floundering on the western coasts of the island, where sailors and soldiers scrambled ashore to survival with or slaughter by the locals.
The conjecture suggests that had the armada succeeded, James Joyce would have written his great works in Spanish, as an Irish writer.
We write in the languages we grow up in. Philip Roth says as much. I write in English because I grew up in it. I write in Irish because I possess it (and it possesses me) as a post-historical contingency. I grew up in English because the Spanish armada sank and English became the language that supplanted Irish and many other languages across the world. As did Spanish.
Readers are fortunate to have the works of Philip Roth in American-English. We would be equally fortunate to have his work were he writing in American-Spanish, but that’s for a future time, perhaps, for a post-Roth time, indeed for a time that may never come to pass.
And we are fortunate to have James Joyce, Jennifer Johnston, Roddy Doyle, Polly Devlin, Patrick MacGill, John Hewitt, Emma Donoghue – readers can make their own lists – who are Irish writers, however fragile and contested such a declaration and a designation may be.
Or are we to speak as poet Michael Hartnett did, bi-lingual and restive – what writer isn’t? - who asserted that English was ‘the perfect language to sell pigs in’ when he proclaimed his Farewell to English?
Wrestling with the contingencies of our time and place determines us as writers and designates the assertions we make about our voices, our sense of where our expressive acts sit and the national and other carapaces under which they shelter.

Ronda, 7.6.2017

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Two fledgling ideas by Dave Duggan, dramatist and novelist, June 2017, written as aspirations.

Maker's Money (MM) is targeted investment in entry level artists of all ages, by Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC), so they can make art. This ensures the benefit of arts and culture to individuals, while ensuring maximum community benefit, value for money and public support. It assists the future recognition of the artists, their work and its value. It enables artists to begin careers as practitioners in the district council area. The investment delivers equality, strengthens the economy, contributes to the growth of the artistic workforce (a vital element in the creative sector), enhances the tourism offer and heartens us all, thus improving health and wellbeing.
Like all investments, it is not without risk. Making this investment in a confident manner, however, will enable artists, in particular new ones, to respond actively and make work across all artistic forms. Application and reporting can be minimal and not arduously administrative for the artist as sole trader. The investment programme should be considered as long-term. Details would require working up, but, in outline, could include:

- An investment period of five years, 2017/8-2022/3;
- an investment pot of £5, 000 per year, allocated as £2, 500 each for two individual artists per year, no artist being eligible for two Maker's Money investments;
- the total investment to be £25, 000 over five years, at which time it would be reviewed;
- application is a one page statement of what the artist intends to make in the Derry and Strabane District Council area, supported by a brief cv of work previously made. Receipts to confirm the investment has been received into the artist's bank account, in staged payments, are the only written reporting required;
- the individual investment to be made in stages: £1, 000 on signing up; another £1, 000 on a successful six-month review interview and the final £500 at a successful conclusion, all within 18 months. Definitions as to what constitutes ‘success’ to be agreed and contracted at the time of the award.

The programme budget of £25, 000 over five years can be allocated as part of the Council’s overall budget in allocation models as used by Invest NI and the Strategic Investment Board. Consideration can also be given to funds secured by the National Crime Agency in the form of 'assets recovered'. This investment programme would not replace SIAP funding offered by The Arts Council (ACNI).

In enabling artists to buy time to make work using this investment, the vision is to offer artists an equal opportunity to achieve their aspirations and ambitions, while tackling social exclusion of artists in a manner that tackles wider exclusions in society by new, imaginative works and acts. The theme of cultural togetherness is made manifest when a society confidently invests in makers who use their imagination and skills to make the work they wish to make. These artists contribute to their own and society's wellbeing through rich cultural expression, rooted in this place and reaching far beyond it. 

THE WRITING DISTRICT (TWD) is a designation and a programme by Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) that enables expression and storying through imaginative writing from adults across the district. TWD asserts that the act of writing in all its forms is a defining characteristic of the district, creating healthy citizens, a wealth of written stories and texts with social and historical benefits and contributing to the tourism offer by making the region a fascinating place, where visitors can see and experience artistic production through writing.

TWD is about writing, not writers, in the first instance. Writing in the work-place, at leisure settings, in families, in social and religious groups, on buses, in taxis, bars and cafés, at the park, the sports field and the gym, at festivals of jazz, film, Christmas and Halloween. TWD animates the district with writing.

People in the district, like people all over the world, have stories to tell. TWD creates opportunities for those stories to be written. People in the district have expressions to make. TWD creates opportunities for those expressions to be written.

The written works, sometimes very short, become public, as the person writing decides, via blogs, twitter accounts, emails, pages in the district's newspapers and magazines, dedicated sheets, pamphlets and billboards, readings, books, recordings, websites and all other platforms imaginable.

The principle outcome is a vibrant and lively district with texts and stories, poems and lyrics, sketches and scenes, memories and speculations written by people in the district, shared by people in the district and beyond, so that the district becomes known by its writing. It becomes The Writing District.

Another outcome of TWD is that a small number of people may wish to enter the writing industry. TWD would assist with information, advice, mentoring and pathways into the industry, across all forms, so that those people may become writers in formal and industrial senses.

A one year pilot programme and associated projects for TWD takes place in 2018. On review and adjustment, the designation and activities are rolled out for five years, then reviewed once more.

