A Kinder Time
This is the text of my speech at the Irish Times Memorial Service for deceased colleagues, 15th June 2013.
The unspeaking child hums,
studies a strand of her hair.
She’s captured in her strand of hair
and creates around her such knowledge
that for the first time
we see the system as a strand of hair—
light, ethereal, greatly strained,
what we can’t capture—whimsical. (1)
There’s never been a kinder time. And there’s never been a time with greater capacity for destruction. And we can only live in our own time. And we’re only human. We perceive and conceive within human terms.
“I disdain, I know, I do not know, I pursue, I laugh, I tyrannize, I protest. I am philosopher, god, hero, demon and the whole universe.” (2)
Popular discourse is still obsessed with the dyadic opposition of good and evil, as though they were discrete elemental forces clamouring at the periphery of the planet. But we no longer need to feel beleaguered in that way. This is an era of empirical study and relativity in all things. We have learned the concept of deconstruction, how perceptive ability, the nature of the organism, creates reality. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are simply portmanteau terms to describe social desirables and undesirables.
The wind brooms from pointless angles.
Must we retreat to a previous mind,
disregard so many suns
with their exorcising wands of reason?
This is a compass without needle—
in the dark room again devising
a monochrome answer to light. (3)
Psychology will not damn you; science will not discount you; the halls of knowledge are open to you; dentists will repair your teeth and apologise for pain.
... the world is always exposed.
But we don’t always see, even when the extraordinary stands before us.
No more than we see the true colours of the sun,
that are naked as trees and speckled birds.
This proves that exposure is not the key to sight.
It seems that what opens the eye is its relation to what is present. (4)
In the past few hundred years the race has become increasingly more aware of the other—in personal, social, species and even extra-terrestrial terms. Yes, there is warfare. Yes, there is intrigue. Yes, there are unscrupulous machinations and cruelties, but there’s also a remarkable drive towards empathy and co-operation, a new egalitarianism.
For most of human history, the individual was not a valid unit. Actions were subject to the general purpose, which was usually under the direction of a privileged few. There are no natural rights; only those taken or allowed. At least now we’re actively encouraged to get and go our own way within a more accommodating system. This is not, I know, perfect—another nebulous notion—and not the case in many areas of the world, but the principle has currency, and where there’s a principle, there’s possibility.
This is not a party political broadcast on behalf of the human race. Neither is it a paean to hope. There is no hope. We will grow old. We will get sick. We will suffer pain. We will die. But we don’t need salvation. We need the basic freedoms—expression, movement and the facility to change.
The Buddhists aspire to formlessness, but all form will ultimately be lost. True, the consciousness is happier when it’s capable of rising above the chaos and pain of emotion, but why should we reject any experience, when everything has its end? Can we not say yes to the wave and yes to the sea and yes to being here, now, imprisoned and liberated by form? Would you feel the unity if you weren’t separate? (5)
I don’t think harmony—as in total calm—is attainable, or even desirable. There’s no movement without disruption. Freedom to quest in a heterogeneous society might be the nearest we get to Utopia.
Conflict is a creative force. Birth in itself is conflict, one organism expelling another. Our light is stolen from the darkness. Live the contradiction. (6)
Science is mystery too, with the principle of curiosity at its centre. The huge variety in cultural expression demonstrates the adoption of the uncertainty principle that is the eidolon of modern thought. Everything we speak of, everything we say and discover, only approaches the truth, and this is the danger of any ideology or practice, science too, which has its own limitations. In the end there is no end, only movement and change. This can be frightening or liberating. I find it both.
In this kinder time we have options and can experience ourselves as phenomena, feed ourselves our desired food, sidestep frenzy or participate. We don’t need to accept any givens. We are forewarned. The archetypal forest of the fairytale, where we all periodically go, is not so terrifying with cell phone and sat nav. At any stage and in any state we can make the attempt to find a mirror of ourselves in the world. Like our brains, we should use our freedom in case we lose it again.
Into the Black
When the time comes to leave a space
I hope I’ll not be wanting
and cling like rust to old springs.
This is no time to depend
on horizontal strata, gravity,
or a cushioned cubbyhole in the wall.
Only to stand with angled knees
while the ground sways and uplifts.
Be graceful when your planet forgets its orbit
and goes careering into the great Black.
Be ready to change your colour,
your shoes and maybe feet.
of backache, varicose veins, depression, headaches,
all the ills that keep us full.
Take no prisoners from last year. (7)
(1) Máighréad Medbh: ‘System’, from Twelve Beds for the Dreamer, Dublin: Arlen House, 2010.
(2) Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535): quoted in Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Nothingness of Personality’, The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922–1986, p. 5.
(3) Máighréad Medbh: ‘Millennium’, from Twelve Beds for the Dreamer, Dublin: Arlen House, 2010.
(4) Máighréad Medbh: ‘Naked’. Unpublished.
(5) Máighréad Medbh: Savage Solitude, Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2013, no. 117, p. 144.
(6) Máighréad Medbh: Savage Solitude, Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2013, no. 102, p. 129.
(7) Máighréad Medbh: ‘Into the Black’, from Twelve Beds for the Dreamer, Dublin: Arlen House, 2010.