Irish Willow

Overview


The difficulty of recognizing them for what they are, as they unfold before us in the real time of actual experience, can make moral dilemmas more or less invisible as they happen. It's only later, in the controlled environment of retrospect, considering the carefully distilled pros and cons of debate, that we come to realise some of our direct encounters with the raw material of ethics. Perhaps this is just a long-winded way of saying that I've led a comparatively sheltered life, one in which many of those ...

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Overview


The difficulty of recognizing them for what they are, as they unfold before us in the real time of actual experience, can make moral dilemmas more or less invisible as they happen. It's only later, in the controlled environment of retrospect, considering the carefully distilled pros and cons of debate, that we come to realise some of our direct encounters with the raw material of ethics. Perhaps this is just a long-winded way of saying that I've led a comparatively sheltered life, one in which many of those sombre questions of life and death that spark such huge controversy have been manifested more as topics for discussion than as immediate concerns, breathing the hot breath of immediacy on my neck. So, questions about capital punishment, euthanasia, just war (to take three examples) have, for the most part, been asked only in a ritual sense, a going through of possible responses, rather than finding my life violently contorted by their direct impact. They've not, in other words, occurred as real interrogations thrust upon me by events, bearing down upon my life with the massive tonnage of urgent actuality, catastrophically unavoidable, allowing no possibility of evasion through indecision or postponement.

 Like the vast majority of my fellow citizens, the cues of right and wrong that guide my conduct are largely the result of osmosis rather than of any consciously weighed-up series of decisions. They're the obedient echoes of custom, as reflected by family, friends, and society-at-large, not independent, self-conscious choices. In consequence, daily life is not fraught with much anxiety about good and evil. Instead, for most of the time I'm on automatic moral pilot - a state of being that has been responsible for allowing some of history's most appalling acts; a state which ought, perhaps, itself to be included in any list of ethical dilemmas confronting us. All this ruminative preface is intended to set the scene for an occasion when, quite unexpectedly, a moral dilemma was thrown right into my lap and recognized more or less at once for what it was, rather than only coming into focus later when I stopped to think about it.

 The circumstances were mundane, indeed mildly comical. So much so that I've often wondered if my interpretation is not just exaggeration, the inflation of a trivial misnomer into moral dimensions it doesn't really warrant. Readers must judge for themselves how to view the matter and consider how I should have acted (how you would have acted). Though I've always viewed myself as being more or less on the side of the angels and among those ranged resolutely, if unheroically, against the demons, my reaction in the face of this particular moral dilemma makes me doubt the sincerity and worth of such casually assumed allegiance. No doubt everyone likes to think they're aligned with the better side in any conflict. But between the camps of good and bad there's a massive wasteland of indifference, cowardice, and inaction, a moral no-man's land where I suspect, if truth-be-told, the vast majority of us are stationed..." Chris Arthur, "The Cullybackey Fox-Weasel" Irish Willow

