Category Archives: In the news

A ‘ghastly heap of fermenting brickwork’? Cities and progressive politics

Fintan O’Toole’s intriguingly entitled article in Saturday’s Irish Times, ‘The decision that I made on contesting this general election’, got me thinking about a few things. I was enthusiastic about his idea of seeking out people who were active in civil society – whether the arts, business, education or community work – at a local level, but were emphatically not politicians, to contest the election. But at the same time, I could see why such an idea was probably doomed to failure – or at least not to live up to the expectations placed in it – especially given the very short time frame. But it was O’Toole’s citing of Mary O’Rourke’s dismissive comment that all it would amount to would be a ”a few gurus in posh areas” that really made me wonder about why people vote the way they do. Continue reading

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Public intellectuals, trains and automobiles: Tony Judt’s post-war world

It soon becomes clear from reading any number of Tony Judt’s history books that he has a deep fascination with trains. Postwar, his highly acclaimed history of contemporary Europe, opens in a train station in Vienna. The Austrian capital was traditionally the gateway between eastern and western Europe, with its central position and imperial concerns further east. In post-war Europe, the city’s two separate train stations – one with routes heading east, and the other with trains travelling west, but never between the two worlds – became, in Judt’s mind – the ultimate symbol of the tragic and artificial divisions of the Cold War world. A history of railways was also planned until Judt became terminally ill with motor neuron disease. It is one of the many topics that he returns to in his posthumous new book, The Memory Chalet. He was a strange child, so fascinated by trains that he spent whole school holidays riding them alone across London and the south of England. Later, as he tells us, he discovered Europe from the window of a train carriage. Trains seem to mean two things to Judt; they represent the possibility of boundless travel across the European continent, while remaining connected to the landscape in a way that simply isn’t possibly with air travel. However the great European railways and the grandiose nineteenth-century station buildings are also physical reminders of the great undertaking of public service that Europe’s rail system represents. Continue reading

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Fiddling while Rome burns: Berlusconi and the crisis of the Italian Left

Life seemed very normal in Rome when I was there the weekend before last. There were posters everywhere for a march against the Berlusconi government to take place that Saturday, December 11, but protests and popular demonstrations by those at all ends of the political spectrum are a fairly everyday occurence in Italy, and usually cause little remark. When I lived in Rome a few years ago, the brief life of the last Prodi government was nearing its end and I had to share my way home one Saturday with a right-wing protest march heading for the Colosseum, where marchers sported t-shirts with the delightfully Italian slogan of ‘No communists in the family… thank god’. Such marches usually pass without incident, as did the one on December 11. However political tensions were mounting in the lead-up to the parliamentary vote on the no-confidence motion in the Berlusconi government, to take place that Tuesday. Ever since Gianfranco Fini, former leader of the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale party had withdrawn his support for Berlusconi’s government last August in a surprising show of statesmanship, it had seemed as if his days as prime minister were numbered. Continue reading

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‘It wasn’t the Italy I dreamed of’… Remembering the Risorgimento 150 years later

‘It wasn’t the Italy I dreamed of.’ 2011 marks 150 years since Italy was unified as a nation, and the words of a disaffected Giuseppe Garibaldi in his later years still seem to cast their shadow over the commemorations. Italy has always had a troubled relationship with nationalism. Unified only since 1861 in a campaign which despite Garibaldi’s best efforts, did little to capture the popular imagination, the creation of the Kingdom of Italy didn’t manage to prise people’s loyalties from their own town, city or region, and onto the nation. The unification was seen as something carried out by politicians and soldiers, which had nothing to do with the lives of ordinary Italians, and the creation of a legal ‘Italy’ in 1861 could do very little to make Sicilians, Neapolitans or Venetians feel ‘Italian’. In the twentieth century, it was only Mussolini who managed to inspire some level of popular patriotism in Italians, and the distaste for his brand of patriotic pomp and where it led, meant that nationalism was once again discredited after 1945. 150 years later, I was interested to see how the Unification would be celebrated, or simply marked, across the country. Would the lack of popular enthusiasm for a united Italy both then and since, and the popular disaffection which followed be forgotten as officials seized the chance to glorify their nation’s past? Or would a more balanced, less celebratory tone be allowed to emerge? Continue reading

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Humanities research… what’s the point?

By Niamh Cullen Last Friday the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences celebrated the 10th anniversary of its foundation. The council, as many postgraduate and postdoc readers will know, has been of enormous benefit to Irish universities, … Continue reading

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Making Monsters of Men

Imagine a world where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, every hour and minute of every day. From a cacophony of voices to an interminable buzz in the background, it’s always there, inescapable. How would people react if they had to live in a world like this, where privacy, solitude, and even silence were mere abstract and utopian notions? It is with such a scene that Patrick Ness opens the first book of his Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Continue reading

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Tony Judt: A passionate historian remembered

We think we have learned from enough from the past to know many of the old answers don’t work and that may be true. But what the past can help us to understand is the perennial complexity of the questions. (Tony Judt, Reappraisals)

Historian of twentieth century Europe Tony Judt, who died last Friday, will be remembered as one of the most sane, wise and passionate voices of twentieth century intellectual life. Professor of European history at New York University and historian of the twentieth century, his influence extended far beyond the reaches of academe. Continue reading

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