Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Another timely piece from the Quinlan archive!
All of a Piece - Thoughts on the Eve of the Millennium Today a young woman of nineteen was swept to her death by a freak wave while walking along the coast at Kilkee, county Clare and a New Age traveller was murdered by a fellow irate motorist after a minor traffic accident somewhere in Tipperary. While I write a dramatist on the radio is presenting a programme in honour of the person who most influenced his work - a singer, no less, one Elvis Costello. The resonance in his voice, the depth, the strength of it moves me. I don't know why. His honesty cuts to the quick, as all honesty should. He weaves his plays from the very stuff of life. Who is the dramatist in question? The one and only Frank McGuinness. Elvis is still singing on. And yet those two unconnected deaths have some strange connection with these voices I'm hearing, those of the playwright and the singer and with the heart or mind that shapes these words. Images flash across my mind, register somewhere on the cerebral cortex, form a pattern - images of a receding century, a receding millennium. The newspapers are awash with them. Young men with vacant eyes watching from their trenches. Another group from that very same war linked in a chain of blindness, hand upon shoulder upon shoulder as they wait to be attended to, having being blinded by poisonous gas. I don't believe in the millennium, but I do believe in history. The images are there for us to see. The little Vietnamese girl fleeing in pain as the napalm burns into her flesh. There are happy pictures, too, of course. They bear mentioning, somehow. I am no Jonah or Jeremiah. There are the smiling faces. Walt Disney - he who captured the heart of the child with his world of fantasy, smiles at me with Mickey Mouse balanced on his knee. Or Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue in jest causes momentary amusement! What a great tongue he had! All the better to jeer with! All the better to kiss or make love with! And Einstein according to scholars was a great lover too! The great Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. What a feat! The faces of Paul McCartney and John Lennon smile from the Cavern Club in Liverpool. I was three then. Images come and go. Then the scientific discoveries - beyond belief in their complexity. From nuclear fission to nuclear fusion; from Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Space shuttles and space stations, emblems of man's quest for knowledge - in the words of the famous Captain Kirk of Star Ship Enterprise, "to boldly go where no one has ever gone before." Or is it more truly a tribute to our pride or hubris as the ancient Greeks put it? Probably both. Our ship is unsinkable - like the Titanic! A century of holocausts from Jews to Japs, from Cyclon B Gas to Atom Bombs. A century of music from blues to jazz to rock and roll and beyond. Then that haunting picture from a graveyard in Sarajevo from 1992. It shows a musician playing a requiem on the saddest of all instruments, the cello, among the tombstones of the fallen in the Heroes' Cemetery. I can almost hear the music, the sad strains creeping among the small coffin-shaped headstones where fresh flowers are brought daily. A century of highs and lows. Yet here we are eating and drinking our Christmas fare unperturbed. Well maybe not. Perhaps we are a little discomfitted, even a little disturbed by the depths humankind can go to. That's no bad thing! It prevents us getting too overwhelmed, too intoxicated by the dizzy heights we have scaled. That's no bad thing! That might not be a bad chorus, that, if this were a song. And what has all this to do with the young woman swallowed by the sea or the young man stabbed to death or the dramatist waxing lyrical about the giant of a musician sitting on his shoulders or with the novels I am reading? Perhaps everything. The world is of a piece, a seamless cloak, a giant web of interconnections, of unknown, unexpressed significances demanding expression. Each one of us must attempt our own individual and unique synthesis and understanding of the mystery unveiled daily before our very eyes. Otherwise we run the risk of being lost in a sea of incomprehension and confusion, or being a mindless ant on a giant impersonal anthill. The choice is ours. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." I, for one, think he was right. There may be no great answers, but there are really great questions. And then the search, the looking for, the seeking out of those answers, maybe that's what it's all about? Maybe that's what makes all the difference? The above piece was written on Dec 31 1999, the turn of the Millennium. I still subscribe to the thoughts I typed then. I am placing an image of the philosopher Socrates at the top of this post. We need good sound moral critics of his sort today!