Daniel Murphy, Imagination and Religion in Anglo-Irish Literature 1930-1980 (Dublin: IAP 1987), 228pp.

CONTENTS, ‘Apocalypse of Clay: Religion in Patrick Kavanagh’s Poetry’ [25]; ‘Religion and Realism in Sean O’Faolain’s Prose’ [52]; ‘Preconcising Eternity: Denis Devlin’s Love Poetry’ [79]; ‘Disarmed, a Malcontent: The Lyrics and Satires of Austin Clarke’ [102]; ‘All Religions Must Deceive: The Poetry of Louis MacNeice’ [123]; ‘Astride a Grave: Samuel Beckett’s Novels, Poems and Plays’ [148]; ‘Mystique of Suffering: The Novels of Francis Stuart’ [176]; ‘Retrospect: Imagination and Religion in Anglo-Irish Literature 1930-1980’ [202]; Notes, 211, Bibl., 219, Index 223. [Each chapter has four titled subdivisions, 1-IV.]

Quotes Beckett: ‘For the only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something, just as the only way one can speak of God is to speak of him as though he was a man, which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time; and as the only way one can speak of man, even our anthropologists have realised that, is to speak of him as though he were a termite. (Watt; ftn. 1920; recte 1970 edn.)

There is no night so deep, so I have heard tell, that it may not be pierced at the end, with the help of no other light than that of the blackened sky or of the earth itself.’ (Unnameable, 1975, p.15)

… the central paradoxes of faith - the complementary tensions of belief and unbelief, sprit and sense, the temporal and intemporal, the finite and infinite, the conditioned and unconditioned - will be shown to find special clarification in the symbolic language of art. … Kierkegaard and Dostoievsky … Buber, Eliade, Frye, Aden, Mandelstam and Pasternak. [12]

If the artist is specially empowered, by virtue of the symbolic resources of aesthetic form, to comprehend the paradoxical tensions of belief, he is similarly empowered to comprehend the paradox of immanence, i.e., the reality of God’s presence in creation and the need to attest his present through its manifestations in the finite, the conditional and the temporal. [18]

Kavanagh: ‘The question of technique is not simply a matter of grammar and syntax or anything as easy as that. It has to do with the mystical. Real technique is a spiritual quality, a condition of mind, or an ability to invoke a particular condition of mind.’ (November Haggard, 1971, p.37.)

In all formal patriotic activity there lies the seed of something that is not virtue. It took me many years to work myself free from that formula for literature which laid all the stress on whether it was Irish or not. For twenty years I wrote according to the dispensation of this Irish school. The appraisers of the school all agreed that I had my roots in the soil, was one of the people and that I was an authentic voice. What the alleged poetry lover loved was the Irishness of a thing. Irishness is a form of anti-art. A way of posing as a poet without actually being one.’ (Self Portrait, Collected Pruse, p.14) [26]

A peasant is all that mass of mankind which lives below a certain level of consciousness. They live in the dark cave of the unconscious and they scream when they see light.’ (Self Portrait, Ibid. p.19).

No man ever loved that landscape and even some of the people more than I. It was a barbaric society not appreciably different from an old-fashioned Dublin slum. Our manners were the same. But there was the landscape and the sense of continuity with a race that had come down the centuries.’ (Collected Pruse, p.264.)

To be parochial a man needs the right kind of sensitive courage and the right kind of sensitive humility./ Parochialism is universal; it deals with fundamentals. (?ibid., p.164)

There is only one Muse, the comic Muse. In Tragedy there is always something of a lie. Great poetry is always comic in the profound sense. Comedy is abundance of life.’ (Self. Portrait, p.23.)

To have absolute rectitude in any field is to be eccentric. You are not in step. Perhaps it is a form of pride and selfishness born of the realisation that telling lies is a bore. In high company or low pub this rectitude is a constant quality with a poet. Being fated to live with this terrible tyrant of truth has often driven the possessed to violence and rage. …. To have the courage of being yourself is to be truthful. You will be an iconoclast and considered a maker of wild statements, but every true personality in movement is iconoclastic. (Coll. Pruse, p.236.)

