Blog Portfolio: Ideas Begetting Ideas

The idea of writing an academic blog appealed to me from its inception as an interesting endeavour if somewhat daunting. Firstly, before setting fingertips to keys I had to get my head around the concept of scholarly blogging. Were we to produce anecdotal obscure academic insight or conjure snappy brief essays? The answer lay somewhere in between with the goal being a representation of our academic research areas and a flavour of who we are as scholars while retaining a critical eye over descriptive prowess. I decided a natural starting point was to attend a seminar- academic terra firma.

Bombastic Beginnings

At the risk of drawing the corrector’s attention to my flaws, my opening blog, “The Bombastic Bard: Early Shakespeare Seminar”, relied on summarising Professor Stanivukovic’s excellent seminar “Shakespeare’s First Act: literature, theatre, and the earliest years” and did not critically evaluate it enough.

If Shakespeare studied formally and was classically educated as assumed, Professor Stanivukovic posits it would explain the repetitive nature of early Shakespearean dialectics. At the time rote learning was used whereby a student would translate something from Latin to English and then back to Latin to bolster their intellect. Stanivukovic gives the example of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy as a later example of this technique resurfacing.

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You know a blog is going to be good when it has style like this from day one. 

In the above example I accurately reproduce the information Stanivukovic lectured on but fail to contextualise or give my own critical opinion. However, towards the end of the blog I do offer a modern analogy to contextualise a controversial literary historical critique.

 

Finally, addressing the much maligned yet persistent questions of Shakespearean authorship, Professor Stanivukovic traces the concerns to a singular anonymous pamphlet. In modern terms I would imagine the equivalent rant to be an angry online blog post or social media meme that defying all logic is afforded critical and intellectual validity in spite of common sense.

As beginnings go it was a satisfactory blog that started the research orientated thoughts that would come to dominate my life for the remained of my masters. With my second blog I wished to correct earlier mistakes and advance my critical faculties.

Irish Gothic

 

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Tim Robinson produced beautiful cartography tracing Connemara footstep by footstep.  

My second seminar blog, “Traces of the Gothic in Connemara”, revolved around the documentary Tim Robinson: Connemara as director Pat Collin’s discussed his work. Here I improved on my initial blog by adding personal critical context to the material.

 

The chronicle of the small place appeared bleak. Every few years the inhabitants of Connemara like many rural places, must burn ferns in the fields to keep their relentless growth in check. Sisyphus would be proud. Upon burning the ferns they discovered the remnants of famine fields that once fed some of the eight million inhabitants of Ireland. The ghost of the past resurfacing to confront contemporary Ireland with it’s ghoulish past struck me as quintessentially gothic.

While my viewpoint of seeing the work as containing undertones of the gothic fell in nicely with our module “Gothic to Modernism”, I believe my analysis was pushing for a more original idea than previously attempted in the first blog.

Robinson’s propensity for tying folklore to the landscape conjures more ‘ghosts’. While the director doesn’t share this particular viewpoint, preferring instead to view real human interaction with the landscape, there is no dissonant conflict evident in the film. Both viewpoints coexist and we are free to project onto the landscape whatever sentiments we have as viewers. The patient style of filming allows for long shots of landscape uninterrupted by monologue. In quiet reflection each viewer is free to interpret as they see fit.

Here the blog succeeds in breaking down the views of artist Tim Robinson, director Pat Collins as well as my own analysis of what is achieved. Thus the lessons from my first blog had been learned and I had begun to think more critically about what I was writing. In writing about Shakespeare and the documentary format I was also engaging in the personal challenge I set myself for this blog which was to take me out of my comfort zone. As I had not written about film extensively at undergraduate level, my next blog aimed to correct that deficiency. 

Bicycle Thieves

Coming in to my third blog I had begun to consider intertextuality more critically and having watched The Young Offenders, I felt compelled to blog about it. Thus in “Irish Bicycle Thieves: The Young Offenders” I write that:

Intertextuality rears its head here with the motif of obsession. As Healy struggles to catch a bicycle thief, we are reminded of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. In that movie, the societal imperative on framing a fairer world for youth is explored in the protagonist’s relationship with his son. The Young Offenders demands that adults not fail the protagonists and perform as suitable role models.