©Dave Duggan, June 2017

Friday, 23 June 2017


Teresa May dreamed it would come to this. With the foresight of the truly fretful politician, she invoked the mythic links between Toryism and Unionism in her speech on the day she became leader of her party and the unelected prime minister of her country. She avowed, in that waking dream, that she was both conservative and unionist. Now, following a near-defeat in her first election in charge, she relies on those links to hold on to power.
She is assailed on all sides. Even her allies in the right-wing tabloids tentatively sound out Boris Johnson's intentions. Colleagues deny any credible leadership challenge is building and yet, voices query the deal she has brokered with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland. It is difficult to put a good gloss on such a desperate scrabble to hold on to power, which increasingly looks like nothing more than a cack-handed attempt to make up the numbers.
She is also assailed by an opposition buoyed up by their near-victory. Jeremy Corbyn, the perpetual dissenter, led a leftward swing in London and elsewhere that surprised some and heartened many.
Pollsters currently compute the gap between the two parties with slide-rule micrometers.
Arrangements between the Conservatives (Tories) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are on a ‘confidence and supply' basis. Another such deal, between Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael government in the Republic of Ireland, is tottering under the weight of the appointment of a judge to the Court of Appeal.
What exactly will be supplied by the DUP is far from clear and how much confidence any member of the Conservative Party, not to mind a general subject of the Kingdom, can have in such a deal is still open to question. What is clear is that differences between the parties on so-called ‘social issues’, such as abortion, equal marriage and gay rights, will be difficult to reconcile. A number of Tories fear that moves made under David Cameron, their leader prior to Teresa May, to perceptively liberalise the party brand, thus modernising it, will be set back by associating it with a party founded by fundamentalist Christians and which is currently beset by scandal, notably in relation to a renewable energy scheme that is costing millions to the Northern Ireland public purse. There are also awkward relationships and connections with boards and chief executives in community organisations evidently linked to loyalist paramilitaries. The sight of DUP MPs parading in full regalia in this summer’s Orange parades, alongside bands with displays of loyalist associations, could knock back the confidence in any deal, regardless of what is beign supplied.
One of the most significant casualties in the electoral gamble called by Teresa May and her now side-lined advisors, Ross and Hill, is the authority of the right-wing tabloid press, such as The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express. The readership numbers of those tabloids remain high but fewer and fewer people appear to have faith in their proclamations. How do you believe in readership numbers of newspapers frequently given away as a free-sheet at domestic airports?
Spare your concern and pity for the sidelined advisors. Sufficient information has entered the public domain, as part of their ritual scapegoating, to make clear that they are simply the personification of the Tory ideology that monetises and privatises every human function, including social care of the infirm, the needy and the elderly, by hoovering their assets into the market-place. Margaret Thatcher invited subjects into the property market many years ago with the promise that, as home owners, they would be rich, or, if not rich, then, at least, they would be able to pretend they were sovereign players in the market and not simply in debt to the mortgage-dealers.
What will be come of the dreams of Teresa May? Three conjectures then:
Firstly, The Democratic Unionist Party will strain under the pressures to be powerful in both London and Belfast. It will fare better in the Irish city than in the English one, where it is privately reviled by members of the party with which it concluded the one billion pound deal.
Secondly, Teresa May will vacate the role of party leader, ideally by a process of consent, but that will depend on how soon the UK is tipped into another election (pencil the 19th of October into your diary). If the election comes quicker, she will be ousted by it.
Thirdly, Boris Johnson will not become leader, no matter how shrilly the headline writers and editorialists in The Daily Mail bleat. He is too firmly associated with the hard Brexit ideology, with its unfounded assertions of stability and strength that became the quicksand that mired Teresa May.
Will the lives of people be improved by any of this? Will the rapacious forces of casino-capitalism, avid for currency speculation, property capture and resource exploitation, be changed a jot?
Perhaps the tentative stirrings generated by Jeremy and the Corbynistas, fresh from their wow-fest gig at Glastonbury, will produce a fruitful outcome – a victory in the coming election – thereby putting the chequebook in the hand of the bearded sexagenarian, who sang The Internationale on the night of his election as Labour Party leader and who now strolls in the warmth of a London summer, resplendent in his modest white linen jacket, on his way to sup a cappuccino in the shade.
For both May and Corbyn the old saw that it is ‘events, dear boy, events’, as offered by a previous Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, that blow politicians and their dreams off course still resonates. The conflagration at the tower block in Ladbroke Grove, one of the poorer parts of the Borough of Kensington, set a blaze under the crushing inequalities that characterise life in London and all metropolises. It turned Teresa May’s dreams of power into nightmares of human tragedy and loss.

Ronda, June 2017

Friday, 16 June 2017

Are digital technologies making politics impossible?

An edited version of a failed entry for the 2017 Nine Dots Prize.
The winner of the prize is James Williams.

Are digital technologies making politics impossible?

Yes. No. Maybe, but only if the multitude of citizens let that be the case.
Current political macro-narratives converge through short-termism – asphyxiating rather than life-giving – into a globalisation that fails to deliver progress in the lives of citizens. This can be faced down by a multiplicity of micro-narratives integrating digital technologies into an eminently possible politics in the long-term service of equality among citizens.
The power needed for this endeavour – for when politics is redesigned, the primary tool is power – will develop from a burgeoning discourse of dissent, based in a thorough-going critique of the binary-bias of digital and other technologies, both contemporary and historic, thus making for an eminently possible politics.
These are language matters, both the question and the answers and the arguments they generate. An historical grounding tracks the Cartesian worldview into contemporary politics, where the reliance on a simple 1/0, on-off view, is wholly inadequate to a possible politics in times of great complexity and accelerating change.
Common understandings vary and change over time and place as to what digital technologies are. A narrow view focuses on social media and computer technologies, including current ones such as facebook, on-line search engines, Instagram, snapchat and twitter. New ones are imminent. To answer this question, such a narrow view will be broadened into elements beyond social media as manifestations of digital technologies and into areas of human endeavour where binary philosophies bring the digits 1/0 to bear and challenge politics daily.
A discourse of dissent enables an approach to making politics possible and progressively successful, served by digital technologies, rather than in thrall to them.

