Saturday, February 28, 2015

Belfast is the angel

Novelist Glenn Patterson recently penned this piece for the Belfast Telegraph. In it, he offers a cultural road map for East Belfast, "a suggested itinerary," Patterson writes, "guided not so much by the street map as by the works—the 'wonders'—and the workers themselves."

As expected, a certain Van Morrison album is mentioned: "In terms of music and the east, it is hard to look past Astral Weeks, an appreciation of which is greatly enhanced by a walk from Hyndford Street, Morrison's birthplace, along the Beersbridge Road and up Cyprus Avenue." Patterson later classifies Astral Weeks as an "extraordinary example of environment acted on by imagination."

One of Patterson's most well-known novels is 1999's The International, which is set in Belfast on the eve of the Troubles. My version of the book contains an essay by Anne Enright and her words left me contemplating the parallels between Patterson's novel and Astral Weeks:
The International insists that Belfast existed before the Troubles and that it was owned by the people who walked its streets before those streets were taken from them ... "History is an angel being blown, backwards, into the future," said Walter Benjamin. We cannot see what is ahead of us. The International works strangely on our ideas of casualty and guilt. Belfast is the angel, and the bomb is what blasts her away from us, her face full of longing for what might have been. By returning to the moment before the blast, this novel insists that things might have been otherwise. It gives the city its humanity back.

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