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

Friday, August 31, 2012

"The Last Time" and "Eerie Distant Light: the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar by Desmond Hogan

"The Last Time" (1989)
"Eerie distant light:  the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar"  (1989)

The Irish Quarter 
 The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project

Co-hosted by Shauna Gilligan, author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

"By invoking scenes of history she endeavors to decipher  our present age 'without a future' and perhaps by so doing, by the chiaroscuro graft upon graft of historical parallel, she gives it a chance of rescue".

As of now I have access to 37 short stories by Desmond Hogan.  Including today's post, I have  posted on 16 of them.   I consider Hogan a very important writer and I think there is great depth and wisdom in his stories, perhaps a wisdom for those not in fully sunlit worlds.   I intend to post all of the remaining stories, some one at a time and some in groups.   I am treating Hogan's stories as found objects, a way of looking at literature from the long ago.   Even though the stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories were not all published originally at the same time I will also on occasion treat the collection as one object, as that is how it is now being presented to the world.

This post as will be most of my remaining  posts on Hogan, is primarily for those familiar with his work.  It is also to clarify my understanding of the stories I am reading.    As far as I know, none of his work can be read online.

"Eerie distant light:  the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar"  is a literary essay from Hogan's collection of occasional pieces,  The Edge of the City.   Reflecting the limits of my own reading, I had never heard of Yourcenar (1903 to 1987) before reading Hogan's essay.    She was a well known Belgian born French writer  and intellectual whose most famous work is Memoirs of Hadrian, a fictional autobiography of a Roman emperor in the form of a letter to Marcus Aurelius. It is a very highly regarded work and I now have it on my TBR list.  (It looks like there is no E books of any of her work in English.)   I first read this essay just because I was curious to know something about a writer that Hogan would publish a long essay on (the timing makes it almost a memorial essay).   The reason I decided to talk about this in the context of a post on Hogan's short stories is I think you can find to an answer to a question that needs to be answered before we can begin to understand Hogan's stories.  

One question I have often asked myself in the reading of Hogan's short stories, I picked "The Last Time" for this post as it perfectly exemplifies what I am talking about, is why are there so many "odd" historical references.   There are constant references to historical facts, not in a pattern but purely shotgun fashion, things not taught in school and perhaps contrary to assumed historical truth.   The narrator of some of the stories  knows lots of facts about history and culture you would not think he would.   Why is this such a frequent motif?  I also think a reflection on this topic will help us to understand the prevalence of Irish Travellers in these stories.    I know there is academic and social debate about the history of the Irish Travellers.   I loved it, as it verified something I said in an earlier posts about secrets given to the Irish Travellers to preserve, when a Traveller told an outsider that they were there when St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and they will still be there when Christianity is forgotten.   It is kind of braggadocio but it rang true to me and it helps me understand more about the stories.   Here is the key passage from the essay on Yourcenar:

history for Marguerite Yourcenar is always contemporary, always in parallel with our own lives, but for her it has a more mystical sense to it.  For her all history lives deep within us so that by those secret areas touched, those areas activated by a brew of will-power and divine intervention, we can journey back randomly, can treat outselves to diorama-views of other ages.

If you read the opening quote of this post and you have read a few Hogan stories with some care I think you will see this in his work.    In her opening post for our project, Shauna Gilligan brilliantly explains that Hogan is dealing with the concept of homelessness, as a metaphor for the cultural ravages of the modern world.   At first when I saw all these travelllers I thought OK for sure to settled people they seem homeless.   Maybe this is just backwards of another truth, a secret from centrifugal history.   In a world where most people have near zero knowledge of their own history, an outsider culture has members who know exact details of events hundreds of years ago, events that do run in parallel to their own lives.  It is those who despise them and hold them in contempt that are culturally homeless, rooted to TV and mindless consumerism with no notion of their own history, they are one generation away from the caves where the travelers have 100s of generations of history riding in their caravans.   I know I have said very little about "The Last Time".    It is a great story and it "verifies" what I say.   I am  not an academic or a scholar and I do not feel a lot of need to prove I am right in these claims.

One of the recurring items  in Hogan is the close mingling  of the scared and the profane.  I talked about this in my post on Hogan's recent story in The Stinging Fly, "The Wooden Horse" where in the same paragraph Homeric heroes are mentioned next to street thugs.   Not to get too deep in this in a blog post, but this is related to why the narrator wants to be a part of the travellers culture and why he wants to have sex with young travellers boys.    Try to think of Leda and the Swan here  retold in a seedy Irish park post midnight.

My great thanks to anyone who has read down this far.

I think Hogan's short stories are world class cultural treasures.  

Mel u


shaunag said...

Mel, I have really enjoyed reading your takes on Hogan's works and, as a long-standing reader of his work, it is wonderful to see your process in coming to these stories and how you interpret them. Thanks again.

Kinga said...

I have never heard of Hogan but enjoyed this post, so will put him on TBR list. :)