Are digital technologies making politics impossible? Yes.
A binary orientation, an on/off paradigm, impinges on all fields of human activity, thus all aspects of politics. For example, the rate of corporation tax is an on/off switch governments use to seduce global capital to come to rest as on/off marks on digital machines. The Ireland/Apple story is a telling example of digital technologies making fiscal governance impossible. Though all countries use the binary on/off tax rate switch as a vital political tool, it is an ironic instance of the hypocrisy at the heart of current financial practices. Citizens witness the shimmying of electronic impulses on machines as money and wonder at the actual meaning of wealth. Already the binary 'corporate tax rate switch' is trumpeted as a foundation of Trumpconomics, where the market is the driver and continues to value goods and financial instruments sellable on a short-term basis and little else. At the heart of this economic activity are new consumer digital technologies, data-laden, distracting, wisdom-deficient and generated by the drive to monetise everything.
To bet/to fold is another binary choice. Digital technologies enable an explosion in gambling in seemingly virtual money, echoing John Maynard Keynes:
Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.
Problems created by ourselves, not by digital technologies, are rooted in the market/government binary, where global business corporations erode the authority of social power structures in dealing with problems such as climate change controversies and the increasing insecurity citizens experience in the enterprise/speculation binary of casino-capitalism.
For an instance of digital technologies making politics impossible, consider the alleged hacking by Russian agents that affected the US Presidential election. All the key words of power, govern and truth are invoked, such that the outcome of a very close election is influenced by a digital technology action that maims the wishes of the voting public, rendering politics impossible. Impossible, yes, while still occurring. Politics are changing and remarkable consistencies persist. The Trump/May era eerily echoes the Reagan/Thatcher era.
In the field of digital technologies, we experience an acceleration of the presence of machines (smart (?) fridges) and processes in all aspects of our lives. We witness a convergence of devices, driven by consumption/entertainment, rather than debate/fairness, affirming spectacle rather than experience, such that citizens' sense of power and control is diminished.
Power does not reside in states alone. It resides in corporations, that are fluid and convergent, hierarchical and rapacious, driven by short-termism and financial profit. Corporations own the digital technologies, developed in close conjunction with the militaries in the Great Powers: USA, Russia, China and Europe, with Israel, Pakistan and North Korea as attendant players in research, development, sales and deployment. International relations themselves are presented in binary fashion, offering macro-narratives of great powers paired off against each other. The on/off political technology switch approach once again makes politics impossible.
This runs deeper than software and connectedness. It is a hardware matter, wired into the way the world works, long before the current acceleration of digital technologies based on the binary number system.
The world is hard-wired into binaries, based on body/mind, as critiqued by Daniel C. Dennett:
the persuasive imagery of the Cartesian Theater keeps coming back to haunt us—laypeople and scientists alike—even after its ghostly dualism has been denounced and exorcized.
The world is working through the latest stage in the Future Shock described by Alvin Toffler. The next stage may be more cataclysmic, as the rate of change accelerates and the lead-time for new technologies tightens. Built-in obsolescence is a daily reality, not a social science myth, since speculation rather than enterprise, as described by Keynes, became applicable to retail and all market activities.
It also now applies to the social order and to the way politics is outpaced by digital technologies. It affects us at species level, in reproductive science, and thus in our gender identity, creating new challenges to our efforts to explain the world to ourselves. These are language problems. We do not have the words yet and, what words we have, we struggle to string together cogently.
Politics is the binary technology we use when we address matters that impoverish us. Perhaps the greatest binary, the zero-sum 1/0 that most bedevils us, is haves/haves not, as an accelerating experience of inequality makes politics impossible.
The most chilling digital on/off, is the thesis of political technology that asserts that science and technology will solve all problems, including political ones, using a commitment to limitless economic growth while exploiting natural resources. Wolfgang Streeck writes
Capitalism promises infinite growth of commodified material wealth in a finite world, by conjoining itself with modern science and technology, making capitalist society the first industrial society,....
It's all 1s and 0s and the sums do not add up. Ones and zeros do not enumerate the complexity citizens experience and yet digital technologies permeate all aspects of their lives. And make politics impossible.
The world is disabled from responding to the challenges of climate change. Scientists dispute scientific results and become climate change deniers. The environmental catastrophe poisoning the planet rests upon the 1/0 digits of economic growth and climate change and their connectedness. Simple binaries, bound together by data not wisdom, compromise our capacity to control personal information and protect our private lives. The sense pervades us that we are under the control of anonymous digital powers, which, though seemingly varied, are actually convergent. These powers do not rely on direct violence. They wield extensive and intensive pressure that ultimately force individual's lives into a monetised disconnectedness.
Yes, digital technologies make politics impossible.

Are digital technologies making politics impossible? No.
When Alvin Toffler was asked why he wrote Future Shock in 1970 he said he felt that the US government was blind to large technological and social changes. These changes included a sexual/biological revolution (the birth control pill); globalisation at a human level (commercial jet travel); the information tsunami rolling out (television universalised). He said:
.. change was going to accelerate and that the speed of change could induce disorientation in lots of people.
This disorientation leads to the experience of impossibility in politics.
Yet politics continues, and, as it were, what we experience today, is simply politics as is (the case). It is not digital technologies making politics impossible. No. It is us.

