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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
The Tale of Two Cities
by Eugene McCartan
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One hundred years ago this year one of Dublin's most famous literary son's left the city to live in Paris for the first time. He was James Joyce and as the say, the rest is history. Joyce immortalised Dublin in his most famous work Ulysses. In his stories he drew forth the experience of the last vestiges of Victorian life in the city capturing the final and decaying years of that class who still looked to London for what they perceived as the best in culture, fashion, literature, and sophisticated living.
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If Joyce returned to the Dublin of 2004 would he recognised the city that he made so famous? Certainly, many things have changed, many for the better. Gone are the tenement slums, with the smell coming from open sewage flowing, mass over crowding, the smell of hunger and poverty on every street, what James Connolly described as conditions worse than the 'black hole of Calcutta'. Certainly, those same smells of poverty can be sensed in both the inner city and the outer suburbs but to a much lesser degree. You do not have open sewage any more just uncollected rubbish from the ongoing campaign against Service Charges that Dublin City Council wish to imposed on the citizenry of the capital, which in turn is meeting with strong resistance.
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The city is bright, brash, and expensive both to those who have to live here and those who come to visit. The constant topic of conversation is about the price of things, in particular the price of houses. Joyce would certainly recognise the fake Edwardian architectural facades of the new apartments along the quays. The people have become harder and more uncaring than in Joyce's day, a product of the hard economic realities of the fading light from the bright glow of the Celtic Tiger. Contemporary society has to shape and form people to its own ethos and value systems otherwise, it just would not work. It is based upon greed and selfishness and the only god is profit, regardless. Therefore, people reflect these values, hard, self-centred. Me and I are the common points of reference rather than we and us.
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The middle class and the elites then as now look outside for their culture, fashion, political direction, they go shopping in Paris and Rome. They view the world not from an Irish perspective, not shaped by its long history, no the brash young things see themselves as Europeans and see Europe providing them with a platform to be part of the 'Big Boys' now on the block. Being able to speak with the history of European 'Civilisation' behind them. I am sure the peoples of Africa, South America, and other place really appreciated but at the time where to ignorant to understand how sophisticated their colonisers where at the time.
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They might not look to London any more but more to Brussels or Berlin. Some are even schizophrenic, on the one hand looking and talking good European's and on the other cowing to Washington in its war on Iraq and allowing military aircraft to land everyday in Shannon on there way to Baghdad. This is more a recognition of how economically dependent we are, just like in Joyce's day, only the whom you are dependent upon is different.
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The new elites are prepared to 'sell their souls for a bag of coal and lump of hairy beacon' to insure that they remain on top. The rest of us just continue to be stressed out, over worked, ashen and grey faced and up to our necks in debt. The hard press city motorists thump their car steering wheels and blow their horns as another cavalcade with lights flashing making the already chaotic traffic problems worse as yet another group of 'important' people arrive in from Brussels. From the heart of the empire, with a new batch of directives to be foisted upon the unsuspecting peoples of the E.U., new drafts of this law or that. Seeking new ways on how they can get more blood form the poor of the world. To be met with yet another picket and protest by some ungrateful citizens biting the hand that feeds them.
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Our elite is taking their job seriously as saviours of the new E.U. Constitutional Treaty, which is to bring all the outlying areas of the empire under more centralised administrative control form Berlin/Paris. Cut out the middleman in the form of National Parliaments, democracy means what we want it to mean, a case of do as we say not as we do. These new centurions will be wined, dined, and told stories about this city of James Joyce, George Moore, Samuel Beckett, Shaw, and O'Casey. They may even be brought to one of the few decent pubs left in the city, which have not been renovated into some look-a-like drinking emporium to be found in any big European city.
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Democracy, cultural diversity, individualism, community, shared solidarity, and a caring society are now under grave threat. We will all soon be wearing the same clothes (small, medium, large), listening to the same music, consuming the same cultural values, watching the same TV soaps from Vancouver to Vladivostok and back around the globe again. Unless we the people call a halt to all this commodification of our lives and our very essence, then we will leave our children a very baron world to inherit. Joyce, I feel would have some very harsh words to say about contemporary Dublin and the rest of the country besides.
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I am sure that some of our new elite would share the frustrations and sentiments of the Provost of Trinity College, the Rev. Sir John Pentland Mahaffy, when learning of the departure of Joyce from Dublin 1904. 'Thank God they (Joyce and George Moore) have both cleared out of the Dublin. But not before they had squirted stink upon all the decent people like a pair of skunks. James Joyce is living argument in defence of my contention that it was a mistake to establish a separate university for the Aboriginals of this island'.
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