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“Pure Daycent *****” – Every Corkonian

I believe in utilising all relevant skill sets to improve a task and thus decided to draw on my old journalist days and interview someone for this blog. Interviews can be an invaluable resources and talking to actor Dominic MacHale really helped my understanding of his character and of the film in general. This is also an example of a blog directly effecting my thesis genesis as I plan on conducting academic interviews and the idea primarily germinated from here. Dominic offered his inspiration for the role of Detective Healy as being Roy Keane which fleshes out our understanding of his character and offers pleasant colour to the piece alongside critical vivisection. Dominic offered:

 

“When I met the director of The Young Offenders, Peter Foott, to discuss the part I would be playing, the name of Roy Keane came up in relation to the character. While they are extremely different in many ways, one similarity is a relentless pursuit of something. Keane as a player was all about victory. The aesthetics were of little importance. Detective Healy has a similar mentality. He’s not worried about fitting in or being liked. Keane didn’t always play by the rules as his disciplinary record will attest and as can be seen in the film, neither does Healy.”

Flirting with the idea of narrative in this blog brought me back to my de facto mission statement. The first task required of the MA students was to write an “About” section. Mine stated:

If I succeed throughout the year, any reader should hopefully enjoy an eclectic take on various forms of media from literature to gaming. I believe narrative is ever changing and hard to pin down and wish to explore the various ways story telling transcends genre, time, or even medium.

My next few blogs set about attempting to deconstruct the idea of narrative itself and utilised the refinement acquired from previous work.

New Narratives

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Screenshot from Undertale. Credit: Me!

In my blog “New Narratives: Death Grips, Bob Dylan and Computer Games” I interwove multiple genres to assess the idea of a “story” in principle and fear of any change to conventional narratives. Bob Dylan had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature as I returned home from seeing what I described as “Beckettian theatrics” in the form of the band Death Grips. The choice of Dylan was criticised in some quarters and I critiqued the “fear” of Dylan’s award thus:

People fear the new in art even though it is actually not ‘new’ at all. Art is ever evolving techniques for constructing narratives. However the underlining narratives are merely reproductions and new ways of saying the same things our species have been saying for thousands of years. People made facetious comparisons to awarding the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Sting and so on after Dylan’s award was announced. That fundamental misunderstanding belies the ignorance of poetry and art in general. Much like dismissing Homer as a singer-song-writer lyre enthusiast, it is equally ignorant to think of someone as influential as Dylan as ‘just a songwriter’.

Ultimately I would draw on the history of film as a parallel for the “fear” of gaming narratives whereby I compared the eerily similar attitudes to modern games censorship to that of early film.

Why are people so afraid of the new? When film first started to take off in popularity the censors did all they could to prevent people from actually seeing films. In Ireland they would not allow adult only certificates for decades, as they felt it would encourage children to see salacious material (Martin 153).

I continue the comparison of gaming and film stating that:

Computer games have developed along similar lines to film in the early twenties and thirties. People spent the first few years seeing what they could physically do. Subsequently they began marketing the created works for profit, categorising the different kinds of creations and exploring the nature of the art form.

Comparing different mediums to assess the structure of narrative is a torch I passed on from this blog to the next.

Beckett to Zelda

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Started researching Happy Days, lead me to Ant’s reproductive cycle. Could only be Beckett.

While working on an essay on Beckett I was fascinated by the idea that he used the philosopher Bergson’s idea of time as construct.

Biographer Anthony Cronin highlights Beckett’s study of the works of philosopher Henri Bergson who posited a difference in time as measured and in “duration” which is as we experience it (127). Cronin posits that Beckett’s Happy Days exists as a study of time in “duration”. In this compelling reading Happy Days acts as a study of how one experiences time in the moment and distills the act of waiting into an artistic construct.

The purpose of the blog “Transcribing the Incommunicable” was to ask how art can produce work that captures these kind of intangible constructs. Beckett uses the theatre to create absurd scenarios to create his “Bergonian time” while I argue Joyce used his stream of consciousness technique similarly. I argue computer games have a unique parallel here to engage in forms of narratives other medium cannot replicate and that they can convey the “incommunicable” even clearer than other mediums.

Attempting to transcribe the intangible is a cornerstone of the arts and has been a part of humanity for as long as there have been humans. When we cannot as a species come to terms with something we often turn to metaphor or story telling to disseminate the information into something conceivable. Fairy tales are used to this day as a means of warning children of the perils of the world and break down complicated constructs into digestible narratives (once we avoid the Disneyification of the original texts).

The idea of art as a means of disseminating the inconceivable played a crucial role in helping me outline my thesis statement. While I had an idea for my thesis, namely the absence of novels on clerical abuse, I had not yet considered why that gap was important. During the time I wrote this blog I realised it was important because as a species that is how we come to terms with things we otherwise would fail to understand.

Wikipedian Adventures

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My punny screenshot.

While “Two wrongs don’t make an Enright: Editing Wikipedia” assuaged my desire for puns, I also found it to be the best blog for summarising the importance of our “Contemporary Research Skills” module. Here I learned the importance of academic flexibility and the interconnected sphere of modern academia.

