Liam MacGabhann, in a review of Patrick Keenan Heale’s
wrote in1939 of “the fineness of the old Gaelic life against the sordidness of the city half-life”
. This is emblematic of a certain view of the primitive life of the West of Ireland which was displayed in, and justified to its viewers by,
Man of Aran
.Primitivism is defined by Lovejoy and Boas as “the discontent of the civilised withcivilisation […] the belief of men living in a relatively highly evolved and complexcultural condition that a life far simpler and less sophisticated in some or allrespects is a mode desirable life”.
They divide this primitivism into two types,which they term hard and soft. Both types look back to a simpler world, and haveparallels with the Judaeo-Christian world view. Soft primitivism looks back to anEdenic time, when man lived without being confined the demands of civilisation,able to do what he pleased when he pleased. The authors make the point thatprimitive societies of this kind have been bound by taboos of great power andcomplexity
–increasing the resemblance to Eden, where the simple eating of theforbidden fruit had awful consequences
. Hard primitivism looks back to a post-Edenic time, where the sentence of the Lord God “In the sweat of thy face shaltthou eat bread”
has taken effect. Life is simple, in a large part because workingfor food takes all the time. The terms hard and soft are made use of by LukeGibbons in his essays "Romanticism, Realism and Irish Cinema" and "Synge,Country and Western", coming from Lovejoy and Boas by way of Erwin Panofsky
.Gibbons puts forward the view that it was the harshness and poverty of thecountryside rather than any ideal of bucolic bliss which attracted Douglas Hyde,Patrick Pearse and Canon Sheehan to the west of Ireland, where they interpretedthe harshness in the light of “an ascetic, elemental Christianity”
. In keeping withthis, there is a thread of biblical imagery running through
Man of Aran
. Thedomestic scene with the animals echoes the Nativity
, the Son whirling his fishingline at the edge of the cliff before hurling it into the sea recalls the young Davidand his sling
, the stone-breaking references the “hammer that breaketh therock in pieces”
from the book of Jeremiah. There are other kinds of primitivism evident in the film: the primitivism of whatMattar describes as a nostalgic, sentimental emulation - the ‘backward glance’
,the primitivism of patriarchalism, as shown by the treatment of the Wife, and the
Quoted in Kevin Rockett, "1930s Fictions." In
Cinema and Ireland
, by Kevin Rockett,Luke Gibbons and John Hill, 51-70. London: Routledge, 1988, 67.
Arthur Lovejoy and George Boas,
Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity.
Baltimore,MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, 7.
Lovejoy and Boas,
Bible, King James Version.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, n.d, Genesis 3:17.
KJV, Genesis 3:19.
Luke Gibbons, “Romanticism, Realism and Irish Cinema.” In
Cinema and Ireland
, byKevin Rockett, Luke Gibbons and John Hill, 194-257. London: Routledge, 1988, 198
Luke Gibbons, “Romanticism, Realism and Irish Cinema.”, 197
KJV, Luke 2:7
KJV, 1 Samuel 17:49
KJV, Jeremiah 23:29
Sinéad Garrigan Mattar,
Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival.
Oxford: OUP, 2004,240.
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