June 2009

Paul Morton

features

An Interview with Colm Toibin

Personal temperament does not necessarily translate into style. Colm Tóibín has an intense and jocular personality far removed from the reticence and melancholy of his prose. He’s funny. His voice takes up a room. He gladly takes part in the ancient European pastime of lovingly attributing at least some of his conversation partner’s faults to his American background. (“What an American thing to say!” etc…)

Journalists tend to fetishize such differences between the man and the book. In Tóibín’s case, the difference is so startling, the temptation is irresistible. Tóibín has a Bergman-esque eye for the Irish landscape and a Jamesian eye for the strange, ambiguous and uncomfortable social interaction. In 20 years, he’s published seven works of fiction. The Heather Blazing (1992) drew a portrait of a conservative Irish jurist who appears to coldly study his family at the same distance he studies the law. When The Master (2004) came out, reviewers were fascinated by an unconsummated love scene Tóibín imagined between Henry James and Oliver Wendell Holmes. But the book was really about a figure whose self-imposed exile from his homeland was an extension of his self-denial. In his new book Brooklyn, he tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York in the early ’50s. She knows a world of love in the economically depressed Ireland she leaves and finds a world of kindness in the prosperous America to which she travels. She resists both.

I met Tóibín, 53, on May 18 while he was on book tour in Washington, D.C. He had taped an appearance on “The Diane Rehm Show” that morning and gave a particularly excitable performance at the Politics and Prose bookstore that evening. In between I took him to Kramerbooks, a Washington institution off Dupont Circle that occupies an important place in American history. (Monica Lewinsky may have bought a Nicholson Baker novel about phone sex there. The store refused to turn over its sales records to Kenneth Starr.) What follows is a shortened version of our 90-minute conversation.

Some of your work doesn’t deal with Irish subjects, such as The Master, “A Long Winter” [a long story that appears in Mothers and Sons (2006)] or The Story of the Night (1996). I imagine as you read your prose back to yourself you read it in the Irish accent. But in these three works, particularly in “A Long Winter,” where no one even speaks English, do you find it difficult to understand the psychology of your characters when you translate their thoughts?

In the case of all three, the characters are almost bi-lingual. In “A Long Winter” they would actually speak both Spanish and Catalan. In the case of Henry James [in The Master], his accent would be both American and British and neither. And in the case of Richard in The Story of the Night, he’s really from nowhere, in the same way Henry James is from nowhere. It doesn’t come as a sort of problem. I’m dealing so closely with silences in all three as well, with things not said. Almost not having a language that my parents used or my grandparents used is easier for me. I can get a tone. I’m not talking about a neutral tone, as much as a tone in which many many things are just not being said. And it’s an inwardness. Even though The Story of the Night is written in the first person, it’s only really [made up of] what he sees and notices. In other words, in all three, what’s particularly lacking is a society.

You mean that no one is really talking to each other. They are only talking to themselves.

There’s almost no context in which somebody operates as though they’re a native of a place. They operate in almost the opposite way.
                       
Do you feel a greater sense of place then with your Irish subjects?

I’m not sure with the Irish thing. My friend Anne Enright says -- and it’s being flippant but it isn’t meaningless -- “I’m only Irish on Tuesday.” In other words, being Irish doesn’t enter in my head most of the time. And what I read and the music I listen to would not be confined in any way to Ireland. Writing a novel about Henry James: I didn’t somehow have permission to do that. I don’t know who gave it to me. I may have given it to myself.

With Irish dialogue, you’re working with memory. You’re working with the way your mother spoke or your grandmother spoke. You’re working with the sounds you’re hearing around you when you’re doing the dialogue. So in a novel like Brooklyn or The Blackwater Lightship (1999), the dialogue emerges much stronger than the prose does, which at times reads like stage directions. And I think it’s for pretty good reasons in that I’m in full possession of it, almost as though, sometimes, I was singing in a natural voice as opposed to a voice I’m playing with or molding.

In writing this book, I wonder if you were thinking of Ireland’s changing identity in the last 20 years and of the many immigrants who are coming in from Africa and Eastern Europe. They are all experiencing -- in some ways worse, in some ways better -- what the Irish experienced in America some years ago.