 

While live tweeting the event it was fascinating to view the array of literature being covered. Social media offers another avenue to connect with authors and scholars in what may often be niche fields, thus breaking another wall hindering the furthering of academic research. If an author of a text sends you their work directly, the dreaded paywall evaporates! The discussions and areas of research the #editwikilit started has left me a lot of new areas to explore personally.

It also opened my eyes to the need to keep Wikipedia well stocked with literary information.

Sitting in a room with approximately two dozen other students’ of the arts working together to improve the world’s free to use literary resource was eye-opening. It was in microcosm an example of Wikipedia at its best; a community of passionate people working towards the advancement of their field of interest.

During this module we have learned a lot about the nature of online blogging, connecting via twitter and the importance of staying up to date with electronic resources. Reflecting on editing Wikipedia hammered home the need to attain pragmatic technological skills in an area of academia that is clearly not shying away from all the possible online avenues of research.

Seeds of Further Research

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Picture I took of books about a game which advises you on how to make books. Meta.

Returning to my passion for narrative discourse with “404: Sorry, New Alexandria cannot be found”, I zoned in on the niche area of archiving gaming. Initially I use the parable of the burning of the Alexandrian Library to stress the importance of preserving art.

 

The burning the the Alexandrian Library stands throughout history as the symbol for lost knowledge and the need to make sure documents and works of art are protected. The many institutions responsible for preserving, archiving and digitising old literature attest to lessons learned from the Alexandrian parable.

I then compare the loss of film, whereby early film reel was not deemed culturally significant enough until such time many primordial filmic attempts had been lost, to the state of gaming archival.

When the Magnavox Odyssey was released in North America in 1972 it probably did not occur to anyone that this toy would require preserving as culturally significant. Now regarded as the first Computer Console, the simple but cleverly innovative design of Ralph H. Baer set in motion what would become the biggest entertainment industry in the world some thirty five years later.

With this blog I was heading into very specific territory and began to critically evaluate the technical nature impeding archiving computer games.

Preserving computer games is a tricky topic, not as simple as literature or even film. While not ideal, a PDF of a book accurately captures the essence of the author’s work. With film, the file format is too irrelevant, as so long as the full running time is replicable then you have succeeded in preserving the movie.

Ultimately this blog acts as a seed for further research as my hope is to continue beyond my masters to a PhD looking at breaking down the history of narrative in gaming from its simplistic origins to the present. Collective Solitude has acted remarkably at generating ideas and if I see my desire to continue to doctorate level fulfilled it will be in no short part to the ideas generated here.

Textuality Reality

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The Virgin Mary located near my family home. Credit: My photo.

If my penultimate blog planted seeds of PhD life then my final blog, “Upon Reflection: Textualities 2017”, helped refocus all my attention to the pressing matters of completing a thesis this year. I opened by recounting the shift I was forced to make given the revelations in Tuam.

 

My presentation focused on “Clerical Abuse in Irish Literature” and with a few days to go I had my slides prepared and pacing well practiced. However the revelations of Tuam in County Galway then happened. It would have been absurd to keep everything I had worked on the same and not mention the morbid elephant in the room and thus I set about changing and in some cases dismantling entire slides. In preparing for the Textualities conference I felt I learnt an early lesson for remaining flexible and aware that whatever may happen one must be adaptable.

I reflected on my new perspective of presentations as a academic resource, something I honestly had never given the slightest thought beforehand.

In the future I feel my view of presentations will focus less on the anxiety of having to speak but instead on using conferences as an academic resource. Research is ultimately a lonely endeavour and it is not often one is afforded the luxury of receiving fellow academics opinions and insight. Nobody attends a conference to vivisect someones work for mere pleasure (I hope!) but we all have our blindspots. Conferences can offer something as simple as pointing research towards a new author or even as complex as applying a new theoretical framework.

Ultimately my final blog allowed me to compile what I had learned from such a fascinating day and indeed to start working in earnest on my thesis. The feedback from UCC academic staff during our panel’s Q and A was invaluable. More than that however, this blog reiterated my personal goal to research a gap in Irish literature where there should be none, and to find a compelling reason for it.

Final Thoughts

Though I’ve analysed my blogs in linear chronological order, the process of writing them has been anything but a linear experience. Ideas for blogs stemmed from essays and vice versa as concepts and research ideas have provided a “meta narrative” of its own within Collective Solitude. Why that oxymoronic title to begin with? Besides having a penchant for paradoxes it was a term I had in my head for a while which I reappropriated here. However, I believe it is a fitting term for all academics engaged in similar online research. Academia is ultimately a solitary experience and for the majority of the time one must collect relevant sources and formulate ideas in solitude. Yet the online aspect brings together like minded scholars and allows academics to comment at each other, make recommendations or just generally be supportive. Thus while we remain relatively isolated, we are all at least alone together. To quote Mr Cobain, “All alone is all we are”.

