Some of you may be watching "The Field" for the first time this weekend;
Kelly has placed it on reserve in the library, but it's also available at
all the video stores. Patrick, Doranne and I feel that there is no way any
of us could have watched and understood and appreciated the film prior to
the beginning of winter quarter, because it asks so much of us in terms of
understanding the context of the Famine and the Christian "influence" on
Ireland, let alone the conquest and the draining away of the Irish lifeblood
in terms of emigration. I would have taken some time this afternoon to say
some of this, but I absolutely had to collect my daughter from school --
sorry about that.

Here are several points I'd like you to consider in general, and possibly
when you're thinking about general themes for your collaborative projects.

1. Doranne mentioned several essential archetypes, and I'd like to add to
them. Imagine a whole family circle of the patriarch (large, on the edge),
his shadow in the form of the sidekick/fool, and his strong and quiet wife.
Then add a weak son and a wayward girl (whether a daughter figure, a lover,
or someone else). The frightening widow figure is also important. Now
place this set of archetypes up against the following stories: The Field
(yep, they're all there), Juno and the Paycock (hey! there they all are
again!), The Informer (we've got the patriarch, the fool, the bereaved
mother-as-widow, the wayward girl, etc.), The Secret of Roan Inish (there's
the strong, quiet wife, and the weak son who can't even raise his own
daughter; in fact, we never see him), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Man, and about fifty million other Irish stories. These could be looked at
as awkward stereotypes that the Irish are heartily sick of, but they
wouldn't persist if there wasn't some major truth to each of them. Take a
look at the first page of "Angela's Ashes" for confirmation of this.

2. The sidekick/fool is an extraordinary figure. Did you see how Bird (in
"The Field") was tenderly cradling and feeding the lamb in the whole first
part of the film? And how he repeatedly informed on Bull and Tadhg (the
son, pronounced "Tyg")? When Bull finally calls him into the pub, has the
shades pulled down, and confronts him, Bird throws himself hysterically
against the window, fluttering (should I say, "bird-like"?) and battering
himself ("I'm not an informer! I'm not! I'm not! I'm not!"). And his
pure joy in being in the cemetery ("I love the sweet smell of a cemetery")
should alert you to his continual presiding over moments of death: he's
there for the killing of the donkey, he's there for the killing of the Yank,
he's there at the American wake, he's there at the cemetery, and he's there
at the ending, which I won't give away for anyone who hasn't seen the film
yet. Anyone with half a background in Irish studies knows the importance of
birds as harbingers of death. But the other sidekicks (Joxer, for example,
or Gippo Nolan's sidekick) do the same thing as Bird: they loudly pronounce
the name of the patriarch for everyone to hear, and periodically denounce
him ("You're the Bull! You're the Bull! You're the Bull!") ("Gippo Nolan,
the finest man that ever lived!" or whatever it was he said).

3. The informer (and, informing in general) shows up over and over and
over. I never really realized it until this incarnation of the program how
overwhelmingly present it is. My early recollections of "informing" were of
my friends getting beaten up, repeatedly, for being a tattle-tale, which I
thought -- at the time -- was unfair because after all, they were just being
honest and responsive to "the rules." It has taken me years to understand
that informing can be ill-advised if you value your life, but my lack of
understanding of this point has caused me to question the depth of my grasp
of Irishness. It's that important. I bet Patrick has something to add to

4. Doranne pointed out to me that Bull McCabe beating back the ocean links
up with Moses; but he can't part the sea because he has lost his connection
to God. And I can't help but highlight the powerful imagery of the ending:
the cliffs, the sacred animals (cows, "lambs to the slaughter"), the shore,
the seaweed, the women above and the men below.... and the only two times
that the Irish language shows up is at the shore (when the islandmen are
saying a blessing for Shamie, and later, when the mother is saying a
blessing at the end).

5. It's worth pointing out now (and we'll be pointing it out more as we try
to explain this) that the fear and abhorrence toward sexuality and the body
is overwhelming in post-Famine Ireland and Irish America. The figure of the
widow is a powerful one: her status as a widow means that she has
experienced sex, but because she is without a man she is dangerous and on
the loose. Everyone is watching her, and talking about her. Worst of all
would be the young widow; the fear and suspicion and sin attached to her
status would make her situation intolerable. In many ways, this attitude
toward sexuality and the body has changed in 21st century Ireland, but it is
all-powerful in late 19th and 20th century Ireland. It led to the banning
of Joyce and other writers, and (some would argue) that the priest scandals
of the last decade are directly linked to it. Ask yourself: why is it that
virtually every priest associated with a sexual scandal in the US is Irish
American? If you came of age in post-sexual-revolution America, this may
seem wildly improbable and remote. But imagine, if you will, that a good
Catholic family who brought a new baby to be christened every year would be
thoroughly criticized for having provided such ample public evidence of
sexual activity. Joe Heaney told me that a newly-married woman couldn't
visit her family for a full month after she was married, because of the
shame and guilt associated with the fact that she was now sexually active.
And if you think that's for the age of the dinosaurs, my very own atheist
father could hardly bear to look at me while I was pregnant (and that was
after I'd been married for 15 years). Indeed, those of you who watched "The
Magdalene Sisters" saw the bitter legacy of the Famine on Irish sexuality
and spirituality.

I know we didn't have a seminar today, but I would welcome your e-mailed
comments on this film and on what Patrick described today of DeValera's
vision of Christian frugality, self-sufficiency, each person having their
proper role in the family (the wildly angry patriarch, the stalwart mother,
the weak son... okay, I'll shut up), and the sense of undeveloped rural
happiness that was supposed to come from not knowing too much so that you
won't want much.

Reminder: read "How the Irish Became White" for Monday, and please send a
response paper to the members of your small group on Sunday pm. On Tuesday
we'll be sorting ourselves into production groups; we're assuming somewhere
from 4 to 6 groups will form based primarily on thematic interests. Oh, and
have a good weekend! -- Sean