Know thyself 7
. Sue Wilson talks to Stephanie Dowrick. author of a new guide to the cussed and contradictory world ofhuman nature
The explosive growth of the complementary health movement. combined with an increasingly widespread concern about our emotionalspiritual well-being in a world oframpant materialism. has led. during the past decade or so. to a ﬂood of sort-out-your-psyche books. all claiming to have found the recipe for happiness. Unblock your blocks. throw off your insecurities. resolve your conflicts. triumph over your nasty habits — you too can become a fulfilled. successful. confident. contented (etc. etc. etc. . . )beingifyou pays your money and takes your choice of the gurus gazing gravely out from the ’therapy‘ shelves.
Added to the stacks this month is Stephanie Dowrick‘s Intimacy and Solitude. which takes as its starting-point the question ofwhy. when we are alone and/or single. we tend to crave closeness with others. yet when we are in an intimate relationship we so often feel trapped and frustrated. It‘s a contradiction many will recognise. and Dowrick‘s down-to-earth focus on familiar. real-life issues is just one ofthe things which makes her book stand out from the rest of the self-help crowd.
‘I wanted to write the book in the first place because the subject touched such a raw nerve for me personally.‘ she says. ‘I became aware that I felt most powerful in the public world. the world of work. and least powerful in the world of relationships. and l could see the same thing in
Stephanie Dowrick: ‘there’s no
psychological recipe that will fit any of ustor very long’
other people. I wanted to understand it better: l wanted to understand the relationship between solitude and loneliness. and the distinction I ended up drawing is that loneliness can be a longing for someone else. but at a deeper level it can also be an experience ofbeing without even your own self. a real emptiness. Whereas if you have a reasonably comfortable relationship with yourself. your own inner reality. then you can experience solitude as more than just a pause between social contacts. as something far more positive. And that then takes the pressure off having social contacts. gives them a different dimension. because they become something you choose. rather than something you have to have to protect yourself from loneliness.‘ That. in a nutshell. is Dowrick’s central thesis — to achieve both contented self-reliance and successful relationships. we must first gain a solid awareness and understanding ofwho we ourselves individually are; only then can we effectively relate to and accept other people. It‘s not quite that simple. ofcourse — the interaction between selfhood and social exchange is a symbiotic one.
, and much of Dowrick‘s book is taken up with j exploring the multiplicity ofoutside influences.
I from the child‘s earliest relationship with its
mother to the many pressures of adulthood. which affect the way we see ourselves. A trained psychotherapist and counsellor. Dowrick draws on a wide range of psychological theory. but she also quotes extensively from individual personal histories and gives proper weight to the wider social and political context in which people live. looking in particular at the realm of sexual politics. ‘llaving been involved in a lot of political
- activism when l was younger. l gradually came to realise that not all the answers can be found in the
outside world; you have to be concurrently aware ofwhat's happening inside.‘ she explains. ’But equally 1 would say to people who are only interested in psychotherapeutic issues. that being aware of the world around you very much feeds into how you experience your own self and your
‘ own dramas — it‘s a two-way traffic.‘
Intimacy and Solitude also succeeds in avoiding the twin pitfalls common to this ilk of book - on the one hand ofleaving the reader feeling utterly inadequate when she fails to achieve the aforementioned fulfilment. success. confidence and contentment: on the other of seeming to promise nothing but tear-drenched gloom for anyone attempting to unravel his or her psychic tangles. ’l wanted to acknowledge in the book that
we are all incredibly complex and messy and
contradictory beings. that there’s no psychological recipe that will fit any of us for very long. but that
. by coming to know yourself better on the inside
you’ean achieve a shift in consciousness and therefore in behaviour.‘ says Dowrick. ’As part of that I was trying to show that the inner world doesn‘t only contain all these miserable repressed memories. but also a huge amount of richness and excitement. Without in any way discounting the fact that most people have experienced quite a lot of pain. I wanted to point out that people also have a tremendous capacity for pleasure.‘
Intimacy and Solitude is published by the Women '5
Press at [7. ()9
_ Treading new
While the reading world still tends to view Irish literature in monolithic terms, the experience of younger Irish writers today Is as radically different
from, say, that of the young Hugh u Leonard in the 50s as his was from . l Sean O’Casey’s in the 20s. Dermot Bolger, perhaps the best-known and best-respected of Ireland’s current " authorial crop, sees his homeland as ‘a 5 country no longer in a state of flux’, one .1 ., . l which has ceased to suffer from ‘the paranoid lack of self-confidence’ he saw around him as he grew up. Instead he sees Ireland today as more cosmopolitan than provincial, sharing a common cultural currency with the rest of the late capitalist world. Previously, Bolger believes, when the Irish emigrant felt homesick, ‘he would have gone to the universal Mass celebrated in Latin; today he’ll eat a Big Mac.’ It is this shift in experience which Bolger and other writers like Eoln MacNamee and Ferdia MacAnna I attempt to explore in theirwork. l Bolger’s latest novel, Emily’s Shoes, employs the striking motif of shoe 1
and to overcome it.
fetishism to probe issues of identity and loss. Though the protagonist’s obsession contains a sexual element, its greater significance is emotional and psychological. Michael McMahion’s fixation develops when he is adopted by his aunt Emily following the deaths of both his parents; later, abroad in England, he finds himself struggling with complex, qualified feelings of bereavement, a ‘phantom pain’ he can banish only by touching or wearing his aunt’s shoes. n is only when he meets Clare, during the latest wave of apparitions sweeping Ireland, that Michael arrives at the possibility of redemption. Encountering her at a time when he craves for life to be warm, tight and familiar, a feeling he can only achieve when wearing Emily’s shoes, he comes to recognise the implications of his fetish- ’all I had Iearntin my life was to wear other people’s shoes’ -
I Like much of the fiction now 1 emerging from Ireland, Emily’s Shoes l eschews the usual conventions of the ! Irish literary canon, and Bolger is adamant that he is no conscious heir to tradition. ‘I have never felt the weight of history on my back.’ While still in his teens, Bolger founded the Raven Arts Press as an outlet for new writing which concerned Itself with areas of experience previously ignored or marginalised. With his latest publishing venture, New Ireland Books, Bolger hopes to continue to build on the foundations laid by the Raven. A writer of plays as well as novels, he likes to think that all his work reflects his own sense and experlence of lrishness. ‘All writing about Ireland is a true reflection.’ j (John Cairney)
Emily’s Shoes is published by Viking at | £14.99.
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