Yeats: ‘A poet writes always of his personal life, in his finest work out of its tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.309.)

Kavanagh: ‘I am conscious of something within me that plays before my soul and is as a light dancing in front of me. Were this brought to steadiness and perfection in me it would surely be eternal light.’ (November Haggard, p.56; lectures at UCD.)

O’Faolain: ‘I would try to write … about those moments of awareness when we know three truths at one and the same moment: that life requires of each of us that we should grow up and out, whole and entire, that human life of its nature inevitably foils exactly this, and that the possibility of wholeness is nevertheless as constant and enormous a reality as the manifold actuality of frustration, compromise, getting caught in some labyrinth, getting cut short by death.’ (Vive Moi, 1964, p,.226; Murphy 78.]

To rail at Mr Devlin’s form as overimaged (the obvious polite cavil) is to cavil at the probity with which the creative mind has carried itself out, a probity in this case depending on a minimum of rational inference, and indeed to suggest that the creative act should burke its own conditions for the sake of clarity. That time is perhaps not altogether too green for the vile suggestion that art has nothing to do with clarity, does not dabble in the clear and does not make clear, any more than the light of day (or night) makes the subsolar, -lunar, and -stellar excrement. Art is the sun, moon and stars of the mind, the whole mind … Mr Denis Devlin is mind aware of its luminaries.’ (‘Denis Devlin’, rep. From transition, in The Lace Curtain, III, Summer 1970, pp.43-44; Murphy, 79.)

MacNeice, ‘There is, in some quarters an understandable swing back to religion but the revival of religion (with its ordinary connotations) is something that I neither expect nor desire. And after the hand to mouth ethics of nineteenth century liberalism and the inverted and blinkered religion of Marxism and the sentimentality of the cynical Lost Generation - after all that, we need all the senses that we were born with, and one of these is the religion.’ (Quoted Brown, Sceptical Vision, 1972, p.88; Murphy [no details], p.126).

Beckett, ‘Nothing is more real than Nothingness.’

MacNeice: ‘Beckett’s aged and ragged and often crippled soliloquists, senile nostalgia and all, prim obscenity and all, are always trying to be honest with themselves. Which means that they are always looking for themselves and so, ipso facto, for that which is not themselves. Their quest is metaphysical. They may not be concerned with God but they are concerned with spiritual meaning, even if all they know about this - or almost all - is its absence. And, though Beckett’s characters and probably Beckett himself would no subscribe to Kafka’s - or Golding’s - concept of sin, their never-ending efforts to answer the unanswerable questions seem toe imply that they think they have done something wrong, if only through not understanding whatever it is they have done. Perhaps in Beckett the Original Sin is lack of meaning.’ (Varieties of Parable, p.140; Murphy 127-28.)

McN: ‘It looks as if in these two work [Waiting for Godot and The Castle], as in many others of our time, there is an underlying paradoxical riddle: when is unbelief not unbelief.’ (Ibid., 118. [128]

‘In previous writings about poetry I have offended certain readers because I have grouped with poet with ordinary men and opposed him to the mystic proper. I do not withdraw from this position. I think that human activity begins at a stage below thought with an urge which I can only describe as mystical; at this stage the individual does not distinguish the forces within him from the forces outside him; he does not know what he is driving at and he is not, I suspect, even properly conscious that it is he who is driving at it. The stage of through, on the other hand, is as stage of distinctions and of consciousness of the ego. … The poet shares the paradoxical position of the ordinary man. The paradox is this: man lives by egoism, by making distinctions, but he derives force from a stage below distinctions and he derives his ideals from a stage above them.’ (The Poetry of Yeats, p.14) [129]

In Modern Poetry I also denied that the poet is properly a mystic and argued that the poetic a normal human activity. I still hold that the poet is a distinct species from the mystic, but I should like to correct the emphasis here … Mysticism, in the narrow sense, implies a specific experience which is foreign to most poets and most men, but on the other hand it represents an instinct which is a human sine qua non.’ (Poetry of Yeats, p.15; Murphy 129).

