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. (October 2018)
Pretty Gentlemen: Macaroni Men and the Eighteenth-Century Fashion World
by Peter McNeil
When Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni, he was not thinking of pasta. And the author of the ditty, probably a British professional soldier mocking the New England militiamen with whom he fought during the French and Indian War in the late 1750s or …
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.
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 …
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.