Understanding people in the real world


I SEE Charlie McCreevy TD, quoted as saying there was nothing wrong in the awarding of the divorce referendum advertising contract: what was wrong was not owning up to it - the Government should have admitted they had given it to one of their own because they (QMP) were one of the best and "we knew their way of thinking".

The Irish people would understand it, he said. "The Irish Times won't understand it but the real people of Ireland will.

Can it be true that The Irish Times is so removed in its understanding from the real people of Ireland?

I am afraid it is. We are rather remote beings here, indeed you would be hard put to find two staff members with the same (or any) understanding of reality. As for the real people of Ireland, we do occasionally have contact with the species, but relations are often strained, and it is difficult for us to manage even a semblance of the social interaction that is the norm elsewhere. Small talk is a severe trial to most of us. Sadly then, alcohol is a crotch on which many of us lean.

Our location in the city centre, only emphasises our distance from the Irish heartland, as does the typical inflated staff income. Small wonder that within our office walls, paranoia is a constant companion.

Charlie McCreevy can have little understanding of what such an existence means, but if he has any advice we would welcome it.

But look. Never mind "reality", that deceptive jade. Where else but in The Irish Times would you get a brand new review of a 50 year old book, The Intellectual Lite: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (by A. S. Sertillages)? Apparently this little publication provides all the necessary requirements to prepare anyone who seriously wishes to engage in such a lifestyle.

I am glad to say this is one volume I don't need. I fulfilled the requirements for the intellectual life a long time ago, and there is no question of retaking the exams now. It isn't like the driving licence when you are over 70. Yet while the compensations of the lifestyle are manifold, and life long, there is no doubt they can be over rated.

The life of the intellect, while demanding, is very beautiful. But there is no escape - not for a minute. Metaphysical disengagement, for whatever reason, is a non runner. Some say it is like living inside a glittering palace, the more disillusioned among us compare it to joining the Mafia - once in, you are there for life.

Not everyone realises this at the start, and after the long years' immersion in the classics, the college slog towards the doctorate, the usual subsequent sojourns abroad, the immersion (to the neck and beyond) in everything from Riemannian geometry to theories of hegemony, plus a close scrutiny of the main social, aesthetic, moral and metaphysical concerns by every means from Napier's bones to Chinese abacus, slide rule, parimutuel and suan pan - well, suffice to say that the drop out rate is high.

But for those who stick it out, the reward is incomparable: you get a panoramic view from Olympian heights of the noble mosaic of human endurance and survival - or you sleep the whole thing off in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. It all depends on the position you have chosen to assume and the "actual" state you are in by then.

I might come back later to Yeats's ludicrous notion of choice between the intellect and the heart but I don't want to get the blood pressure up at this stage.

Anyway the whole intellectual thing is a hard slog and not many are up to it. The nervous system in particular is put under a lot of strain (and few aspiring intellectuals start off with much to boast of in the physical department). It is far from easy to burn always with Wally Pater's hard gem like flame, and the life of thoughts is no easier than that of sensations, never mind what Keats imagined. He was on the way out at the time.

Of course when it comes to settling down, there is the added difficulty of getting planning permission for the ivory tower.

That's the kind of little self deprecating joke intellectuals tend to make. There is a hint of sadness at the heart of it.

I might be able to get an interview later with one of the giants on the Irish intellectual scene, Clive Solace, who is very sound on advice for those contemplating entry. I will let you know shortly.