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, July 2, 2012

"Patterns" by Desmond Hogan

The Irish Quarter Year Two
 A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to ?

Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to July 10  Day Nine

Saints, Kings, and Queens

Cohosted by Shauna Gilligan, author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

"Patterns" (2004)

Project Notes-Desmond Hogan Week has now been extended until at least July 10th..  I will keep the name.   I am treating Hogan's work as "found objects", a way of looking at literary art from the long ago.   If you are new to the work of Hogan, I suggest you read his stories and Shauna Gilligan's very well done introductory post on his work.   This is not a closed event, if you are interested in doing a guest post, you are welcome to do so.

In order to enter into the world of "Patterns", and numerous other stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan I think you need to have a bit of knowledge about the Irish Travellers.  I am betting this is something very few people outside of Ireland have, I know I did not have the vaguest conception about them until I did a bit of research.   For a very basic set of information on them I refer you to my post  here .....              .

Like some of the other stories, "Patterns" is told in the first person by a man who seems to live with a group of Travellers but is not himself one of them.  One of the fundamental questions here is why does the narrator, a very educated (maybe in the odd way in which those who acquire their educations on their own), very smart man, seemingly pretty young, choose to live with a despised group, a group only at best a bit interested in his running commentaries,  a group which does not really welcome him with totally open arms.  To complicate matters he does seem at times to have a sexual attraction toward young Traveller men.   He describes them in aesthetic terms.   I will come back to the homoerotic strains in these stories as I think there is a depth of understanding in them that can help us (or me at least)understand things about dandys, outsiders, and the relationship of works centering on GLBT themes to camp (as defined by Susan Sontag in her landmark essay).   Like it or not this is a deeply Irish issue, remember the pivotal role Oscar Wilde played in Sontag's essay.  I will also when I get to this, I hope I do, draw on Declan Kiberd's chapter on Oscar Wilde in his magnificent Imaging Ireland.   There is a clear sense in which Oscar Wilde did not become Irish or gay until he left Ireland and maybe joining the travellers is the narrator's own way of doing both of these things.  These are some relatively deep topics for a blog post but it also would require us to consider why the narrator has chosen these vulnerable people for his own purposes, not theirs.  He himself is clearly not one who readily fits in anywhere.

I am not really setting out much at all the plots of the stories even though they are often very interesting.  In "Patterns" the narrator spends most of his time talking about the migrations of Travellers, starting as far back as the time of Elizabeth the I up to the Hollywood Bowl in the USA in 1949.   We need to wonder what we are to make of, I have touched on this before but will go into it again, of the references to English  Monarchs, various Catholic Saints (none of which I have heard of before but which you need to have some knowledge of to go very deep into the stories), wars in the colonies in which the travellers took part, even Mussolini comes in for a mention.   What is being constructed in these references.  In one baffling sentence (which I admit I love) the narrator tells us of a Traveller known as Uncle Derry (not a lot of last names freely given in the world of these stories) who told a young Irish man the narrator knows about what George I (1660 to 1727) "used to do with his Turkish servants Mohamed and Mustapha".   This suggests this story, hardly taught in school even if there is something too it, has been passed down within  the purely oral culture of the Travellers for 350 years or so, passed down in stories.  

Another question then is why do Traveller men treasure memories of serving in wars in places like the Congo for an empire which hold them in contempt and they have to know this.   Is it desperate attempt to place yourself inside history, remember two things here, the conscious of the narrator and his perception of traveller culture.   

One of the things the narrator spoke of I found fascinating was the patterns of movement, in the argot of the culture a "pattern" is a migration route done over and over with ritualistic stops at places with heavy associations with saints or odd moments in history.  

I loved learning about Grace O'Mally, an Irish woman from the time of Queen Elizabeth who captained her own ship on a journey to meet the queen with the purpose of asking her to release her imprisoned son.   Elizabeth was so impressed with her that she offered to make her a countess.   How can you not love her response.  "Grace said that was impossible because she was already a queen".   We also learn how a group of Travellers from West Lemerick was taken, during the famine days, to Quebec and how they established their culture and the travel patterns in the United States.    The narrator also mentions the Huron Indians of North America and General Grant (American general and post civil war president) ordering the expulsion of the Jews from Tennessee.   The clear idea is the Travellers were there and the narrator has somehow learned this.   There is a lot more "great stuff" in this story.   I suspect I will come back to some of the ideas in this post latter on.   

Lilliput Press press publishes Hogan's work and offers two of his works as E-Books.   I found their catalogue totally fascinating.   They are the premier publishers of Irish related books, located in Dublin and established in 1984.

Shauna Gilligan's wonderful new novel Happiness Comes From Nowhere can be purchased on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Mel u

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