Where does the time go? And also apparitions. (Who knew?)

So there was another round of bookish visits and talks and sessions in Meath for the Bookfest, and now it’s nearly November. I’m going back-and-forth about whether or not to do Nanowrimo. I do have a busy November, part of which involves writing something (non-fictiony) as well as classes, meetings etc, but November’s busy for most people, that’s sort of the whole point. Write when you’re busy and you’ll make the time; write when you’ve all the time in the world and your CDs will be in alphabetical order and the house will be spotless and there’ll be ten words on the page.

I’ll probably decide on Halloween, around 11.55pm. (There are tentative plans involving Going Out, but Saturdays are busy days for me and I’m not a fan of fancy dress, anyway.)


The madness at Knock is interesting and delighted to see they have Eugene Hynes commenting on it. Hynes’s book on Knock is very well put-together, and pretty much your one-stop guide to everything you need to know about nineteenth-century Knock. (I may have written an essay on Knock and its apparition, particularly it in the context of other nineteenth-century apparitions in Europe. And to think I had assumed all of my history learning would never be of any real use.)

I think it’s David Blackbourn, in his book on the Marpingen apparitions in the 1870s (ah, 1870s, Apparitionfest for so much of Europe) who talks about the idea of visions as ‘passive resistance’ – a way for relatively powerless people to resist those in power (corrupt and oppressive politicians?) by invoking the idea of divine disapproval of them. So, you know, that’s interesting. But the thing about apparitions is, obviously, that they’re constructed. Not that they’re imagined but they’re imagined collectively. And all the reports we have of nineteenth-century Knock are written. They’re from testimonies taken by priests, interviews in the church, where people were asked leading questions (i.e. not “What did you see?” but “When did you come upon the apparition?”), several weeks after the original incident, and where people had also been told beforehand what they were about to see. So to say that “The apparition of 1879 was neither sought nor expected by the humble, honest people who were its astonished witnesses…”, as the present Archbishop of Tuam does, is nonsense.

But Hynes’s point about why people are paying attention to this guy, when apparitions and visions (the Catholic church distinguishes between the two, incidentally) are pretty common, is interesting, and it’s also interesting that with the internet, with the ability for almost instant reporting of events, that this is happening. Because on the one hand it facilitates it – it spreads the ideas faster – and on the other hand it works against it. The idea of an apparition or even of a seer – think Bernadette – needs people to agree on what’s going on, and for that to happen, they need a bit of space before things get written down or officially reported. Not to collude in a deception, but to engage in that process that everyone does where they agree with others and their own interpretation of an event is altered slightly because of it. St Bernadette, who by the way was on my list for ‘People from history I would invite to a dinner party’ so I could have someone who’d witnessed an apparition (I was going to put her sitting next to Voltaire, because, y’know, that’d be fun, right?), saw a small girl about her own age and size and behaved as though she was playing with a friend; this got adapted into the more appropriate maternal Virgin Mary idea by those who watched and reported.

I don’t think it’s ever as simple as ‘lunatic claims something, people mindlessly follow because they want to believe in something’, because why that particular something, why is this guy convincing, why at this particular point in time (beyond the vagueness of ‘economic climate’) do people gather in the hope of seeing an apparition?

I bet historians of the future will blame NAMA or Stephen Gately’s death. Or both.

About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

8 responses to “Where does the time go? And also apparitions. (Who knew?)

  • Rachel

    I kind of love this post. I think it’s something to do with the phrase “collectively imagined” (Durkheim sense tingling!).

  • Eimear Ryan

    Dude, you MUST do Nanowrimo. Who will I whinge to about it otherwise?

  • Margaret

    Nanowrimo sounds utterly cool, until one actually realises that it is 50,000 words in one month! Not sure I could manage that. I was going to start a novel on the 1st of November though and just see how far I got with it, but then I realised the 1st of November is the last day of the mid-term break, and I was like “hmm, symbolism of November the 1st verus starting it in a week I won’t be working,” and decided on the latter. So it’s now got 3,000 words written.

    I am in total awe of those who actually manage it.

    All that stuff on the apparitions is kind of interesting. I don’t know much about the whole Knock thing. Or anything, except the obvious piece about there being an apparition there. And that comment about putting St. Bernadette sitting next to Voltaire made me laugh. THAT, I would like to see!

    • Claire

      Hope it’s going well! I ended up not going for it – I’ve a work-in-progress that I want to try to finish so I’m trying to concentrate on that, but already I’m thinking about Nanowrimo 2010 and spending October planning and November writing, think it could work quite well.

      A friend of mine got me thinking about the historical dinner party idea. Spent far, far too long contemplating the best seating arrangements (e.g. you could have Anastasia Romanov sitting next to St Bernadette and have someone wise like Mary Wollstonecraft keeping an eye on them)… 😉 So easily amused, I am.

  • maeve

    i was in knock less than a month ago! wish i’d read this then, given me more food for thought! 😉

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