Works Cited

Collins, Pat, director. Tim Robison: Connemara. Harvest Films, 2011.

Collins, Pat. “Tim Robinson: Connemara.” Landscapes, Environment and Heritage in Irish Studies Workshop, 22 Sept. 2016, University College Cork, Cork. Q & A.

Cronin, Anthony. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. Flamingo, 1997.

Lynch, Daniel. “The Bombastic Bard: Early Shakespeare Seminar.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 1 Nov. 2016, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/first-blog-post/.

Lynch, Daniel. “Irish Bicycle Thieves: The Young Offenders.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 30 Nov. 2016, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/irish-bicycle-thieves-the-young-offenders/.

Lynch, Daniel. “New Narratives: Death Grips, Bob Dylan and Computer Games.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 7 Dec. 2016, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/new-narratives-death-grips-bob-dylan-and-computer-games/.

Lynch, Daniel. “404: Sorry, New Alexandria cannot be found.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 28 Feb. 2017, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/404-sorry-new-alexandria-cannot-be-found/.

Lynch, Daniel. “Traces of the Gothic in Connemara.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 20 Nov. 2016, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/traces-of-the-gothic-in-connemara/.

Lynch, Daniel. “Transcribing the Incommunicable.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 25 Jan. 2017, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/transcribing-the-incommunicable/.

Lynch, Daniel.  “Two wrongs don’t make an Enright: Editing Wikipedia.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 8 Feb. 2017, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/two-wrongs-dont-make-an-enright-editing-wikipedia/.

Lynch, Daniel. “Upon Reflection: Textualities 2017.” Collective Solitude, WordPress, 25 Mar. 2017, https://collectivesolitudeblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/upon-reflection-textualities-2017/.

Martin, Peter. Censorship In The Two Irelands 1922-1939. Irish Academic Press, 2006.

Irish Bicycle Thieves: The Young Offenders

Conventionally Irish audiences do not got to see Irish movies. While this trend has improved slightly in recent years, it was especially sweet as a Corkonian to see The Young Offenders deliver a box-office hit as well as receive critical acclaim. The comedy works as a love letter to Cork as we follow two locals on their adventure to search for a bale of cocaine off the south coast and gain their fortune. Their journey of self discovery showcases Cork’s scenic beauty and the depth of Corkonian character.

Movement in The Young Offenders is the heart of the narrative. The opening scenes of the movie highlight the significance of Jock’s relationship with Garda Healy played by Dominic MacHale. Healy’s obsession with catching the prolific thief is intertwined with the narrative vehicle of the movie – bicycles.

Intertextuality rears its head here with the motif of obsession. As Healy struggles to catch a bicycle thief, we are reminded of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. In that movie, the societal imperative on framing a fairer world for youth is explored in the protagonist’s relationship with his son. The Young Offenders demands that adults not fail the protagonists and perform as suitable role models.

When I interviewed Dominic MacHale earlier in the year, I asked about the inspiration for his portrayal of such an interesting character. Roy Keane was fittingly one of the role models for the performance, acting as an appropriate balance between determination and insanity. As Dominic stated:

“When I met the director of The Young Offenders, Peter Foott, to discuss the part I would be playing, the name of Roy Keane came up in relation to the character. While they are extremely different in many ways, one similarity is a relentless pursuit of something. Keane as a player was all about victory. The aesthetics were of little importance. Detective Healy has a similar mentality. He’s not worried about fitting in or being liked. Keane didn’t always play by the rules as his disciplinary record will attest and as can be seen in the film, neither does Healy.”

Literal vehicles as narrative vehicles is of course nothing new in movies, take any racing film such as Days of Thunder. However, The Young Offenders playfulness with the trope is wonderful to behold and acts as a springboard for much of the pacing and jokes in the film. The absurdity of physically peddling such a long journey hammers home the juvenile nature of the central characters and comic dementedness of Garda Healy.

As a filmic bildungsroman, The Young Offenders succeeds in style. Initially we are introduced to naive inexperienced characters behaving as one would expect. When we learn that they come from a socio-economically deprived area and of Jock’s violent home life they earn our sympathy. Classic Irish issues such as alcoholism that are as pervasive as ever are dealt with deftly. Loneliness, abandonment and lack of familial contact drive characters to substance abuse.

