EVERYTIME RODDY DOYLE comes to New York, he breaks my heart. The last time he was here five years ago, I was over the moon with anticipation, and admittedly a bit raptured by lunar impulses. Doyle was talking on a panel at NYU with Frank McCourt and Colm McCann about James Joyce.
This event was supposed to sum it up for me, and converge many paths of my imagination. By the end of it, however, I was standing in the middle of a crowd of Joyceans calling Doyle's attack on the "middle class Joyce" an unfair cliché and one of many he was making that night. I was blunt, and my brief oration had a touch of the theatrical to it, but I was respectful and sincerely possessed with the need to talk back. It was spiritually akin to Doyle's attitude that night, where Joyce and the Irish language had become things he would slay for our amusement.
I was protesting the cavalier transmission of disinformation amidst all the jest.
Doyle was in rare form on all fronts romantic and Irish. The zinger that turned my stomach was when he decided to tell the auditorium full of Joyceans (of all people) "there's no word for love in the Irish language." Joyce scholars are already a pretty anti-Gaelic crew, despite Ó hEhir's monumental A Gaelic lexicon for Finnegans wake, and glossary for Joyce's other works, and so this particular Doyle slander on the Irish language satisfied just the wrong type of Irish hater.
Despite my passions, I am no Roddy Doyle hater. Eileen Jameson can confirm that my first real date, with flowers and the whole bit, was to see The Commitments with her when I was freshman in high school. Just as I was becoming a teenager, my dad's city--Dublin--was hitting popular culture with Doyle's ingenius vision of Irish life that was hip and Black and funny and urban, and ever since, his books have been important to me.
This past week, he was back in New York, and spoke at NYU again, but had to begin with a disclaimer--the whole audio from the night is embedded above. "The last time I was here," he said...going on to decribe the fallout from what happened during question and answers at the Joyce panel.
It still kills me that some of New York's most influential literary types left that damn panel five years ago, thinking Irish is somehow a loveless language. It's unbelievable I was the only one who said anything back to him.
Following the stink at the Joyce panel, I dared show my face at the cocktail reception at Ireland House afterwards. It was a very nice bourgeoise society tradition replete with wine and cheese, and I was very happy to enjoy it. Frank McCourt gave me the wink. We didn't talk as I wasn't as sure of myself then. I missed Roddy Doyle, but I would have avoided him as it was overwhelming. I did see Pádraig Ó Cearúill, Irish language lecturer at NYU, however.