[Of Waiting for Godot] ‘Original sin is some f lack of meaning’ (Varieties, p.140)

Ionesco: ‘The value of a play like Beckett’s Endgame … lies in its being nearer to the Book of Job than to the boulevard theatre of the chansonniers. That works has found again, across the gulf of time, across the ephemeral phenomena of history, a less ephemeral archetypal situation, a primordial subject form which all others spring … The youngest, most recent works of art will be recognised by, and will speak to, all epochs. Yes, it is King Solomon who is the leader of the movement I follow; and Job, that contemporary of Beckett.’ (‘Lorsque j’écris,’, in Cahiers des Saison, XXV, Winter 1959, p.211; Murphy 149.)

‘The work of art is neither created nor chosen, but discovered, uncovered, excavated, pre-existing within the art, a law of his nature. The only reality is provided by the hieroglyphs traced by inspired perception (identification of subject and object) … for the artist, the only possible hierarchy in the world of objective phenomena is presented by a table of their respective co-efficients of penetration, that is to say, in terms of the subject. … The artist has acquired his text: the artisan translates it. The duty and task of a writer (not an artist, a writer) are those of a translator. (Proust, p.84; Murphy 150.)

Beckett: [Art is] ‘immersive and excavatory’; ‘the only possible spiritual development is in the sense of depth. The artistic tendency is not expansive, but a contraction. And art is the apotheosis of solitude. There is no communication because there are no vehicles of communication. …. The only fertile research is excavative, immersive, a contraction of the spirit, a descent. The artist is active, but negatively, shrinking from the nullity of extracircumferential phenomenon, drawn into the core of the eddy.’ (Proust, p.64-65; Murphy 151.)

‘All that should concern us is the acute and increasing anxiety of the relation itself.’

‘The forms are many in which the unchanging seeks relief from its formlessness’ (Malign); ‘There is no need to despair, you may scrabble on the right door, in the right way in the end.’ (Molloy); ‘It seems to me that all language was an excess of language’ (Moran); ‘Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the best of composition’ (Molloy); ‘I have to speak, whatever that means. Having nothing to say, no words but the words of others, I have to speak … I have the ocean to drink, so there is an ocean then’ (Unnamable); ‘What I liked about anthropology was its inexhaustible faculty of negation, its relentless definition of man, as though he were no better than God, in terms of what he is not’ (Molloy);

Beckett in interview: ‘I know of no form that does not violate the nature of Being in the most unbearable manner … If anything new and exciting is going on today, it is the attempt to let being into art.’ (Interview, quoted in Harvey, Beckett, Artist and Critic, p.435).

Yeats on Stuart: ‘He is silent unless one brings the conversation round to St. John of the Cross, or a kindred theme.’ (Letters, eds., Hone, p.409.)

Murphy refers to ‘an apparently uncritical feeling for Catholicism’ which ‘conceals a deeping-lying distrust of organised faith which is combined in his work with a sense of the artist’s fucntion as one essentially of challenge and dissent.’

We are alone and the world is convulsed in its own struggle that has nothing more to do with us at all. Her, too, there is a new truth that I have discovered, or rather than I may have always known but now have experienced. It is that only through a certain solitariness can man ever come into contact with his fellow man. First he must have within himself that sense of being alone, of being aloof from all the turmoil of society in general before he can love disinterestedly. He must be able to stretch his hand out from his own lonely self toward this other lonely and pitiful being. He must, for the moment anyhow, be able to see the both as two solitary and very vulnerable creatures hastening towards that common destiny which neither can contemplate without a tinge of fear. Only in such moments comes the realisation of that brotherhood of man that no catch-cry can every make living.’ (The Angel of Pity; Murphy, p.185.

Murphy ends with a Christian confession: ‘Stuart’s image of suffering, like Beckett’s, is one which is ultimately disclosive of meaning. Growth in knowledge is related in his fiction to the tragic fulfilment exemplified in the life and death of Christ. The tragic sense, however, int4ertwines positively with the religious in his work, suggesting an almost infinite capacity in man for endurance of suffering. It is this capacity which sustains man’s growth in fellowship and love and his aspiration ultimately towards the fulfilment exemplified in Christ’s love for mankind.’ [210]

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