Are digital technologies making politics impossible? Maybe, but only if the multitude of citizens, let that be the case.
BBC Panorama journalist, Declan Lawn said:
The problem is that we are getting worse at going against the dominant consensus. Fewer and fewer of us are anti-authoritarian enough and difficult enough to go with our gut and challenge the narrative. These days journalists are not rewarded for being difficult. A culture does not exist in which a journalist can render an alternative narrative without being dismissed as a loonie leftie or an alt-right conspiracy theorist.
This is a plea for a discourse of dissent.
It was ever thus, where change and uncertainty are the given order, amplified in today's circumstances of faux news, such as appears on the website Waterford Whispers News (WWN), where spoofing and dissenting ring together, in a digital world that makes beneficial politics possible. Maybe.
I argue that false news can be a manifestation of dissent. Referring to news as 'fake' now presumes that all news before the digital era was 'true'. We are not naïve enough to accept that.
The digital behemoth Amazon wonders how many of its on-line customer reviews of books/films/products are fake. Perhaps this is the next thrust forward in human development, whereby our imaginations are emboldened to dissent from knowledge/facts/truth presented to us by such corporations, residing in the binary form: we know/you don't.
The automatic link between digital technologies and progress needs to face the 'hang on a minute' moment of stern critical address, from a discourse of dissent, which develops multiplicities rather than binaries, such as Tory/Labour, China/USA, 1/0. The 'hang on a minute' discourse can be applied, as a critical language tool, for instance, in financial affairs, to ask the question how might the word 'profit' be re-launched to include below the line costs, public and environmental costs when private enterprise speculates its way to profits. It can also test faux news.
The pace bursts Alvin Toffler's speedometer, as change proceeds with ferocious acceleration, constantly outstripping citizens' capacity for thought and action. Thus the difficulty digital technologies pose to politics.
Might history offer us some hope. At the end of the Second World War, a number of cosmopolitan institutions emerged; the IMF, UN, World Bank and the start of the EU, which, though massively flawed, brought a leavening of humane values into world affairs.
Can we, with full awareness of the ironies involved as Brexit comes to pass, invoke the EU Maastrict Treaty concept of 'subsidiarity', whereby power devolves to levels close to where their impacts are, in an urge for proximity? Not easy. Consider another digital behemoth, Google, and the efforts by Duck Duck Go to push against it by offering a less invasive search engine. Not easy. Can we seek possibilities in multitudes, such as the push-back by people in India when Facebook attempted to 'be' the internet there?
We need more such multitudes, people who share the fact of their existence and close aspirations of well-being for themselves and loved ones. The term 'multitude' has a history reaching back to antiquity, but took off as a political concept when it was espoused by the likes of Machiavelli and Spinoza. A multitude does not enter into a social contract with a sovereign political elite, rather that contract is itself a multiplicity in perpetual negotiation, always in the direction of power disseminating, and that includes digital technologies, which are material and social-practice sites of corporate power. This is much more than share-holder democracy. It is a post-digital political technology such that individuals retain the capacity for political self-determination.
We are beyond chaos theories here. We are on carousels rather than seesaws; in perpetual motion rather than in the binary balance, which offers an elite 1 and the rest 0.
It is never the fault of technologies. It is our ownership and use of them.
A multitude of sources – Éluard, Rilke, EM Cioran, Derek Mahon, Patrick White, Octavio Paz and many others – are cited for multiple versions of the lines:
There is another world,
And this is it.
The answer to the question of digital technologies and a possible politics rests in our hands.

Conclusions. Beyond 1/0 and onto irrational multiples.
Now is the time to move on from the binary system. Like number systems of the past, it has out run its usefulness. It is inadequate to the philosophical, political and digital challenges of the day. The problems we face are ill-defined, thus we are less than clear what the question really is, with even less an idea of what the solution might look like. These are days of the primacy of process, with all the uncertainties that brings. We can relish them and move past the urge for security offered by binaries. They are chimera, readily manipulated by oligarchs. We can change our relationship with digital technologies, from a posture of thrall to an agency of use.
For politics to be possible now and into the future, a leavening of dissent needs to be present. We need citizens who say 'hang on a minute' and just plain 'no' when proposals are presented. The automatic assumption of congruence between betterment (progress) and digital technologies is a binary fallacy. Be it 5G, 6G, 7G or beyond, telecommunications, other digital technologies and politics, are best served by citizens asking “hang on a minute. Who benefits?”
We can imagine our way past 1s and 0s, such as Government/Market. When it comes to broadband for rural areas “the market will only take you so far, it then falls to government”, according to an OfCom spokesperson. Other binaries need re-enumerated: urban/rural; private loss/public cost; governors/governed. Make your own list.
It is not simply digits. It is all numbers, rational and irrational. It is language. New.
Beyond the digital.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017


on the occasion of his naming, 29.5.2017

There is a piece of Gaelic wisdom which goes
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
It translates to English as
Praise the young and they will flourish.
Dá bhrí sin, molaim Arlo agus tiochfaidh sé.
Thus, I praise Arlo and he will flourish,
Mar atá sé tagtha go dtí an lá seo
As he has flourished to this day.

Molaim Zoe agus Briain agus tiochfaidh siadsan.
I praise Zoe and Brian and they will flourish.

Agus sinne, fosta. Comhluadar Arlo.
And us, too. Arlo’s family and company.
Molaim muidne agus tiochfaidh muid. Le Arlo.
I praise us and we will flourish. With Arlo.

Speech at Theatre Conference/ Comhdháil : May/Bealtaine 2017

Comhdháil Aisling Ghéar: Bealtaine 2017
Aisling Ghéar Conference: May 2017
Claochlú agus Drámaíocht na Gaeilge /Theatre and Transformation

Maidin mhaith. Is mise Dave Duggan, drámadóir is úrscéalaí lánaimseartha as Doire, cathair atá céad ciliméadar níos faide siar ó thuaidh uainn anseo.

Good morning. I’m Dave Duggan, a dramatist and novelist from Derry, a city one hundred kilometres further north-west of us here.

Tá péire dráma scríofa agam faoi choimisiún ag Aisling Ghéar. Scríobh mé GRUAGAIRÍ, a léiríodh sa bhliain dhá mhíle is a seacht. Shaothraigh sin gradam ón Stewart Parker Trust dom. Dráma greannmhar é ina gcothaíonn daoine óga cumarsáid ghnó, grá agus gruaim.

I’ve written two plays under commission by Aisling Ghéar. I wrote GRAUGAIRÍ, which they produced in two thousand and seven. That garnered a Stewart Parker Trust award for me. It’s a comedy drama in which young people develop business, love and morose relationships.

