Ireland

John Hurt in Krapp’s Last Tape from the Gate Theatre, Dublin, at BAM

It occasionally strikes me, to my own bemusement, that walking along a street on an average day, I might have in my pockets as many as three devices capable of recording pictures, even moving pictures, and perhaps two for recording sound. Modern technology has given ordinary people—anyone—an unprecedented ability to make precise literal records of what can be heard and seen at any given time and place. Using a device smaller than my hand I can create a seamless journal of sound, text, still images, and movies, if I choose, but I refrain. I rarely put these capabilities to use—only if there is something extraordinary…like the bizarre Australian accent of a tour guide on the Palatine last year, as he spun absurdities to his rapt crowd. (I wasn’t fast enough…) I am wary of these literal records. Are they the death of memory? Even during my undergraduate years, when the goings-on had every appearance of memorable times, I eschewed keeping a diary, taking notes, or even taking pictures. If I ever wrote about those times, I wanted to write from memory, with all its confusions and conflations, believing that someone else would be keeping an accurate chronicle of events to rescue me, if I needed it.

Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at The Young Vic

Desperate measures. Because anarchy and rebellion are the brutal threads that run through modern Irish history, you’d expect the same from its literature. But the greatest Irish writers going back to Yeats and Joyce have avoided Soviet-style social realism. Some have kept their distance from Ireland altogether, including London-born Martin McDonagh, the greatest writer about the Troubles who never experienced them first hand. They are the toxic air he breathed from a distance but still choked on.