Some of the impulse for this [book] is entirely political. I’m not sure how much. I wouldn’t like to put a percentage on it. But certainly, there were times in the last 15 years where I felt alone in Ireland in my views on immigration. Even with friends who would have views on it, I would say, “You’re talking rubbish.” I believed -- and I know this is an unsustainable belief -- in an open door policy. We had to have an open door policy when Poland joined the EU. We had absolutely no choice. And the Poles arrived in droves. And they added to our society in every possible way. They were good-looking. They were polite. They were hard-working. When you saw them on the street, it lifted my heart. And I felt the same about the Nigerians and the Chinese. And I felt that we had to change our attitudes towards them entirely. And part of the feeling for this was from having spent time in Canada and having watched in recent years the way in which Canada has dealt with what they called the “new Canadians.” Every city in the world has its areas and zones and… there were two streets in Dublin that were being made into a local mythology. And I also watched the way the Pakistanis moved into Barcelona and added life to one of the most rundown, sad parts of the city center…

There was a referendum even in Ireland limiting the rights of immigrants. There was a general attitude about them that they were coming to take something from us. And I’d be alone watching this. And I felt it was partly because I had traveled a lot… I couldn’t believe no one was joining me and thinking, “Well, we went so many places ourselves and we weren’t welcome.” So part of the impulse of the novel arose from that. I didn’t set about [thinking], “I’m going to write a novel to change the world.” But those feelings were knocking around in me a lot. I was in that argument a lot. Sometimes on my own, because no one would listen to me anymore.

When I was living in Central and Eastern Europe I would hear horror stories from people about what their immigration experience was like in Ireland. The stories reminded me more of Eilis’s treatment in the store that employs her in Ireland much more than of her treatment in America.

I was writing about something I knew which is that a woman running a shop like that will behave like that.

But I think when that history is fully written -- and I hope somebody is working on exactly what it was like to come and work in Ireland from Poland, Latvia or Lithuania -- I hope the book becomes a worldwide bestseller. That [it] puts us in our place for awhile. Ireland isn’t welcome.  

Your sex scenes throw me off in your books. The longest and most intense one isn’t quite a sex scene. It’s the scene in The Master where Henry James shares a bed with Oliver Wendell Holmes. It’s not consummated, but it’s the most intense sexual scene I know of in your books. In The Heather Blazing, Eamon has sex with his wife -- it’s mentioned as an aside -- and then they get up and start their day. So much of the sex in your books feels like you’re writing about masturbation. It feels so lonely and so uninterested and so passionless.

(laughs) Oh come on! You have to give me a break! Katherine with Michael in The South (1990) feels like an entire liberation through sex. The scenes of anal intercourse in The Story of the Night. Oh come on! Give me a break. In “Three Friends” [a story in Mothers and Sons] when they’re at the sea and the guy sort of shoves his fingers up in him.

So the gay sex is different. But I think you understand my point. A lot of the sex in your books is more like The Heather Blazing.

Tony and Eilis have sex in Brooklyn. Tony enjoys it.

And she admires his body, yes.

But Tony enjoys it. Tony enjoys it. He does it twice. She doesn’t know what to do. So you’re wrong. (laughs)

There’s a moment where Miss Fortini makes a mild sexual go at Eilis [as she tries on swimsuits]. How much did you imagine her full life when you actually wrote that scene?

No. What happened really was that I couldn’t resist it. I’ve never fully dealt with this either in my private life or with my shrink, [but] I’ve used clothes a few times. In The Blackwater Lightship there’s a scene where she actually rebuilds her father with these clothes. I must have it somewhere else as well. Oh, in “A Long Winter,” he finds his mother’s underwear. “Where can I take this now?” is a constant problem in your work. “Where will this go? Is this useful?” And often the first two things you think of are just wrong. And then every so often you think, “Oh my god, look where I can take it now.” So I’m not sure it’s particularly out of a personal thing as much as just the mind working with the first thing, the second thing, the third thing.

Look I’ve spent a lot of time on the Mediterranean and I like the summer in the Mediterranean. And if you’re Irish the Mediterranean summer is a nightmare. [Mediterraneans] know how to move on a beach in a way we just don’t. When I go to beaches, I want to get into what you call bathing trunks and what we call our togs. I get a towel. I put it around me. I tie it the best way I can. Then I slowly begin to remove my trousers and my underwear, with the towel covering me. One hand sort of holding the towel and one hand sort of pulling them down. This is the most ungainly position you can ever be in in your life. Then I try to get the togs or the bathing trunks and pull them up. The Italians and Spaniards never do that. They go to the beach with these things on. So the whole business of how you change and how you change into bathing costumes for us and for them is so different. And we’re so frightened… I’m so white, for example. And they’re so, with their shoulders… If [an Italian or a Spaniard] is walking down towards the sea on a beach they’re so ready for anything. An Irish person isn’t sure it’s not cold. So I began to think about that.

And then you have to remember something else. I don’t think I saw anyone naked until I put my mind to the subject, aged around 20. I was at a boy’s boarding school. We had locks on the doors to the showers. You changed in your own cubicle. You had your own cubicle. You spent your time making sure all your clothes were on. I know Americans go around naked all the time.

So for me, the idea still of writing a scene where an Irish girl in 1951 suddenly finds herself almost naked in front of another woman has an immense power that I can work with. 

