What transpires today in the contemporary world is in several ways akin to what emerged a few centuries ago when people were exploring the planet: they discovered that their world was a vast place and re-drew their maps.
The world that was previously flat became spherical, and later it expanded. Subsequently, the old world views were shed frequently. People conceived new and alternate ways of thinking and ultimately, they retreated from the global masses.
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“The Shipping News” explores a geographical retreat as Proulx constructs her story in Newfoundland, a place that is out of the generic, globalised world. Her symbolic reference to knots is part of her unconventionality.
In chapter one, Proulx begins with applying the rope metaphor for Quoyle.
“It (quoyle) is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.”
This alludes to Quoyle’s passive attitude and indifference to the world and all of its issues. Partridge’s character is unorthodox and does not conform to the demands of a globalised world. His father, on the other hand “admired the mystery of business-men signing papers shielded by their left arms.” Partridge’s response to this is simple, “Ah, fuck it.”The Gammy Bird also diverges from the conventional and globalised world. Its odd structure and technique is vastly different to the Record back in Brooklyn. Quoyle comments:
“Gammy Bird was a hard bite. Looked life right in its shifty, blood-shot eye…Nothing like the Record.’”
The setting of the story in “Newfoundland” in itself is ironic as it implies a place to find oneself and depart. In the final chapter, there is a sense that Quoyle is no longer retreating from the global or anything for that matter. He sought peace, clarity and in Newfoundland, Quoyle discovers both as well as love “without pain or misery.”
Through poetry Seamus Heaney withdraws from the present, historical period into another realm and time. For instance, in “Blackberry-picking”, he takes us to a world that is full of complex joys. The personification of the Blackberry-picking process and the transient nature of these fruits make the experience all the more pleasurable and satisfying.
In stanza one, the persona begins his quest for blackberries eagerly, wanting to savour every moment of its sweetness.
“Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week the blackberries would ripen…
You ate the first one and its flesh was sweet…”
As the poem progresses, the tone of mere excitement and pleasure is replaced with melancholy.
Heaney presents a post-colonial perspective that reflects on the history and struggle in Ireland. There is a rejection of consumerism and industrialism in his poems. In “Digging”, Heaney reflects on the meaning found and purpose in digging the soil.
“By God, the old man could handle a spade
Just like his old man.”
Heaney constructs an alternative way to explore the political, historical and philosophical paradigms.
As a result he discovers both noble and ignoble qualities in the past and the contemporary world. He finds truth, from the well in “Personal Helicon”, where he admits:
“I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.”
Whilst in “Requiem for the Croppies”, he finds profound meaning when:
“In August the barley grew up out of the grave.”
As well as in the archaeological finds in “The Tolland Man” and “Punishment.”
There is an avoidance of global absolutes about humanity and human purpose in his poetry. Instead, there is a moral ambivalence and the complexities and joys found within simple things.
The sense of place as is consistent throughout all the texts is vital to the retreat from and rejection of global modernity. The 1997 film production “The Castle” directed by Rob Stitch is a simple allegorical and some would agree farcical story which seeks to explore greater issues. Set in a small-town, rural country-side area, it explores the seemingly clichéd problem of the big industrial company wanting to develop and take over land.
The Kerrigan’s Accent, attitudes, likes and dislikes are all withdrawing from the mainstream. The family are almost blissfully unaware of globalised issues. Instead their energy and satisfaction is gained from simple things, demonstrated in Darryl’s proud comment: “Dale dug a hole”. Home is essentially where their heart is, in Darryl’s words: “It’s not a house it’s a home”. “It’s a place for the family to turn to.” The Kerrigan’s home is a microcosm for the individual self; it keeps out the modern and the sophisticated. In their home there appears to be a deliberate retreat from stylishness. Things that would ordinarily be sneered and laughed at are appreciated and given reverence. The Kerrigan world although is a domestic comedy, first and foremost, is more complex and important than it seems.
Conclusively, the degree to which composers such as Annie Proulx, Seamus Heaney and Rob Stitch project their own contextual and distinctive ways of seeing, knowing and understanding the world is reflected in their attempts to retreat from the global. Whether they succeed or whether their plight is hopeless, is for you to decide.
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