"Inventing Traditions"-Chapter One of The Invention of Tradition by Eric Hobsbawm (1983)
" Irish family memory could not afford to go back very far."
The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project
Co-hosted by Shauna Gilligan, author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere
"he needed legend more and more, not just to escape but to sort out bits of himself that Ireland mangled and thrown into confusion....The country his family had come to had been a strange one for Jews, they had come and gone since the beginning of the 16th century: Jews had been good spies for Cromwell; Jews had been jesters, Travellers on the roads of Ireland....Jews had shifted in and out of the eighteenth century, Jews had shifted in and out of Jewish Identity, not just on the roads of Ireland"-from "Lebanon Lodge"
There are thirty four stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories, as of today, I have posted on twenty two of them. The more I read Hogan's stories, the more I see in his work. What will seem like quirks to the first time reader are coming to look like very central elements in his work. I think the short stories of Desmond Hogan are world class literary treasures. I am starting to focus for now on the many odd cultural references, the references to travellers and gypsies, and the jarring mode of the narrative as part of my way of explicating these stories. There is a growing sense in which I repudiate the notion that literary art in its highest form has a meaning, any more than great paintings or music has a meaning. "Meaning" is a term for school teachers, scholars, and academics who make money from explaining literature to those often not really interested in it that much.
Last week the renowned British historian, writing in the Marxist tradition, Eric Hobsbawm died. I confess in my splendid isolation, I never heard of him until I saw the posts on his passing and life work. I read the opening chapter of one of his most famous books, The Invention of Tradition, "Inventing Tradition", and I think his ideas apply nearly directly to many of the stories of Hogan I have posted on. Hobsbawm basic thesis in his book, I am convinced of his brilliance based just on the small sample of his work I have so far read, is that what seem to many and are designed to appear to be ancient traditions are often ideas imposed on cultures by imperial masters, in his examples, the British, to justify colonial rule and make power elites seem somehow the results of inevitable sanctified by time traditions that go back so far they almost seem religious in their import even though they are often contemporary fictions. Edmund Burke knew this also.
In the case of Ireland, where most of the stories of Hogan I have posted on take place, what seems to be an ancient tradition of stories about past glories is really a largely created near fictional cultural structure placed in the psyche of the residents in order to pacify them in the face of colonial rule by letting them have a smug sense of superiority while encouraging submission. Hobsbawm talks about "the use of ancient materials to construct invented traditions". This seems exactly what happened in Ireland with the so called Irish Renaissance. I am just asserting this not proving it but if you read some of my posts on John Synge, Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats it can be sketched out from there. Basically we have elite social status individuals glorifying what they call the peasants of Ireland through largely invented stories while endorsing near fascistic social ideologies guaranteed to maintain their comfortable status.
"Lebanon Lodge" is a fascinating story. I am scrupulously, as much as I can, avoid any "biographical readings of the stories, treating them as "found objects", but in this case the author does seem to be talking about the history of the Hogan family in Ireland and suggests they are descended from Jews who immigrated to Ireland in the 16th century.. Jews in this period of Ireland were outsiders. This, and other stories center on outsider groups like Travellers, Gypsies, and Jews now with "Lebanon Lodge" because these groups have real traditions. The people who mock them as uneducated, culturally homeless, rootless people are really the ones with no actual tradition other than the ones their colonial masters imposed on them. In one of the stories, a Travellers says his people were here when Christianity was brought to Ireland, basically under the sponsorship of the feudal rulers, with extra-Irish roots, who saw in it a perfect slaves religion, and they will be there when it is forgotten. Of course this is unverifiable but it feels real.
There is a lot of history in this story. I do not know what is taught about Irish history in the schools of the country but I have a strong feeling what we are told in this story is left out. There is just a huge amount of literary stuff (a term a learned when studying structuralism at the Sorbonne) in this story to love.
I will quote a bit from the story in illustration of my remarks.
"Their Jewishness had been oblivionized way back. It was not uncommon in Ireland for people to forget their recent heritage seeing so many of the Irish middle class were survivors of quite recent famine or people who had managed to cope after evictions from land. Irish family memory could not afford to go back very far."All of this ties in with the ideas in Shauna Gilligan's brilliant introductory post. If it matters you can find ideas expressed in interviews and non-fiction articles by Hogan in support of the ideas in this post. There are two, that I know of, very interesting available online interviews with Hogan (one as an RTE broadcast) and once I have posted on all the stories, I might look at them to see what light they might shade on the stories.
This story also exemplifies the fact that the central cultural event of modern and maybe all Irish history is the famines of the middle 19th century. These famines did not just kill and force out millions, it destroyed the culture just like the terrible events in Cambodia under Pot Pal did or the massive famines in China under Mao. Some historians see an invisible hand behind these events with an Imperial glove on it.
To anyone who has read down this far, I really suggest you buy Lark's Eggs and Other Stories. I think you can read it over and over for years for little more than the cost of a nice Irish Breakfast or a few cans of Spam. (private joke)
Hogan has no web page and as far as I know, none of his stories can be read online. There is one in the current Stinging Fly and one in Best European Fiction 2012.
Obviously I think Hogan has hit on some of the central truths of history. Pynchon readers will know what I mean when I say some secrets have been given to Irish Travellers to preserve.
I am seeing now a way one could look at the sexuality in these stories as tied in with these same themes. At some point I will look at a Hogan story in terms of what Declan Kiberd tells us about Oscar Wilde.
Larks' Eggs and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan can be purchased from Lilliput Press, the premier source for quality books from and about Ireland.
Happiness Comes From Nowhere, Shauna Gilligan's marvelous debut novel, can be found here.
The Reading Life