Sa bhliain dhá mhíle is a cheathar déag, scríobh mé dráma ficsean eolaíochta, MAKARONIK, dráma ina bhfuil grá agus bagairt ag ciapadh na gcarachtar in ionad sonraí san am atá amach romhainn. Bhí a chéad oíche ag MAKARONIK anseo, in amharclann an Lyric, mar chuid de Fhéile Bhéal Féirste Ollscoil na Banríona. Rinne Aisling Ghéar jab den scoth leis na léiriúcháin sin agus thug siad ar camcuairt ar fud na tíre iad.

In two thousand and fourteen, I wrote a science fiction play, MAKARONIK, in which love and threats torment the characters in a data centre of the future. MAKARONIK had its first night on this stage, at The Lyric Theatre, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens. Aisling Ghéar did a fine job with the productions and took them on tour across the country.

Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo agus gabhaim mo bhuíochas le Bríd Ó Gallachóir is lena comrádaithe as an chuireadh a thabhairt dom machnamh a dhéanamh ar cheisteanna suimiúla a bhíonn liom agus mé i mbun oibre go laethúil.

I’m delighted to be here and I thank Bríd Ó Gallachóir and her colleagues for the invitation to give some thought to interesting questions that are with me when I undertake my daily work.

Maidir leis na ceisteanna ar mhol Aisling Ghéar dul i ngleic leo, seo an chéad cheann.

As to the questions Aisling Ghéar recommend we engage with, here’s the first one.
1. An gníomh polaitiúil é drámaíocht phroifisiúnta na Gaeilge?
1. Is professional theatre in Irish a political act?

Is é. Cinnte. Go dearfach. Gan aon dabht. Ar an gcéad dul síos mar gur gníomh polaitiúil é tabhairt faoi dhrámaíocht de chineál ar bith, i dteanga ar bith, fiú saothar iomlán 'trádálach' mar a fheictear ar stáitsí éagsúla an West End i Londain, abair.

It is. Yes. Definitely. Without a doubt. In the first instance, because making any form of theatre is itself a political act, in any language, even work that is wholly commercial, as is seen on various stages in the West End in London, for example.

Mar a dúirt George Bernard Shaw tráth: Sé an dráma an ealaíon is poiblí dá bhfuil againn.

As George Bernard Shaw once said: Theatre is our most public art.

Dá bhrí sin, cinnte gur gníomh polaitiúil é drámaíocht phroifisúnta Ghaeilge a chur ar an stáitse agus ní amháin mar go bhfuil an teanga í fhéin conspóideach, dar le roinnt daoine ar fud na tíre, chan amháin anseo, sa tuaisceart.

Thus putting professional Irish theatre on the stage is a political act and not only because the language is controversial, according to some people across the country, not only here, in the north.

Aon uair a deireann ealaíontóirí go bhfuil siad chun scéal a chur os comhair an phobail, ar stáitse agus i bhfoirm amharclainne, tá siad ag baint usáide as traidisiún ársa atá forleathan sa domhan, i bhfoirmeacha eagsúla.

Any time artists decide to put a story before a public, on stage and in a theatrical manner, they are drawing on an ancient tradition that is widespread in the world, in a variety of forms.

Seans gurb é an cine daonna a mhair sna pluaiseanna a thosaigh an drámaíocht, mar a thuigeann muidne é. Samhlaigh anois: An seilg thart. An béile ite. An tine lasta. Achan duine, idir óg is aosta, compordach agus sásta sa phluais. Ansin, cuireann duine ceist ar an té a mharaigh an fia atá ite acu. Insítear an scéal. Seans nach é an sealgaire a insíonn an scéal. Duine eile. Bean b’fhéidir, a bhfuil buanna ar leith aici. Is breá leis na héisteoirí an teanga, an cur síos agus an fhoirm. Codlaíonn na héisteoirí níos fearr, béile breá ina mboilg agus íomhánna ón scéal mar bhrionglóid ina suan.

It was possibly the humans that lived in the caves that started theatre, as we understand it. Imagine now: the hunt completed. The meal eaten. The fire alight. Everybody, young and old, comfortable and satisfied in the cave. Then, someone questions the person who killed the deer they’ve all eaten. The story is told. It’s possibly not the hunter who tells the story. Another person. Perhaps a woman, with particular gifts. The listeners enjoy the language, the descriptions and the form. The listeners sleep better, a fine meal in their bellies and images from the story as dreams in their slumbers.

Sa gheimhreadh, tagann géarchéim agus níl an seilg comh saibhir is a bhí sé. Anois an scéal ag an bhean, is cuimhne é. Éisteann an dream sa phluais. Seasann fear amháin agus déanann sé aithris ar an scéal le haicsean agus geáitsaíocht agus cora. Anois tá scéal na seilge i bhfoirm dráma. Splancann an tine agus feictear scáthanna an fhir ar na ballaí. Tá scannán againn.

A crisis comes in the winter and the hunt is not so fruitful. Now the story is a memory. The crowd listens in the cave. A man stands and he mimes the telling with action, gestures and turns. Now the story of the hunt is a play. Sparks fly up from the fire and shadows of the man are on the walls. We have a film.

Sin an traidisiún ina bhfuil muidne ag saothrú. Gníomh ar bith ina bhfuil pobal agus maireachtáil i gceist is gníomh polaitiúil é. Agus maidir leis an Ghaeilge, cinnte tá pobal agus maireachtáil i gceist.

That’s the tradition in which we are working. Any act in which people and survival are in question is a political act. And, in regard to Irish, people and survival are certainly in question.

Ceist a dó, mar sin.

Question two, then.
2. An bhfuil drámaíocht i dteanga ar bith ábalta dul i bhfeidhm ar phobal?
2. Is theatre in any language capable of influencing people?

Tá an ábaltacht sin ag drámaíocht, ach caithfidh muid bheith réadúil faoi.

Theatre has that capacity, but we have to be realistic about it.