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Jock and Conor peddle away furiously from their undaunted pursuer

A quick solution is not offered but the film does clearly suggest friendship and actually talking to someone alleviates much of the condition of human suffering. When the characters come to a place of experience at the end of the narrative we feel it is authentic and earned. There is no shortcut to success and seeing the two engaged in honest work is ultimately an inspirational ending.

Allusions to 1940s Italian film however is not what made The Young Offenders such a success. Indeed that honour goes squarely to the humour. Colloquialisms aside, the humour here is of a universal nature that anyone can enjoy. Authenticity brings people to enjoy a film more. There is nothing worse than enduring a movie where children or teenagers engage in conversations that no child on earth would have. Peter Foott’s writing and directing deliver dialogue that an audience can immediately identify as being truthful to human nature. 

When I asked Dominic why he felt Irish films traditionally do not do well, and what made The Young Offenders different he offered:

“Truthfully, I don’t understand why this is the case. Some of the best films I have seen in the cinema have been Irish-made. Perhaps there is the feeling that as it is Irish and not American or British, it will be a smaller budget film, have lower production values and lack big-name actors. These factors might act as a deterrent to some. Hopefully The Young Offenders will help change these preconceptions. In fact, a friend told me that someone had recommended that she go and see the film by saying ‘It’s not just a good Irish film, it’s a good film!’, which I think is quite indicative of people’s mind-frame.”

Works Cited

De Sica, Vittorio, director. Bicycle Thieves. Ente Nationale Industrie Cinematografiche, 1948.

Foott, Peter, director. The Young Offenders. Wildcard Distribution, 2016.

Lynch, Daniel. “The Young Contender.” Campus.ie, 21 Nov. 2016.

Traces of the Gothic in Connemara

During a screening of Tim Robinson: Connemara last September I was fascinated by the gothic undertones that appeared to colour the film. The discussion with director Pat Collins after the screening further conjured gothic tropes that have been explored by our Irish Gothic class thus far this semester. Now that we are coming to the end of that section of the course, I felt it would worth while to document the overlap between Collins’ seminar and the gothic characteristics of Connemara’s desolate landscape.

Tim Robinson: Connemara explores the relationship between people and land in remote parts of Ireland, and of the titular characters efforts of create a map of the land with exquisite cartography. Robinson walked every inch of the land and measured distances with footsteps, which one member of the audience stated astutely was reminiscent of Eliot’s coffee spoons. Collins remarked their aim was, ‘’to restore the small place. How people live there and interact with the landscape.’’

The chronicle of the small place appeared bleak. Every few years the inhabitants of Connemara like many rural places, must burn ferns in the fields to keep their relentless growth in check. Sisyphus would be proud. Upon burning the ferns they discovered the remnants of famine fields that once fed some of the eight million inhabitants of Ireland. The ghost of the past resurfacing to confront contemporary Ireland with it’s ghoulish past struck me as quintessentially gothic.

Similarly, the film uses archival footage of the villages rather than modern as both Robinson and Collins felt it was more authentic. While upon viewing the film one indeed feels this is the case, it is prudent to question why. The grainier footage of the past better suits the atmosphere and tone of the film. Like the hidden famine fields, the old Ford Cortinas and aran sweater clad populace appear as ghosts inhabiting a forgotten land. Past illusions encroaching uncomfortably to contemporary society is a classic gothic trope whereby the future is a mystery blotted by the past.

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Robinson silhouetted against the magnificent Connemara landscape.

Collins stated the Irish village has been in decline since 1851, and as such part of the documentary fells to be a filmic obituary. However, following Tim Robinson’s viewpoint is far from a wholly morose endeavour. The beauty and spectacle of Connemara’s quiet forests, ferocious shore and grand mountains all offer an example of the sublime. To achieve wonderful representations of the landscape the film crew would travel far beyond the roads and into the middle of these expanses. Collins stated a personal disdain for crews that ‘’film from the roadside’’.

Robinson’s propensity for tying folklore to the landscape conjures more ‘ghosts’. While the director doesn’t share this particular viewpoint, preferring instead to view real human interaction with the landscape, there is no dissonant conflict evident in the film. Both viewpoints coexist and we are free to project onto the landscape whatever sentiments we have as viewers. The patient style of filming allows for long shots of landscape uninterrupted by monologue. In quiet reflection each viewer is free to interpret as they see fit.

Works cited

Collins, Pat. “Tim Robinson: Connemara.” Landscapes, Environment and Heritage in Irish Studies Workshop, 22 Sept. 2016, University College Cork, Cork. Q & A.

Collins, Pat, director. Tim Robison: Connemara. Harvest Films, 2011.