Thanks to everyone who came along to the reading today at the LFTT Library, in the Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda. It was an experiment of sorts, and a challenge for me to articulate my process of writing, and also to raise important questions about how artists can and should engage with the unique character of the LFTT library. It’s hard to know whether the Library is a character in it’s own right, or whether it is a resource, or whether it is an avatar of sorts for it’s curator and keeper, Helen Horgan. It’s most likely a potent combination of all three!
The Reading today…
In this current writing of mine, I’m drawing upon a specific book, a copy of ‘The House of the Dead’ by Dostoevsky, which used to belong to my Grandfather’s lending library. This small library was hosted within a corner shop, run by my grandparents, in Artane during the late ’50’s. The book has a very intriguing inscription added to it’s inside cover:
What I’m developing at the moment are three characters – Himself, Herself and Context (a.k.a. the shop space that has become subsumed by books from a burgeoning lending library)
I’m also drawing upon four books from the LFTT Library:
The Poetry of Architecture by Frank Rutter
Man’s Place in the Universe by A.R. Wallace, O.M.
Demosthenes’ Orations Vol. II edited by C.R. Kennedy
The Psychology of Character by Rudold Allers, M.D.
Today at the LFTT Library those present read aloud their choice out of the excerpts from each of the books, which I had abstracted and printed out on pieces of paper. Here’s what was read:
“The convicts, as a rule, spoke very little of their past life, which they did not like to think of. They endeavoured, even, to dismiss it from their memory.”
“Thus for example, could I ever have imagined the poignant and terrible suffering of never being alone even for one minute during ten years? Working under escort in the barracks together with two hundred ‘companions’, never alone, never”
“We are now so accustomed to look upon the main facts of astronomy as mere elementary knowledge that it is difficult for us to picture to ourselves the state of almost complete ignorance which prevailed even among the most civilized nations throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages.”
“The relation of the stars to the sun and moon in their respective motions was one of the earliest problems for the astronomer, and it was only solved by careful and continuous observation, which showed that the invisibility of the former during the day was wholly due to the blaze of light, and this is said to have been proved at an early period by the observed fact that from the bottom of very deep wells stars can be seen while the sun is shining.”
“However heedless or unobservant we may be of what is around us, we are none the less insensibly affected by the aspect of streets through which we pass.”
“For millions of people living in the industrial areas of Great Britain the ‘housing problem’ does not exist, because they are not housed; they are merely ‘boxed up’ like so many rabbits. People who are brought up under the conditions of a tame rabbit cannot themselves be blamed if they have also the mind of a rabbit.”
“This has justly been considered the greatest speech of the greatest orator in the world. It derives an additional interest from the circumstance that it was the last great speech delivered in Athens. The subject matter of it is virtually a justification of the whole public policy and life of Demosthenes, while in point of form it is a defence of Ctesiphon for a decree which he proposed in favour of Demosthenes, B.C. 338 not long after the battle of Chaeronea.”
“The effect produced by the speech upon the Athenian audience can be but faintly imagined by us who read it at this distance of time. Although Athens was not then what she had once been, although she was humbled by defeat, shorn of her honours, stripped of her empire and dependencies, with out allies, without resources, without means of resistance to that iron power under which all Greece had succumbed; there was still the remembrance of the past, not yet extinguished by habitual servitude; there were still vague hopes of future deliverance, and a fire of smothered indignation buring in the hearts of the people, ready to burst into a flame at the first favourable opportunity.”
“There was a time when all the sciences which today we know as the ‘natural sciences’ were grouped together under the head of ‘natural philosophy’. This term had its advantages, because it gave priority to their functions of seeking after truth in the natural sphere, and thereby provided a link between God and His creation.”
“I merely maintain that every student of the natural law should be conscious of the fact that he is seeking to uncover one of the aspects of the truth.”
And here’s a sample of what I’m writing (this relates to Context):
The House of the Dead
A concrete floor polished and softened by countless boots, shoes, paws, hoofs. Dark with glinting pieces in it, a great camouflage for dust.
One window to the right of you as you’d walk in the door, which was solid and heavy and dull. Not the sort of door to close itself. As if always trying to sneak inside it’d move open, inwards. All the grey wet wind would get in and glisten up the concrete even more.
The shop was never warm.
It was never bright.
The window, bungalow horizontal, sat squatly and rightly in the centre of the gable. It’s vista all striped with metal office blinds, typically in a posture attempting to be closed.
So inanimate they were they seemed begging to be pulled and rattled.
They did nothing for their facing wall, all lined with shelving fit for a hardware shop, wider at the bottom than at the top.
Too wide and too spacious for the kinds of products on sale:
A couple of boxes of washing powder, side by side, with a gap of 5 cm between them.
J-Cloths in their plastic skins laid out in rows.
Two’s of most things.
On the bottom and widest shelf: tin buckets, mop heads, brush heads, brush handles.
Too much space between everything and hardly any relations among them.
All sale items were put upon the shelves.
The gloom of the shop would lift slightly, as if the atmosphere got interested when a punter walked in. Could have been a Western, the shadow cast not nearly so heroic. Still. A fuzzy indistinct obfuscation in a doorway has some impact.
The counter, planted as far from the door as possible, loomed over the children who’d come for the papers or the firelighters. Dressed in tacky, ancient pine paneling, the counter acted as a kind of fly-catcher and child repellant.
Dogs might lick it.