Tosaím le huimhreacha. Samhlaigh seo: dráma de mo chuidse, The Shopper and the Boy, míle naoi chéad nócha seacht. Samhlaigh arís: mise agus beirt aisteoir in halla ar imeall Ros Liath, ar bhruach abhainn na Finne, chóir a bheith ar an teorainn idir Tuaisceart Éireann agus Poblacht na hÉireann. Ochtar san halla.
Bhí teannas ar leith sa sráidbhaile an tseachtain sin, maidir le morshiúl a bhí le teacht, ag deireadh shéasúr na mórshiúlta. Arbh fhiú dúinn dul ar aghaidh le dráma ina bhfuil an mórshiúl céanna mar théama ann?

I begin with numbers. Imagine this: a play of mine, The Shopper and The Boy, nineteen hundred and ninety seven. Imagine again: me and two actors in a hall on the edge of Roslea, beside the river Finn, practically on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are eight people in the hall. There was a special tension in the village that week, because of a march that was to come, at the end of a season of marching. Was it worthwhile to proceed with the play, which had the same marches as a theme?

An beart a rinneamar ná dul ar aghaidh, i ndiaidh an cheist a phlé leis na daoine a thug an cuireadh dúinn bheith ann. Bhí na haisteoirí toilteanach dul ar aghaidh. Daoine proifisiúnta, díograiseacha is ea iad. An teannas a bhí sa sráidbhaile, bhí sé linne san halla. Bhí an teannas os comhair an lucht féachana, idir na carachtair ar an stáitse agus idir na carachtair agus an sochaí ina raibh siad tumtha.

We decided to proceed, after discussing the question with the people who invited us to be there. The actors were willing to proceed. They are peerless professionals. The same tension that was in the village was with us in the hall. That tension was presented to the audience, between the characters on stage and between the characters and the society in which they were immersed.

Ag an deireadh, bhí sé soiléir go ndeachaigh an dráma i bhfeidhm ar an lucht féachana, leis na léirmheasanna a thug siad dom. Bhí spás faighte acu le hábhar conspóideach a mheabhrú. Chuala siad teanga úr, teanga fhileata agus dhrámatúil, neamh-réadúil, le hathbhreathnú a dhéanamh ar argóint domhan. Bhí próisis phríobháideacha agus phoiblí ar siúl i measc phobal an tsráidbhaile agus, anois, bhí taithí chomhchoitianta acu. Sea, grúpa beag de mhuintir na háite, ach daoine gafa go smior sna fadhbanna ab ea iad.

It was clear, at the end, that the play had affected the audience, given the reviews they gave me. They had enjoyed a space to consider controversial matters. They heard new language, language that was poetic, dramatic and non-realistic, in order to re-assess a deep argument. A shared experience was added to public and private processes that were underway among the people in the village. Yes, a small group of the local people, but people deeply engaged with the matter.

Ceist maidir le huimhreacha. Ochtar? Arbh fhiú é?

A question about numbers. Eight? Was it worth it?

Ag cloí le huimhreacha. An dráma raidió is déanaí liomsa, bhí sé sa bhliain dhá mhíle is a trí déag, ar BBC Raidio a Ceathair. Bhí cúpla réalt i measc na foirne – Amanda Burton agus Bronagh Gallagher. Dúirt an léiritheor liom gur éist cúig mhilliún duine leis. Sin uimhir. An ndeachaigh an dráma i bhfeidhm orthu? Cén dóigh?

Sticking with numbers. My most recent radio drama, in two thousand and thirteen, was on BBC Radio 4. There were a couple of stars in the cast – Amanda Burton and Bronagh Gallagher. The producer told me that five million people heard it. That’s a number. Did it influence them? How?

Rith smaoineamh liom, maidir leis na samplaí sin agus an taithí atá agam le scannáin agus teilifís, sa saothar s’agamsa: ní aon iontas dom go bhfuil drámadóirí ag díriú fuinnimh ar an raidió agus an scáileán seachas an stáitse. Ach caithfimid bheith cúramach maidir le tionchar.

A thought struck me, given those examples and my experience with film and television, that’s it’s no surprise dramatists are putting energy into radio and screen instead of the stage. But we have to be careful with regard to effect.

Tá ceist a trí i bhfoirm ráitis.

Question three is in the form of a statement.
3. Is tríd insint ár scéalta a chuireann muid cruth ar an stair idirphearsanta agus phoiblí. Tá cumhacht ag an phróiseas seo chun ceiliúradh, chun comóradh agus chun cóiriúchán a dhéanamh.
3. It is by telling our stories that we put shape on inter-personal and public history. There is power in this process for celebration, commemoration and for the making of arrangements.

An focal is útamálaí domsa sa ráiteas sin, ná ‘ár’. Tá ‘insint’ intuigthe go leor. ‘Scéalta’ fiú, cé gur coincheap domhan é, tá sé soléir a dhóthain. Ach an focal ‘ár’; osclaíonn sé conspóid láithreach. Cé hiad an ‘ár’ seo? Cé hiad ‘muidne’ agus cé hiad ‘sibhse’? Nó ‘siadsan’?

The word that is most disturbing to me in that statement is ‘our’. ‘Telling’ is understandable enough. ‘Stories, even though it is a deep concept, is reasonably clear. But the word ‘our’ opens controversy immediately. Who is this ‘our’? Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘you’? Or ‘them’?

Leis na ceisteanna sin romham mar ealaíontóir, seachnaím an ‘ár’ sin. Deirim liom féin gur baol dom an iliomad ‘ár’, nuair atá mé ag scríobh. Níl ann ach mise. Níl ionam ach glór aonarach, uaigneach. Cibé macallaí a aithním ó na haillte ár-sa tharam, is macallaí iad agus gan a thuilleadh tionchar acu orm ach mar a bheadh ag puth gaoithe ar eilifint.

As an artist, with those questions before me, I avoid that ‘our’. I say to myself that too much ‘our’ is a danger to me, when I’m writing. There is only me. I’m but a lone, lonely voice. What ever echoes I recognise from the cliffs of ‘our’ around me, they are but echoes and without as much effect on me as a puff of wind would have on an elephant.

