The Irish Review

The Irish Review published by Cork University Press

Richard Kearney, IR 7

IR 7 coverRichard Kearney was associated with The Irish Review from its early year in the 1980s, and was for a time part of the editorial team. In The Irish Review 7 he broadened the span of the journal’s literary compass in an essay on ‘Rushdie, Kundera and Wolfe’. Here is the opening section:

We now inhabit a culture where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between image and reality. Which comes first – the fictional or the real? The copy or the original? The imitation or the world imitated? Can we be sure any longer? Is the contemporary society of media communications incarcerating us in a labyrinth of wall-to-wall mirrors where reality dissolves into an endless play of images? If it is true, as several cultural critics suggest, that images are being registered less as productions of creative minds than as ephemeral productions of mass media, then the notion of an inventive human imagination may well become redundant.

The ‘end of storytelling’ was graphically predicted by Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish philosopher who warned that an impending monopoly of the technological media would replace the authentic ‘aura’ of imagination with the anonymous techniques of information. We had now entered an ‘Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, he observed, where humanity was becoming so familiarized with electronic images of sensational horror that we would soon be able to contemplate our own destruction with a certain voyeuristic frisson.

The flip-side of this is, of course, the rise of kitsch – a curious contemporary phenomenon witnessed not only in the extraordinary attraction of Disneyland fakes or the Warholesque fascination with advertising images for the sake of their own falseness, but also in recent statistics showing how large numbers of American College Students are rescheduling their lectures in order to keep up with the latest TV Soap episode (the sophistication of the pleasure being, no doubt, inversely proportional to the simplification of the self-image). Here parody would appear to lose its critical edge and indulge in self-regarding artifice. ‘The Kitsch-man’s need for kitsch’, as Kundera explains, ‘is the need to gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie and be moved to tears of gratification at one’s own reflection’.

Richard Kearney, ‘Rushdie, Kundera and Wolfe’, The Irish Review, 7 (1989), 32-39 [32]

Full text available on JStor and Ingenta

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