Honohan’s message

Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 06:00

‘Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the ...’ – Ulysses , James Joyce

Should we take at face value the Central Bank’s insistence that it simply made a mistake? That the insertion of “that” after “things” on the memorial Joyce €10 coin is no more that an unfortunate slip of the engraver’s tool? No way.

Central banks, our own no less than any other, specialise in gnomic, elliptical messages. Those who follow the Fed or Frankfurt become attuned to parsing and deconstructing pronouncements on monetary trends or interest rates, in reading between the lines.

No less so, though oblique, the message from Dame Street in its choice of Stephen Daedalus strolling on Sandymount Strand in Mulligan’s boots, speculating about the nature of knowledge and reality. In doing so, he kicks out at Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialism, his reduction of what is known to that which is perceived – esse est percipi ... Is our knowledge of the world to be constrained by the “ineluctable modality of the visible”, the inescapable limits of what we perceive?

Stephen, and the Central Bank, are saying no. Samuel Johnson kicked a stone to answer Berkeley – “I refute it thus!” – and Daedalus does as much on the strand, then enjoining himself to “shut your eyes and see”. Seeing, sensation, is not everything. The epistemological message is clear (as clear as any central banker is): behind the visible signs of monetary crisis, lies a solid, more stable truth, knowable through reason and experience. Value in our currency, the euro, is not ephemeral, subjective, a whim of markets, but rooted in reality.

And what of the engraver’s “slip”? An acknowledgment of fallibility? Of the bank’s part in the current crisis? An apology? Perhaps. Or perhaps the bank, by debasing, devaluing the Joyce oeuvre, is warning we may be heading for a bout of inflation ... Gnomic.