Murach sin agus uilig, tá achan rud i gcoimhlint sa sochaí seo. Cá bhfuil mé, mar dhrámadóir? Cén intinn a ghlacaim? Lárnach? Imeallach? An féidir an dá intinn a bheith agam? I lár an aonaigh agus ar an chlaí, mar go bhfuil mé mí-shocair leis an focal sin ‘ár’?

However, everything is contested in this society. Where am I, as a dramatist? What position do I take? At the centre? On the edge? Can I have the two positions? In the heart of it and on the sidelines, because I am uncomfortable with the word ‘our’?

Ní minic a aontaím leis an drámadóir poncánach David Mamet, ach téann an méid atá scríofa aige ina leabhar Three Uses of the Knife i bhfeidhm orm, go háirithe nuair a deireann sé

I don’t often agree with the American dramatist David Mamet, but his writing in the book Three Uses of the Knife has influenced me, in particular when he says
What you and I want from art is peace.

Artists don’t set out to bring anything to audiences or to anyone else. They set out to cure a raging imbalance.

Ach cén mhíchothromaíocht atá i gceist domsa, nuair a thugaim faoin ghníomh polaitiúil sin, dráma a scríobh? Táim ag iarraidh an mheá a threisiú i dtreo na cóire agus na cirte, ach ag an am chéanna chan i dtreo statach.

But what imbalance is in question for me, when I undertake that political act, the writing of a play? I’m trying to strengthen the balance in the direction of justice and right, but at the same time not in the direction of stasis.

Táim ag lorg meá bhogach, luascach. Bíodh cothromíocht solúbtha ann, mar athraíonn achan rud i gcónaí. Cothromaíocht mhísheasmhach, ag bogadh go nádurtha gan srian. 

Agus i gcónaí i dtreo na cirte. Sea, cothromaíocht cheistiúil, ina bhfuil cumhacht agus suímh ina bhfuil cumhacht lonnaithe faoi chaibidil agus faoi cheist go riachtanach.

I’m seeking a swaying, moving balance. Let there be a flexible balance, because every thing changes all the time. An unstable balance, always moving, without cease. And always in the direction of rightness. Yes, a questioning balance, in which power and the locations where power is situated are, of necessity, under discussion and in question.

Sé an t-easaontú an uirlis is úsáidí i mbosca uirlisí an scríbhneora atá tiomanta leis an dearcadh sin.

Dissent is the most useful tool in the kit of the writer who is determined to hold that view.

Mar a dúirt Susan Sontag

As Susan Sontag said
I too have an horizon of hope.
Is i dtreo léaslíne an dóchais sin atá mé a dhíriú.

I am heading in the direction of that horizon of hope.

Aontaím leis an úrscealaí Nadine Gordimer nuair a dúirt sí

I agree with the novelist Nadine Gordimer when she said
I can’t see why contemporary writers can’t write about power.

Agus mar fhreagra ar an téama ‘cóiriúchán’ atá romhainn, lig dom ‘iniúcadh’ a chur leis. Mar gur drámadóir is úrscéalaí mé, beidh aird ag an iniúcadh sin ar thaithí an phearsa. Anois, nuair atá mé ag amharc siar ar mo shaothar proifisiúnta, feicim gurb í nó é an duine aonarach i ngrúpaí beaga mar chlann, nó suíomh oibre nó squad mileata, sáite i gcomhthéacs stairiúil, poiblí, a mheallann mé. Níl mo ghlór comh haonarach, uaigneach sin, dáiríre.

And in response to the word ‘arrangement’ before us, allow me to add ‘investigation’ to it. Being a dramatist and novelist, the attention of that investigation will be on the experience of the person. Now, when I look back on my professional work, I see that it is he or he, the individual person in the midst of small groups such as a family, a work-place or a military squad, itself deep in a public, historical context, that draws me. My voice is not so lone and lonely.

Is dóiche gurb é an bogadh sa mheá sin atá do mo spreagadh nuair a deirim go bhfuil radharc todhchaíoch agam ag tabhairt faoi mo dhrámaí. Tá mé ag iniúcadh na míshocrachta atá ionaim agus sa phobal. Sin a chuireann ag scríobh mé, go háirithe leis an saothar stáitse is déanaí uaim, DENIZEN. Ghlac mé glór líofa, fileata chugam chun scéal na míleatach poblachtánacha sin a rá go poiblí i ndráma atá scríofa i bhfoirm véarsaíochta, le bealaí politiúla gan foréigean a iniúcadh.

I think it’s perhaps the movement in that balance that impels me when I say I have a future orientated view when I set to write a play. I am investigating that discomfort in me and in people. That’s what sets me writing, in particular in my most recent stage-work, DENIZEN. I used a fluent, poetic voice to tell the story of that republican militant publicly, in a play written in verse, that investigates political routes away from violence.
Léiríodh i hallaí na cúirte sa tSráth Bán agus i nDoire é, sa bhliain dhá mhíle is a cúig déag.

Feictear DENIZEN é fhéin, os comhair na cúirte, foilseáin óna shaol aige, á dtaispeáint dúinn. Tá dearcadh todhchaíocht aige, ní aon ionadh é.

It was produced in court houses in Strabane and Derry, in two thousand and fifteen. We see DENIZEN himself before the court, showing us exhibits from his life. He has a future-facing view, it is no surprise.

Exhibit Q. A future metaphor?
I am the Hare, speedy as the Leopard,
Brave as the Lion, guileful as the Wolf,
Some day sure to be as old as the man.
Exhibit Q. A future metaphor?
I am the Hare, speedy as the Leopard,
Brave as the Lion, guileful as the Wolf,
Some day sure to be as old as the man.

Lig dom filleadh ar an ‘ár’ sin arís, le machnamh a dhíriú ar shiamsa sa dhrámaíocht.

Allow me to return to that ‘our’ again, to direct some thoughts on ‘entertainment’ in theatre.

