Brexit is back on the agenda

Brexit is back on the agenda


Dear readers of my blog,

having been reminded of my silence online by some readers, I must say that I don't regret to have read, written, and translated – in the dark, so to speak – for the past two months or so. Of course, it is not that I have forgotten to speak up about things, though, seriously, with so much change in the air owing to the virus crisis, it has not been easy to reconcile the restart of complete school populations in Lower Saxony with free time activities such as running a blog and website concerned with Oscar Wilde and anything under the sun that can possibly be related to him and his works.

There are, however, moments when the impulse to speak up imposes itself. And catching a glimpse of Theresa May giving a statement from the fair to middling government benches in the House of Commons about the announcement that HM Government is going to break international law, I thought I might as well intervene once again. I read about HM Prime Minister turning on the EU negotiators yesterday evening, so when discussing “false friends” between German and English in class this morning a phrase from the First World War saying that “England's calamity is Ireland's opportunity” came back quite naturally. Actually, I must correct myself now, for the sentence dating from the outbreak of the war in August 1914 ran like this: “England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity”.

Giving this lapse of my memory a second thought, however, I do think that over one hundred years later, the fact that the UK opted out of the EU in 2016 meant that through the outcome of the referendum a long-standing member country with quite a range of privileges and special rights was going to become an outsider asking to be awarded certain rights from the majority of the remaining EU members. What in 2016 was already visible as a difficult position, has now become a really calamitous one because who is going to give a government anything that openly announces to renege on anything before agreed upon on key issues such as Northern Ireland?

Such a sentence about Ireland's opportunity being dependent on England's predicament may change its wording over time, it may also change its sense altogether, but it is interesting to see that it sticks in your mind, popping up again just as a topic that seemed papered over by the current Corona crisis again hits the headlines. Clearly, the English have tended to turn a blind eye to what people say in Ireland – given the fact that geographically speaking as well as in terms of population and economy the islands of Great Britain have always had an overpowering advantage when compared to Ireland.

This does not mean, however, that the same applies culturally, and this is where the Irish have been able to exert their influence over the past one hundred years, not least by the voices raised by men and women of letters of Irish descent. And you may smile when I write this, but I do not consider working on a new translation of Joyce's early collection of short stories, Dubliners, into German to be just a coincidence at a time when things Irish come into focus again. In fact, turning almost forty years of reading these stories into a German text fed by innumerable personal discussions on Joyce and Ireland all over Europe, I once again feel how much Joyce and Wilde are still our contemporaries. Their observations of what was their present and what is our past when re-apprehended today in the context of a political conflict between the interests of the people in Ireland and the leaders of Westminster political caste clearly show that writers by means of using the right words are able to see through in a very brief text what it normally takes generations of less gifted analysts and commentators to say in complete libraries of non-fiction books.

Following Joyce's characters through the streets of Dublin not only brings to life the situation in which he saw them as their contemporary, it also allows you to correlate what is unconsciously being said and lived today with a distant past – if you accept that people hardly ever live much longer than eighty years.

I would go further still and maintain that if you accepted that Joyce had written all of Dubliners to be filmed you would be able to see even more of the groundwork of history that is hidden in the layers and layers of meaning of written documents but which comes out into the open once you start looking for the street furniture and city-scapes informing these stories and once you allow the words on paper to be spoken and visualized.

Things are not as easy with Oscar Wilde's stories since unlike Joyce and, to a lesser extent, George Moore, Wilde did not specifically date and locate his prose narratives. Perhaps he was more concerned with wearing and preserving several masks. In the present predicament, when wearing facial masks has become a common feature of public life, writers like Moore, Wilde, and Joyce, who all left Ireland and died either in London or in continental Europe, where they also confessed to being Irishmen, have found quite a large following in that whoever can dig up Irish ancestors – even among British politicians – has sought to obtain an Irish passport in recent months – foreseeing the calamity now facing everyone who cannot run away. I do not propose to anybody that opting out of one's country will allow you to opt out of its history, too. On the contrary, I do think that those who go for another passport now have long since lived a kind of dual identity, taking advantage of that now when the chances of survival of a United Kingdom are dwindling, while there is an ever increasing chance of it turning into a disunited conglomerate. Those who are leaving now are among the best – as many such “episodes” in European and World History have shown. And I sincerely think that “the rest is [not] history”, for you need to be haunted by history to wake up one day individually as well as collectively.

All best wishes for now,

Jörg W. Rademacher

8 September 2020




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