Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, June 18, 2012

Desmond Hogan: Ireland’s Most Famous Unknown Writer - Shauna Gilligan

A Guest Post by Shauna Gilligan

I am very happy and proud that Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes From No Where, has agreed to introduce us to Desmond Hogan.   Shauna has been reading the work of Hogan for many years and I thank her for this wonderful introductory  post for Desmond Hogan week.   During the week I will post on a number of his famous short stories and Shauna will return with a post on Hogan's classic novel, The Ikon Maker.  

The Irish Quarter Year Two
:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 24

Guest Post by the Shauna Gilligan

Desmond Hogan: Ireland’s Most Famous Unknown Writer - Shauna Gilligan

Most serious thought in our time struggles with the feeling of homelessness.
Susan Sontag

Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same...More than one person, doubtless like me, writes in order to have no face.
Michel Foucault

In his fiction, Irish writer Desmond Hogan (1950, Galway, Ireland) dares to deal with what Sontag and Foucault refer to: feelings of homelessness alongside deep explorations of notions of self. From his first novel The Ikon Maker published in 1976, the four novels that followed (1980, 1984, 1986, and 1995) and numerous plays, to nine short story collections and a travel book The Edge of the City: A Scrapbook 1976-91, belonging and identity are recurrent themes in Hogan’s writing.
In a recent personal statement relating to the inclusion of his story ‘Kennedy’ in Best European Fiction 2012, Hogan declared his writing “is an attempt to describe people without country, without family, who are themselves.” At a Stinging Fly showcase reading in which Hogan read (as part of Dalkey Book Festival, 15 June 2012), Irish poet Dave Lordan introduced Hogan as “one of the most important writers” in Ireland and referred to him as an “archivist of the underdog.” In describing the voiceless, essentially Hogan’s writing performs what Victor Shklovsky famously assigned to art in “Art as Technique” whereby it
“exists that one may recover the sensation of life…the technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’.”
Or as poet Graham Mort recently stated, every writer tries “to be a stranger in each place they inhabit, deliberately defamiliarizing it, imbuing it with their curiosity, shedding assumptions.”
Despite obvious themes, however, like much of his writing, Desmond Hogan is hard to categorise. Although the stories he tells are everyman stories, Hogan is a writer’s writer. In the same year as The Lilliput Press published Larks’ Eggs (2005), RTE produced a programme on Hogan appropriately entitled (using Hogan’s words) Just As There Are Parentheses Within Sentences, There Are Parentheses Within Our Lives and he was featured on Rattlebag, a cultural arts show. One of the tag lines stated the documentary was “about an important but largely forgotten writer who exists on the periphery of modern Ireland.” Colum McCann described him in a 2010 Irish Times book club choice as “radical” and confirmed Hogan’s influence on his own writing, while Colm Tóibín referred to him as “a unique and elusive figure in contemporary Irish writing.” In The White Review (2011), Benjamin Eastham and Jacques Testard declared Hogan was “the most famous Irish writer you’ve never heard of.”
So what is it about Desmond Hogan’s writing?
Neil Jordan maintains “Des Hogan is, and has always been, the real thing – a writer...who makes the world every time he puts pen to paper.” (quoted on   Hogan has been compared to James Joyce[1]  and Louise Erdrich in the 1989 Preface to the US edition of A Link with the River wrote that Hogan’s
rich and fractured vision, the quiet troughs in a hopelessly frustrated history that lead to explosions of madness but also contain impetus for what in the end makes Mr. Hogan’s work so valuable. In his hands, fiction becomes transformative.

I have long admired Hogan’s work from when I first discovered it as a student of literature in UCD in the early 1990s. Many of the judgements on Hogan’s work I have encountered are related to accessibility rather than the quality of the writing itself. Referring to descriptions of Hogan’s work as “reactionary” and “almost unreadable,” Tony Murray aptly states in his 2006 article that Hogan’s
highly-strung and at times abstruse prose style has not endeared him to all his critics, but none of them could deny that he constitutes a unique voice in contemporary Irish fiction. (My emphasis)

And here is the key. Hogan’s writing is unmistakably his, or dare I say Hoganesque. From the intense descriptions, myriad of colours and beautiful poetic language, to writing from a deep emotional standpoint about homelessness, suicide, abuse and yet also love, hope and happiness, Hogan’s style and voice is his own and his writing, as Erdrich states can be (and is) “transformative”. It is not that other writers do not tackle subjects such as these or write in poetic language. Rather, it is that Hogan’s writerly voice – to quote Dutch critic Theo D’haen – “is one of the most distinctive.” And yet Hogan’s writing has, in the main, been neglected by academia and literature studies.
On Great Writing
Looking at Hogan’s output compared to academic studies of his work, we can see one of the reasons for academic neglect of his writing, despite – as we have noted – its influence on many modern Irish writers. Hogan’s apparent stepping out of the limelight of literature (he was travelling) left a notable ten-year gap between full collections – the 1995 novel A Farewell to Prague and the 2005 short story collection Larks’ Eggs and Other Stories. But despite his absence, his writing remained and still remains. In his essay “On Writing,” Raymond Carver declared that
“Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications...But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.”  (My emphasis)

