Fintan O’Toole is a columnist with The Irish Times and Leonard L. Milberg Visiting Lecturer in Irish Letters at Prince­ton. His writings on Brexit have won both the European Press Prize and the Orwell Prize for journalism. (June 2018)

Follow Fintan O’Toole on Twitter: @fotoole.

IN THE REVIEW

Where Lost Bodies Roam

Samuel Beckett

Beckett’s Political Imagination

by Emilie Morin
The astonishing works with which Samuel Beckett revolutionized both the theater and the novel—Waiting for Godot and the trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable—were written immediately after World War II and the Holocaust. Vladimir’s question in Godot, “Where are all these corpses from?,” and its answer, “A charnel-house! A charnel-house!,” hang over much of his writing. Torture, enslavement, hunger, displacement, incarceration, and subjection to arbitrary power are the common fates of Beckett’s characters. Yet there is a long tradition of seeing him as not merely apolitical but antipolitical.

Mad As Hell About What?

Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale in Ivo van Hove’s stage production of Network, 2017

Network

a play directed by Ivo van Hove, adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, at the National Theatre, London, November 13, 2017–March 24, 2018
Network, one of the big movie hits of 1976, now seems prophetic in both senses of the word. The Old Testament prophet is typically less interested in seeing into the future than in denouncing the iniquities already present in the world. Howard Beale, the deranged TV news anchor created by …

Backing Into the Spotlight

Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore, and Alan Bennett performing in Beyond the Fringe, 1964

Keeping On Keeping On

by Alan Bennett

Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at London’s National Theatre

by Nicholas Hytner
Last summer, I saw a fine production of Alan Bennett’s best-known play, The Madness of George III, at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. I had read the play before but knew it mostly from Nicholas Hytner’s 1994 film version in which, as Hytner puts it in his engaging and …

Brexit’s Irish Question

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit of the EU, Brussels, June 2017
The Irish Question rises yet again, looming on the road to Brexit like the Sphinx on the road to Thebes. It threatens to devour those who cannot solve its great riddle: How do you impose an EU frontier across a small island without utterly unsettling the complex compromises that have ended a thirty-year conflict? The “people” part of the preliminary Brexit negotiations concerns the mutual recognition of the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. The “money” part concerns Britain’s outstanding obligations to the EU budget and the calculation of the final divorce bill. Both are awkward and politically divisive issues, but it should be perfectly possible to reach a settlement.

The Male Impersonator

Ernest Hemingway on his first safari in Africa, 1933–1934

Ernest Hemingway: A Biography

by Mary V. Dearborn

Ernest Hemingway: A New Life

by James M. Hutchisson
Hemingway had imaginative access to two things he hid behind his outlandish public image—a complex sexuality and a deep trauma. Since the publication in 1986 of the unfinished novel The Garden of Eden, which he had worked on fitfully from 1945 until 1961, it has been obvious that he was drawn to the excitement of crossing sexual boundaries. The he-man was at least in part imaginatively a she-man. It was already clear that Hemingway was drawn to the erotic potential of androgyny.

NYR DAILY

How Ulster Unionists Block Brexit

Party leader Arlene Foster addressing the November 2017 conference of the Democratic Unionist Party as delegates waved Union and Ulster flags, Belfast, Northern Ireland

As the recent debate on abortion showed, the Democratic Unionist Party’s values and idea of Britishness are increasingly out of kilter with Britain itself. And Brexit, which the DUP supported, now looms as a disaster for the Northern Irish party. If, as the DUP insists, Northern Ireland can be treated no differently from the rest of the UK, because the Union with England, Wales, and Scotland is sacrosanct, then all of the UK must stay within the EU’s rules to meet European conditions on border arrangements with Ireland. In which case, Brexit itself becomes pointless. The DUP’s backward-looking Britishness thus stands solidly in the way of Brexit’s English revolution.

Theresa May’s Blue Monday

British Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street, London, December 5

Britain’s agreement to accept Ireland’s demands over Brexit and the border is an expression of its weakness: it can’t even bully little Ireland anymore. And this would have been bad enough for one day. But there was another humiliation in store. Having backed down, May was then peremptorily informed by her DUP coalition partner that she was not even allowed to back down. It is a scarcely credible position for a once great state to find itself in: its leader does not even have the power to conduct a dignified retreat.

Britain: The End of a Fantasy

British Prime Minister Theresa May on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen's permission to form a minority government, London, June 9, 2017

Brexit is an elite project dressed up in rough attire. Because Theresa May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. In Britain’s recent election, May’s phony populism came up against the Labour party’s more genuine brand of anti-establishment radicalism that convinced the young and the marginalized that they had something to come out and vote for.

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