Discussion Questions (4/22)

  1. Can we compare the Irish and African-Americans without also discussing Irish-Americans?
  2. Did the Irish have a choice of who to throw their allegiance behind when they arrived in America?
  3. How do these articles complicate the history of minstrelsy and does that change the way we should look at it in texts such as The Octoroon?

Missed Connections. New Opportunities

All day yesterday, I kept getting reminders: Trevor Noah – Loud & Clear Tour. Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN.

Of course, the show and all the other events scheduled for IDEA week have been canceled. I had even purchased tickets for One Republic (C loves that song Counting Stars and I thought, why not, she’ll have fun). I am sorry that we missed Trevor Noah. I think adding his interpretation of blackness—how it has changed and been challenged since coming to the United States—would have contributed to our class discussions this week in an intriguing way. I am sorry that I did not get to take you all out to dinner before the concert; sit around a table and eat with you and get to know each of you a little more outside of the classroom setting. Sneaking small peaks of your homes has been lovely, but I would have much preferred chatting together over a meal. The Trevor Noah event is just one more addition to the now long list of events canceled because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I am not writing this post to lament what we have lost. Yes, I am disappointed about not seeing each of you on campus, about the events that we did not get to attend, about being stuck in the house, but I am also really proud of how this class has been able to adapt to the online version of the course. This blog, our class blog, which started off as a dairy of your readings each week has truly evolved and become more; a point of interaction for each of us as we practice social distancing. Discussing The Commitments today reminded me about the importance of focusing on what we have gained during this difficult and strange moment.

In our conversation today, I wanted to make sure we concentrated on how Doyle frames class in the text. The Irish are “the niggers of Europe,” because of their marginalized class status. The emphasis is not a political declaration of race, but an acknowledgement of their poverty and oppression. Yet as we focused on the economics in the text, we did not get a chance to discuss the music as much as I would have liked to. And this is where our blog has become quite useful: A chance to communicate with each other in-between class meetings. So, between now and our next class on Wednesday, I want you think about the music. The movie gives us a much better way to access the music but there are a couple of other videos that I want us to think about, if we can.

U2. I have yet to meet one person from Ireland that likes this band. I never was a U2 fan. I know many of their songs—they were a very popular band—and a friend took me to see them once in concert (it was weird, the PopMart tour, I think). Yet nearly every person I have met in Ireland has nothing good to say about this band. They are mentioned dismissively in the book only a couple of times. Once here: “It had been a great gig. Hot Press told Jimmy. Dublin needed something like The Commitments, to get U2 out of its system. He’d be doing a review for the next issue. Then he asked for his two pounds back” (111-12). This mention, in particular, reminded me that the most popular band in the world, at the time, was not equally appreciated in their home country. Yet U2, like The Commitments, are very much influenced by black American soul music. Shortly after this book is published, U2 releases a documentary discussing their identity as a band, including their connection to black America and black American music. What are your thoughts? There are some interesting connections between U2, the U2 film, and The Commitments.

a. U2: Rattle and Hum – Trailer The way in which all the American cities listed connects to The Commitments, no?

b. U2: Rattle and Hum This is the only digital version of the film that I can locate. If you are interested, watch the entire video (1 hr 39min). U2 plays with a gospel band in Harlem, they go to Graceland (Elvis’s relationship to the history of black American music of course has to be considered in this scene), they play with BB King, and sing their tribute song to Martin Luther King Jr (some of the facts of King’s death are wrong in that song). Sunday, Bloody Sunday is played as well, which connects to other topics we have discussed. Bono particularly dismisses Irish Americans and their understanding of Irishness when they sing this song.

Phil Lynott. I only discovered Lynott and Thin Lizzy after I lived in Ireland, but I knew some of their music. I just had no idea that the band singing Boys are Back in Town was an Irish rock band and that their lead singer was black. Irish, yes. But a black guy. Jimmy dismisses Phil Lynott as having any influence on The Commitments because he was not soul (67). What do you think? In The Deportees, the story “Home to Harlem” discusses someone like Lynott (and in some ways must be inspired by Lynott’s family). Irish and Black. The story begins, “He couldn’t find himself on the registration form” (179). What box do you tick when you’re black, and Irish, and emigrating to the United States? Declan ends up ticking other. Here’s a link to Thin Lizzy Boys are Back in Town. And just for fun, Thin Lizzy’s version of Whiskey in the Jar is my absolute favorite.

The use of Chain Gang by The Commitments irritated me. Of all the songs that they sing, this song is particularly connected to black American history and culture. What are your thoughts? Here’s the Sam Cooke version.

Any way. Those are some additional thoughts that I had about The Commitments after our conversation today. This book, unlike most of the titles that we have discussed this term, takes place during my lifetime. While I knew nothing of Ireland at the time the book was published, there is one detail listed in the text that connects to my own childhood memories. When Jimmy meets Joey, he is “wearing a Jesse Jackson campaign T-Shirt” (28). I share a picture of myself wearing one of those shirts from the 1980s.

4/20 Discussion Questions

Does the band’s name, The Commitments, have any particular significance to the novel, beyond that it keeps in form with other “the” bands like The Temptations of the 60’s? Is it just another gesture or does it carry weight in their Dublin experience?

What does Jimmy’s role as the manager and as a sort of narrator for the novel tell us about him?  How does he change from The Commitments to The Deportees? He is key to keeping the group together, but as he doesn’t play, is still a little on the outside.

