“…to see the familiar with fresh eyes, we first have to make it strange”

Eoghan Harris tests Brecht’s alienation technique to distruction when he proffers them the advice that they should cut their losses in the Republic and stick to their Northern Irish last, if they are serious about making their northern revolution take hold:

…the fiction of an all-Ireland party, far from supporting a positive Northern project is now only an albatross around its neck. As we can see if we compare the two states. In the North, Sinn Fein looks like a powerful party of the mainstream: down south it looks like a sidebar party of the powerless – not a numerous class in the Irish Republic. In the North, Sinn Fein is moving towards the social-democratic centre: down south its armchair commissars are reverting to socialist shibboleths.

In the North, Sinn Fein is spreading itself into the centre ground of politics, making concessions to the unionist tradition, and building a mass Blairite party of social-democracy. At the same time Sinn Fein in the Republic is retreating to the far left margins of political life and becoming a powerless party of protest.

If Sinn Fein in the North wants a noble project it should give up the pseudo-socialist revolution in the Irish Republic and start a real revolution in Northern Ireland. This is the task of making peace with the people who fear it the most. And if this strikes you as naive, I have two reasons for believing that Sinn Fein in the North could carry this project to a successful conclusion.

First, in a long political life I have learned that the only reliable rule is that anything can happen. Second, I agree with the Methodist minister, Rev Harold Good, who took the familiar image from May 8, when Dr Paisley and Martin McGuinness went into Stormont through revolving doors, and made it strange as follows:

“Remember the hand of one gently navigating the other? The offering of safe passage by one and acceptance by the other? For me this was the ‘hand of history’ and worth more than a thousand choreographed handshakes.” We all ‘saw’ that moment. But of course we didn’t really see it until Rev Harold Good made it strange and fresh. In doing so he demonstrated that progress in art, politics and civilisation depends on stepping out of our own skins and into the skins of others.

Strange times. And strange, if interesting advice. Perhaps too strange to take effect.

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  • Garibaldy

    Thought this piece was a bit odd myself when I read it yesterday. And Mick, you might be on first name terms with Eoghan Harris, but others might not realise immediately who you mean without the surname in the intro. Sorry to be pedantic.

    On the substantive point, it seems he’s calling for PSF to become the northern wing of FF, and to implement the types of policies and politics there at which FF excels in the south. Which actually he said they always were. Funny how even Harris can sometimes end up back where he started. I disagree though – PSF is capable of running a twin track approach for quite some time to come.

  • Airt

    Was ist der Einbruch in eine Bank gegen die Gründung einer Bank?

  • Dewi

    V Well written and interesting article:
    “to see the familiar with fresh eyes, we first have to make it strange.”
    Haven’t heard that b4 – it’s a good perspective.

  • Declan Church

    I was once a student of Eoghan Harris’s and he came out with the Brecht “make it strange” concept an awful lot (although he does admit in the piece to using this in his classes).

    He makes a lot of sense, I’m glad I came out of college as less of a lefty than when I went in and it’s down to him. That said, he did give the impression that he believes Israel is 100% right in everything it does; I’d draw the line at 75%.

    “Make it strange” stuck with me; I often find the most insightful journalism about Ireland is written by those neither from or living here.