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Editorial Reviews

David Robinson
I have just finished reading Irish Willow, a book of essays by Belfast academic Chris Arthur that is so thoughtful and perceptive (think Seamus Heaney's poetry in prose) that I wanted to underline whole passages, and yet so beautifully produced that I didn't dare.
Scotland on Sunday
Glenn Hooper
[D]on't underestimate the imaginative qualities of this collection. Look in this direction, and it's all about wildlife; look over there, and it's about the politics of contemporary Ireland; switch tack and it's all about exile and loss and personal identity...Arthur's text - a challenge to the canonical tyranny of the empowered - is gracious composition; a weave of contemplative, meditative longing...
Irish Studies Review
Los Angeles Times
[T]here is the feeling of wandering and meeting a conclusion, a lack of effort because meaning is everywhere...Most of these essays achieve that artlessness, and the writing in all of them is unusual. The story behind the pattern of 'Blue Willow' china, the source of the Old Norse word for 'book' and the burdens of religion in Northern Ireland are bonus insights in a well-proportioned collection of memories. We are indeed, as Arthur hoped, plunged 'without warning into unexpected pools and oceans.
Myers
"With the eye of a poet and the sensibilities of a naturalist, Arthur captures his readers' attention easily and fully. [He] resembles both Loren Eiseley and fellow Ulsterman Seamus Heaney, two writers who brilliantly illustrate the physical and metaphysical connections between the animal and human worlds and map that connection on small and immediate as well as macrocosmic scales through time...[R]eading Arthur's prose is an immensely enjoyable and informative experience.
Nua Studies in Contemporary Irish Writing
Thomas E. Kennedy
"[S]heer pleasure, a swim through the waters of consciousness of a man clearly fluent and knowledgeable in the essay form, full of information and opinion, fact and personal observation, a book that rewards in many ways, virtually in every sentence.
Literary Review
Library Journal
In this collection of essays, Arthur (religious studies, Univ. of Wales, Lampeter; Irish Nocturnes) presents accounts of what he calls falling through "customary surfaces" and discovering the "awesome depths" beneath them or, as he explained in an interview in the Charlotte Austin Review, "the extraordinary nature of the ordinary." His philosophical insights are triggered by specific incidents occurring in his native Northern Ireland. "Willow Pattern" sets the tone for the volume (and names it) with its account of searching for patterns, as on the shards of china he collected as a child, and fitting pieces together to see the bigger picture. "Walking Water" focuses on our craving for order, while "Transplantations" shows the need for continuity and connection. "The troubles" of Northern Ireland are a preoccupation throughout the collection, especially in such essays as "On the Face of It," which examines the notion that a person's religion is revealed in his or her facial features. Arthur's philosophical musings are couched in poetic language and nature images that make for a compelling read. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Denise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781888570465
  • Publisher: Davies Group Publishers, The
  • Publication date: 3/1/2002
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The difficulty of recognizing them for what they are, as they unfold before us in the real time of actual experience, can make moral dilemmas more or less invisible as they happen. It's only later, in the controlled environment of retrospect, considering the carefully distilled pros and cons of debate, that we come to realise some of our direct encounters with the raw material of ethics. Perhaps this is just a long-winded way of saying that I've led a comparatively sheltered life, one in which many of those sombre questions of life and death that spark such huge controversy have been manifested more as topics for discussion than as immediate concerns, breathing the hot breath of immediacy on my neck. So, questions about capital punishment, euthanasia, just war (to take three examples) have, for the most part, been asked only in a ritual sense, a going through of possible responses, rather than finding my life violently contorted by their direct impact. They've not, in other words, occurred as real interrogations thrust upon me by events, bearing down upon my life with the massive tonnage of urgent actuality, catastrophically unavoidable, allowing no possibility of evasion through indecision or postponement. Like the vast majority of my fellow citizens, the cues of right and wrong that guide my conduct are largely the result of osmosis rather than of any consciously weighed-up series of decisions. They're the obedient echoes of custom, as reflected by family, friends, and society-at-large, not independent, self-conscious choices. In consequence, daily life is not fraught with much anxiety about good and evil. Instead, for most of the time I'm on automatic moral pilot - a state of being that has been responsible for allowing some of history's most appalling acts; a state which ought, perhaps, itself to be included in any list of ethical dilemmas confronting us. All this ruminative preface is intended to set the scene for an occasion when, quite unexpectedly, a moral dilemma was thrown right into my lap and recognized more or less at once for what it was, rather than only coming into focus later when I stopped to think about it. The circumstances were mundane, indeed mildly comical. So much so that I've often wondered if my interpretation is not just exaggeration, the inflation of a trivial misnomer into moral dimensions it doesn't really warrant. Readers must judge for themselves how to view the matter and consider how I should have acted (how you would have acted). Though I've always viewed myself as being more or less on the side of the angels and among those ranged resolutely, if unheroically, against the demons, my reaction in the face of this particular moral dilemma makes me doubt the sincerity and worth of such casually assumed allegiance. No doubt everyone likes to think they're aligned with the better side in any conflict. But between the camps of good and bad there's a massive wasteland of indifference, cowardice, and inaction, a moral no-man's land where I suspect, if truth-be-told, the vast majority of us are stationed..." Chris Arthur, "The Cullybackey Fox-Weasel" Irish Willow
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Falling Through
Willow Pattern
On the Face of It
Table Manners
The Cullybackey Fox-Weasel
Takabuti's Tears
Walking Water
Transplantations
Handscapes of the Mind
Taxidermy
Atomic Education
Train Sounds
A Tinchel Round My Father
Envoi
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