How is the credibility of Joey “The Lips” Fagan presented differently in the novel and in the film? Is he, for lack of better words, validated or vindicated when Pickett’s limo shows up at the end of the film? Does this change his relationship to soul music?

4/20 Discussion Questions

How do The Commitments and The Deportees compare to one another as groups? Would you call one more “authentic” than the other? Both bands seem to only play covers of songs, but do you think that they successfully adapt them and make them their own? Or is the attempt to borrow problematic or unsuccessful?

How does Jimmy change across these Doyle’s works? Why are his and other’s “influences” so important to him? Can his character be taken to represent the Irish people? Is he supposed to be a likable character?

Jimmy goes through a lot to subtly make his band “not Irish” in The Commitments and very outrightly makes it “not Irish” with The Deportees. Why is he so against the Irish image? Does he not think that the Irish could pave their own way in music? Or is it just easier to build upon the already established framework of others?




Presentation and Discussion Questions

Hey guys! I’ve attached a link to my presentation recording, and my discussion questions are below!


◦Why were the discussions about African American culture mostly removed from the movie adaptation? How does this change the novel?

◦Similarly, what did the addition of “traditionally Irish” problems (unemployment, living “on the dole”) change about the novel’s original message? What about the other changes?

◦Are there lines that Doyle crosses in “The Commitments” that are inappropriate to cross while gesturing? What are they? Does the film adaptation cross those same lines (if any)?

◦Considering how we’ve discussed the Black and Green Atlantic to mean thus far in the course, how would “The Deportees” measure up to our definition?

4/20 Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the band change the songs to make them more “Dubliny?” Is that enough to be considered Dublin Soul?
  2. What is the significance of the divide between jazz and soul? Is Joey the Lips Fagan right about asserting the supremacy of soul?
  3. Why does the group break up? Does “sex,” the impetus for soul, cause the split? Were they destined not to make it?

4/20 Discussion Questions

  1.  By placing American cities alongside Irish towns in “Night Train,” how does Deco’s lyrical improvisation notion towards a broader Transatlantic community? Does the audience’s cheers at the Irish entrance into the sphere of African-American identity validate the authenticity of participation in the transatlantic community?
  2. What does Joey the Lips’s resentment towards jazz say about the Commitments’ mission to replicate and relate to authentic African-American experience and music?  When Joey criticizes Dean for trying to branch out into music which he deems to be too “thoughtful,” does he imply that soul is the only way to properly express the African-American experience?
  3.   What does the band’s quick dissolution have to say about their attempts to don the cultural persona of an African-American soul band?  If “soul is community,” as Joey the Lips claims, does the Commitments’ constant infighting and implosion negate the claims that their style is authentic Dublin soul?

Discussion Questions 4/8

“I imagine he has done for the Caribbean what Synge did for Ireland, found a language woven out of dialect and literature…” (Heaney 5). Is it fair to compare Walcott to Synge? Did Walcott “find” this language or was he a part of it because he actually grew up on the island speaking the language?

“From the beginning he has never simplified or sold short.
Africa and England are in him” (Heaney 6). Is this a fair statement? Is Heaney claiming that Walcott has never misstepped in his depiction of his hybridized identity? Would Heaney even know if Walcott was selling his identity short? Do you think that Walcott is selling Heaney’s hybridized identity short by claiming that only Africa and England are in him?

How does Caliban compare to Ariel? What do we get out of their relationship in this version that we do not in the original? Ariel has a non-violent approach to gaining her freedom, but Caliban seems to be centered on violent revenge. Does the play champion one over the other because of this?

What is Eshu’s purpose? What does he bring to the play? The Master of Ceremonies remarks that Eshu, a black devil-god, will “fit like a glove” (Cesaire 1). What does this say about the other gods, that they fit into the same category as this “devil-god?”


Discussion Questions (4/8)

How should we view Ariel’s freedom in A Tempest? He uses the approach of non-violent submission and Prospero frees him at the end. Is the Césaire’s model of countering oppression? How does colorism play into this situation?

Why does Césaire add Eshu to the play? What purpose does he serve?

Heaney writes that “For those awakening to the nightmare of history, revenge… can be a kind of vision (6).”  In The Schooner Flight, Shabine encounters History but, as Heaney asserts with Walcott’s writing, there is no seeking for revenge. What is history and why should it be approached in such a passive way?

4/8 Discussion Questions

Ariel and Caliban, though now directly identified as slaves, have significantly more vocal agency in A Tempest compared to the original play and speak much more freely about their situations and displeasure with them.  How does that change their characterization and role within the play?

Caliban (and by extension Cesaire) brings up the erasure of identity that comes from being called a name that is not your own or one that is forced upon you.  Walcott talks about this power of naming in “The Schooner Flight” as well.  Though Caliban brings up this point to Prospero and wishes to be called X instead, his character is only referred to as Caliban, even by Caliban himself.  What point does Cesaire make in maintaining Caliban’s false naming?

When Heaney describes Walcott, he says that Walcott “never simplified or sold short. Africa and England are in him.” In view of everything we’ve discussed in our course this description in and of itself seems like a simplification on Heaney’s part of the hybridity we were discussing on Monday. Did anyone else read that the same way?

(Did anyone else chuckle when Heaney pondered Walcott’s “large appropriations,” especially in light of our discussions last week about “Strange Fruit”? I may have misread his point, but I found it ironic.)