Ach bímis amhrasach. Éist leis an rabhadh a thugann David Mamet dúinn, arís óna leabhar Three Use of the Knife

But let’s be careful. Listen to the warning David Mamet gives us, in his book, Three Uses of the Knife
In entertainment, we, as a culture, change from communicants to consumers.

Arís, ‘ár’ eile.

Once more. Another ‘our’.

An féidir linn an caidreamh idir an drámaíocht agus an lucht féachana a choinneáil ar leibheál an rannpháirteachais seachas an caitheamh? Sin dúshlán agus deis iontach dúinn mar dhrámadóirí. Cad é a chiallaíonn siamsa nuair a bhíonn ceisteanna polaitiúla, cumhacht, scéalaíocht agus claochlú romhainn?

Can we maintain the relationship between theatre and the audience at the level of participation instead of consumption? That’s a challenge and an opportunity for us as dramatists. What does ‘entertainment’ mean when questions of politics, power, story-making and transformation are before us?

Ag saoineamh ar mo shaothar fhéin, ritheann sé liom go bhfuil ‘siamsa’ bunúsach san obair mar go dtugann sé uchtach do dhaoine.
Uchtach agus faoiseamh, sa doigh is go bhfuil muid in ann an claochlú a chonaic muid ar an ardán a thabhairt linn isteach inár gcroíthe agus inár saolta fhéin. Siamsa san teanga; sa scéal a úsáideann an scríbhneoir; siamsa i scileanna na n-aisteoirí, na dteicneorí is an stiúrthóra. Is íocshláinte í an drámaíocht. Sin an bealach a théann sí i bhfeidhm ar dhaoine. Mar shiamsa, ach go háirid.

In regard to my own work, it strikes me that ‘entertainment’ is fundamental to the work when it gives encouragement to people. Encouragement and relief, so that we can we can take the transformation we witnessed on the stage into our hearts and our own lives. Entertainment in the language: in the story used by the writer; entertainment in the skills of the actors, the technicians and the director. Theatre is a balm. That’s a way it influences people. As entertainment, in particular.

Éist anseo le Phelim, ó mo dhráma GRUAGAIRÍ. Is iománaí é agus déanann sé féinchraoladh ar a ghaiscí imeartha.

Have a listen here to Phelim, from my play GRUAGARAÍ. He’s a hurler and he self-broadcasts on his playing prowess.

Anois, seo Phelim ar an chliathán, an sliotar greamaithe go dlúth ar a chamán. Tá sé dochreidthe an cúrsa a d’aimsigh sé fríd na cait fhiána sin. Ach is cuma le Phelim, tugann sé aghaidh díreach ar an chúl agus sluaite de na stríoca dubha is ómra ag titim uaidh. Cad é a thriailfidh an fear lár páirce anois? Iarracht thar an trasnán? Pas isteach go dtí na lántosaithe? Ó, ní hea, ní hea. Urchar millteannach do-stopaithe díreach isteach in eangach Chill Chainnigh agus cúl eile faighte ag Phelim, síol Chú Chulainn féin. Phelim. laoch na himeartha sa chluiche ceannais seo, gan dabht.

(A speech by Phelim, a character in Dave Duggan’s play GRUAGARAÍ, in which Phelim riffs on his own hurling prowess.)

Teanga, scéal, an duine aonarach i ngrúpa beag, iniúcadh ar intinn fireann. Le greann.
Language, story, the lone person in a small group, an investigation into the male mind. With humour.

Nó seo iad Diarmuid agus Gráinne, oifigigh ardleibhéil na hImpireachta, ag foghlaim Ghaeilge go deifreach. Gráinne ar dtús agus ag an deireadh, i gcomhrá le Diarmuid, ó mo dhráma MAKARONIK.

Or here we have Diarmuid and Gráinne, high level officials of The Empire of the future, hurriedly learning Irish. Gráinne first and at the end, with Diarmuid.

Ja Ja. Sin é. Cad é mat atá fú?
Go maw. Dusa?
Sillysilly. Iontich. Thar flarr. Ríméadach. Go maw, go raibh matt agat. Better much. Ar muin na puice. Togha, a stócaigh. Lúchárach. Spleodrais.
Ceart go leor. Tá Gaeilge agat, a Ghráinne.
Tá tú mo mhagadh anois.
Níl. Tá mé …
Tá tú comh teann le bindeal linbh.
Níl mé teann. Tá mé …
Tá tú amhrasach. Cad chuige?

(A dialogue between Diarmuid and Gráinne, two characters from Dave Duggan’s play MAKARONIK, who are hurriedly learning Irish.)

Arís, teanga, scéal, cumhacht á iniúcadh. Agus spleodar.

Once more, language, story, power under investigation. And exuberance.

Mar achoimre ar mo fhreagraí ar na ceisteanna a chur Aisling Ghéar romhainn, bíodh áilleacht seachas gránnacht againn, ord seachas éagruth. Bíodh claochlú agus easaontú, cóir agus ceart san obair.

As review of my responses to the questions posed by Aisling Ghéar, let us have beauty rather than ugliness, order rather than chaos. Let transformation and dissent, justice and right be in the work.

Lig dom treoir amháin a thabhairt chuig mo shaothar fhéin arís, treoir a bhíonn mar mholadh domsa lá i ndiaidh lae, i mo shuí ag mo dheasc, ag glacadh peann nó méarchlár chugam. Bíodh mo shamhlaíocht aibí agus ar bís ionam, go dtabharfaidh mé faoin chumadóireacht le borradh na raithní a chur in achan bhriathar agus dóchas an earraigh in achan mhaidin oibre.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

Let me take one direction into my own work, a direction that is with me every day, sitting at my desk, taking a pen or a keyboard to me. Let my imagination be ripe and impatient, that I might undertake composition, with the speed of the growth of the fern in every word, and the hope of Spring in every morning’s work.

Thank you.                                                     © Dave Duggan 2017