Monthly Archives: July 2010

Baarìa: A Microcosm of Sicilian history

By Niamh Cullen A mother and her daughter pacing the floor of their tiny home, starving: ‘But it doesn’t matter that we haven’t eaten in a week, as long as the neighbours don’t notice’; a crowded, lively cinema audience who … Continue reading

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In defence of book publishing

A new utopian world awaits all us avid readers, I learnt today. The tyranny of publishers and bookshops will soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to the internet, and the opportunities that it offers for electronic publishing, authors no longer need traditional – or any – publishers. Gone are the days when the profit hungry publishers and booksellers exploited writers by packaging and selling their creative output, while giving far too little in return. Now, authors themselves control the industry, because they alone write the words that sell the volumes. “Content is king, and only authors provide the content.” Continue reading

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Bricks, Books and Paper: How to build a city

If there’s anywhere you shouldn’t be too surprised to see a biography of Marx peeping out of a Louis Vuitton handbag – in place of the usual Chihuahua – it’s at Overlapping, an exhibition of Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa, currently showing at the IMMA in Dublin. Garaicoa’s work is a series of sculptures and exhibitions; originally trained as an engineer, his work reflects this sense of geometric precision, and much of it is concerned with architecture and the urban environment. His inspiration is the crumbling, fascinating, sprawling landscape of his native Havana, where the architectural legacy of colonialism blends with the more recent rubble of half finished houses and shoddy new blocks built in a hurry. Might sound a little familiar to anyone living in Dublin right now… Continue reading

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What are you reading? Suggestions please…

By Niamh Cullen At the moment, I’m working my way through three books; two novels and a sort of history book. Last week, I started reading Portugese novelist Jose Saramago’s Seeing. I had already read two of his novels a … Continue reading

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Swallows, Spies and Secretaries: the strange story of Arthur Ransome

The books we read as children often leave an indelible impression. All of us can remember those much loved authors and books, which we read over and over again, the characters we met, and the places we travelled too. We rarely, however, think too much about the people who spun these stories. Our favourite authors could often be identified only by the long list of other books still to read (more annoying still were those who only wrote one book, or worse still wrote grown up books!), or else by author photographs on the back cover, or dust jacket. These often portrayed a particular image, for male authors they were avuncular old men with a slight twinkle in their eye; think here of Roald Dahl or C.S Lewis. Their female counterparts were often more than slightly bookish, and often pictured with a pet. The overall impression, certainly of writers of a particular generation was one of safe, even staid, respectability, whose only adventures were those presented to us on the page!

One such avuncular looking favourite of my childhood was Arthur Ransome, author of the celebrated and still read (just about) Swallows and Amazons series set in the rural idyll of the Lake District. His author photograph, illustrations and most importantly, stories, gave the impression of a quiet life, given over to inventing tales about the fictional Walker and Blackett children. Ransome’s own life was, however, far from quiet. He had written his first and most famous children’s book, Swallows and Amazons, in 1930 at the age of 45, but as his latest biographer Roland Chambers points out, the most interesting episode of his life was already over by this point. Continue reading

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Knowledge Economy or the Economising of Knowledge: The Meaning of Education

Third level education is a contentious subject in Ireland these days; it seems that just as more and more people flock to gain access to it, there is less money to pay for it. However, urgent as the struggle to balance the budget is, there are in reality much more fundamental issues at stake in Irish education. The number of students attending university has risen dramatically in the last few decades, from 11% in 1955, to more than half the population in 2003. Expressions like ‘the knowledge economy’ are worn out from use in media debates, and everyone seems to be convinced that education is the key to lifting Ireland out of recession in the long term. However, when we talk about the kind of education we wish Irish universities to focus on, opinions begin to diverge. Recent articles in the Irish Times by Tom Garvin and Salter Sterling show how this debate is at the forefront of the public consciousness; however the questions of what should be taught and what kind of research projects should be done in universities, as well as how these should be financed, managed and justified, are ones of global import. In her address to the Royal Irish Academy on Wednesday evening, Harvard university president Drew Gilpin Faust made an eloquent and impassioned contribution to this debate. Continue reading

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