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The truth of the matter

I enjoyed Pat Collins’ enigmatic documentary on Gabriel Byrne, shown on RTE 1 the other night. Byrne was in meditative mode, reflecting on life, love and acting. He talked about the ‘in between, grey days’, rather than the bad times, being the ones that test your mettle. He reflected on his struggle with depression, talking about the times when he is ‘afraid inside’. Byrne doesn’t drink anymore either, his being a classic Irish relationship with the bottle, and his life experiences – including those of being a father and a divorcee – have turned him into a sympathetic character, alive to the fragility of the human condition, and while his perceptions are not necessarily original or especially different, there is an integrity to the man that makes him  worth listening to.  I found particularly interesting his observation that acting, or indeed literature or comedy, should be about trying to tell some sort of truth. This is something I discuss regularly with my students as we attempt to parse the distinctions between work that is worthy of being termed literature and work that is not.  I teach a memoir class and although none of the books chosen could be termed an ‘about’ book, eg about my attempt to climb a mountain, some of the work has greater intent or integrity than others. When we feel the truth of that intent, we determine the work is worthy of the label literature.

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