Hogan, has – as we have noted – his own unique world view (“special way of looking at things”) and is still around. Slowly but surely, people are taking more notice of his writing which is now published by Lilliput Press in Dublin. These days, Hogan prefers to write short stories rather than novels. In a superb review of Old Swords and Other Stories in The Irish Times, Heather Ingman described the importance of Hogan’s writing in no uncertain terms:
It is hard to convey to younger readers what Desmond Hogan’s books meant to those who were young in Ireland in the 1970s when Hogan was part of the new generation of Irish writers that was going to shake up the establishment.

Whist it may be true that it is hard now to convey Hogan’s impact when he first came onto the literary scene, the fact is, in 2012 Hogan still writes stories about and for our time. I would contend that Hogan’s books are as original and radical now as they were in the 1970s. It is the story itself – rather than any notion of a writer’s life – that drives Hogan. His writing both reflects reality and reveals what lies beneath the surface of (Irish) society and the words of Louise Erdrich in 1989 still ring true today. What makes Hogan’s work “so valuable” is that “in his hands, fiction becomes transformative.”
Desmond Hogan Week
As part of Desmond Hogan week, Mel u will be posting on individual stories from Hogan’s most recent short story collection (Old Swords and Other Stories) and I will be posting on his first novel The Ikon Maker. If you have not read Hogan, please check out his publications on Lilliput’s Website; if you used to read him, do take a look at his new stories.

Thank you to Mel Ulm for hosting Desmond Hogan Week and for posting on Irish writing. Please continue reading and we look forward to your comments!
Bibliography: Further Reading
Binding, Paul. “After the wander years: review of Lark's Eggs.” The Times Literary Supplement 27 January 2006.
D’haen, Theo. “Desmond Hogan and Ireland’s Postmodern Past.” Eds. Joris Duytscheaver and Geert Lernout History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988.
Hogan, Desmond. A Link with the River (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989).
Ingman, Heather. Review of Old Swords and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan, The Irish Times 24 October 2009, 10.
Miller, James. 1993. The Passion of Michel Foucault New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
Mort, Graham “Landscapes and Language,” in The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Writers Share Advice and Exercises for Poetry and Prose ed Julia Bell and Paul Magrs (Macmillan: London, 2001).
Murray, Tony. “Curious Streets,” Irish Studies Review, 14.2 (2006): 239-253.
Woods, Peter. Just As There Are Parentheses Within Sentences, There Are Parentheses Within Our Lives Interview with Desmond Hogan, RTE, First Broadcast September 2005
Tóibín, Colm. “A natural exile.” Review of The Edge of the City. The Times Literary Supplement. 01 October 1993.
Shklovsky, Victor “Art as Technique”, in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, trans Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965).
Sontag, Susan. 1961. Against Interpretation. London: Vintage, 1994.

Recent works of Desmond Hogan’s can be purchased directly from his publishers

[1] Robert Tracy in his review of Hogan’s A Curious Street declared that it “represents a real, though perhaps overambitious measure himself against the Joyce of Finnegan’s Wake and to realise that painful obsession with the past that is so characteristic of Irish thought.” Éire-Ireland 21, no. 1 (Spring), 147.

End of guest post

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Shauna Gilligan has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK. She holds an MA in History from University College Dublin having also studied English as an undergraduate. She is completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, Wales and occasionally lectures in NUI Maynooth in Creative Writing.
As part of her research, she is examining suicide and writing processes in a selection of novels by and in a series of interviews with Irish writer Desmond Hogan.
Her work has been published in The Cobalt ReviewThe Stinging Fly (online), The First Cut, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writingand in The Ulster Tatler’s Literary Miscellany. She has given public readings of her fiction in Ireland and USA and has presented on writing at academic conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and USA.
Her first novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere  will be published shortly.

Mel u


shaunag said...

Thank you, Mel, for hosting this week long post of Desmond Hogan's work. He is one of the most innovative and true writers I know of working in Ireland today. His writing is quite unique. I am sure your blog will help more readers discover his great work.

valerie said...

I've only read one or two of Hogan's stories. Great post. Must check him out again.

@parridhlantern said...

Not read any of this writers works, So thanks for the introduction & will now explore more.

Suko said...

Very engaging guest post by a writer who understands Hogan's transformative work. I'm now interested in the work of both of these writers.