John Plotz responds to Matthew Reznicek
Matthew Reznicek’s heartfelt response brought to mind another way that Seamus Heaney’s poetry resonates with Mullen’s account of a realism that slip-slides away from the real, instrumentally, or perhaps just contingently. “Bogland” came to mind especially, with its poignant awareness of how the most orderly spatial and temporal arguments constantly fail to be clear-cut, teleological, even legible. After all, in bog country (as in the world at large):
“The ground itself is kind, black butter
Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.”
Mastering either time or space proves a vainglorious boast: “the wet centre is bottomless.” I take Heaney to be saying is that history-writing, even poetasting itself, matters less than the fact of the Irish heartland’s constant re-formation (not to be confused, Mr. Cromwell, with Reformation). If “Our pioneers keep striking/Inwards and downwards” they do so not to hit bedrock but plunge again into uncertainty, and the temporal flux produced by the absence of a common “imagined community” that can confidently produce a definitive timeline against which all identities can be checked—and, as necessary, disciplined.
The first time I visited The National Museum of Ireland, my young kids and I scratched our heads through an exhibit called Clontarf 1014. Its opening question “What, if anything, happened at Clontarf in 1014?” remained pleasingly unanswered by the time we exited. Perhaps the Vikings won, or perhaps they lost, or perhaps the so-called Viking turned out to be newbie Irish, after all.
Melting and opening, inwards and downwards, Irish history at that moment became less a stick for striking than, as Heaney says of the Irish elk, “An astounding crate full of air.”