In Autumn 2008, when the sub prime mortgage crisis raged in the US and Europe quaked over fallout, in Ireland we were rudely awakened to our own bankruptcy on a scale to cast every other consideration in the shade. Those who lived through previous recessions recalled with trepidation when factory closures, rising unemployment, inflation and devastated communities were the order of the day.
On one of the worst nights of one of the worst weeks of reports of potential runs on banks, a public interview took place with an internationally famously left-leaning actor. The interviewer was one of our own: Irish, broadly the same age as me - someone who had lived through another recession. He was the creator of one really beautiful work and admired by many, including me (up to that night). What follow may not be precise words spoken but, if anything, I've been careful to not exaggerate the spirit of what occurred.
The first surprise was the fact the interviewer was not his habitual shy, spikily reserved self. In great, good form he strode out and addressed the audience..
"Good evening", he boomed, beaming gleeful camaraderie all about. "Wonderful! Wonderful night of complete caving in of capitalism and the banking classes!" and so he went on for a while.
Some howled mirth, but pockets of hilarity had punctuated this whole evening - notably during tragic phases of a work performed earlier by the actor about to be interviewed. The inappropriate laughter could have had to do with the corporate hospitality of a bank, the main sponsor. If that were so - that bankers and outriders were blithely hooting in the face of their own imminent ruination - I suppose it could have been unintentional irony, but I don't believe they were so prescient.
Next the artist addressed his interviewee, the actor: "In a wonderful week for lefties everywhere", he ventured as one engaging in acerbically witty repartee; "and as a well known leftie yourself", he continued, "this week must be a cause of great celebration for you: tell me, are you celebrating?”
By now even the drunk cringed.
The actor replied with caution, "I’m not sure one can truly celebrate suffering and hardship that comes with recession".
Now it makes some kind of sense to me that the actor, and interpreter of someone else's creation, saw beyond personal conviction to compassion. But I've often puzzled over how the interviewer, a creator of a work of beauty and insight, could be so heartless - Unless the hospitality table played a part there too, but nothing else about him had suggested that on that night. Mental illness springs to mind, but this individual appears in general tune with his surroundings in all other respects, especially when he has work to sell - I've taken particular note of his comportment since...
People never fail to astound, no doubt about that!
But it also niggles me that I didn't just stand up and say, "What's so goddam hilarious? don't you remember what it was like here in the late seventies and early eighties?" I had no reason not to…
Freud said that we despise most in others what we recognise in ourselves…..Dear god, I really hope not.