One of your dust jackets compares you to John McGahern. It may or may not be a comparison you like to hear. But both of you have an unflashy prose. It’s a nice, eloquent prose. And you both imply things constantly in between the lines without tipping your cards. He was writing from the ’60s on and you published your first novels in the ’90s. I don’t know if you looked to him at all to forge your style.

You see I don’t think that you forge a style. I think it almost comes to you. But if it does come to you then it comes to you very early. What I think of as being even more important than McGahern -- though I will come to McGahern in a minute -- is Hemingway. When I read The Sun Also Rises, aged 16, I was pretty shocked by it. I was amazed by it. And also when I read Kafka, especially The Trial but also “Metamorphosis,” the business of the individuals in the family…

I wouldn’t have been that interested in McGahern as a teenager or in my early 20s. A novel finally came my way in 1979 called The Pornographer, which is not much read. But I was really interested in it. And I interviewed him the way you are interviewing me -- with the same level of intensity I might say -- in I think 1985 when his book of short stories High Ground came out. And he was incredibly generous to me. I went to watch him first perform and read. And it was a performance which was very unexpected. We had several drinks afterward and I went to see him in this very remote place he lived in. He had a lot of influence on me and he told me a lot of things. One of the things I learned from him more than anything was to not worry ever about going over the same material again and again. Both of us, I think, had suffered certain hurts in childhood. And both of us had a topography of the spirit… And both of us had written about it pretty early on. And I learned from him, hey, it’s not a problem. You can go on and on about it all you like. It will change itself as the book changes. But don’t worry about doing it.

He also taught me not to worry about writing about ordinary Irish people. People with nothing much going for them one way or the other, in terms of either money or wit.

You didn’t get that from James Joyce?

No. Yeats and Joyce would have come later and it certainly wouldn’t have mattered very much. Except for, maybe, “The Dead.”

[McGahern] didn’t like some of my books. But we continued friends to spite that, which I was very proud of. He didn’t like The Master for example.

That’s the last book of yours he could have read.

Yeah, kind of you to say that. (laughs) It’s nice, it’s nice. He liked some of the books. And he was a terribly useful friend. Useful, in that he set an example of devoting his life to his art and also being reasonably modest about it. Wandering around the place as though you wouldn’t notice him on the street. And I liked his modesty. And he was also incredibly funny and the best company you could ever have. So we had wonderful wonderful nights. Just laughing really.
 
Some of the scenes in Brooklyn that really fascinated me were the scenes with Tony’s family. This seems like the ideal family anyone would want to marry into. There’s a wonderful small child, Frankie, whom everyone adores. At one point the boy acts up and you expect the father to beat him when he takes him aside. But he clearly doesn’t. He gives him a time out. And yet Eilis doesn’t immediately marry herself to them emotionally. So often in books there’s an intense love or an intense hate or an intense passion. Our relationships are often so ambiguous we don’t know how we should feel.

I suppose I was trying to, for once, write about what happiness looks like. And then of course, I said, “I’m not good at this.” For the reader it looks like happiness. But of course, for Eilis, it looks like a sort of trap. There are moments where she’s watching Tony. And it’s about Ireland and America. If you have an Irish guy who’s all charm he doesn’t mean it. And you meet his darkness and you’re searching for how much darkness is there. You need to see him drunk. You need to see him using very bad language. You need to see him in a rage. And then you’ll know him. But don’t bother with his charm. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Irish people can do charm. And we don’t mean it. So her problem is an entirely cultural one. She cannot find anything beneath the charm. And if it’s just charm then that’s fine with her. But she can’t deal with it when it’s coming in her direction. Because she doesn’t do charm. She does something else…

I suppose what I’m talking about, at its most insulting level, is the difference between a peach as bought in a market in the Spanish Pyrenees in high August filled with acids and sugars and every taste you could imagine and a peach that looks just as good that you buy in an American supermarket. You know there’s no taste off your peaches. I’m sorry to tell you this. There’s a surface level of American life where there’s so much charm and luxury attached to it that, if you’re Irish especially, you long for somebody to say, “Oh fuck I’ve got that.” You long just for some rage to come up from it. Or wit. But more than that, you long for a darkness to emerge from it. So there’s a game going on between light and darkness.

I’m talking about your culture in every area. From your movies to your songs to… to you (points at me), to your president. It’s so attractive. There’s so much light involved. But it’s no use to us. We can’t deal with it. It’s so easy to be attracted by and come towards. But when you’re there it’s so hard to miss, so hard to love… So I’m trying to play with that without saying so. Does that answer your question? (laughs)

Maybe. I don’t know what the answer is.

This little kid brother -- it’s mentioned casually -- he’s going to go to college. “We’re going to send Frankie to college.” They’re all just so good with each other. And one watches this in life with fascination and envy. I would love to have been brought up like that. But Ireland’s not like that.

Still not like that. Even after all the changes?

Changes have made no difference whatsoever. Changes have just allowed the spirit to darken a bit more if you ask me.

How so?

I don’t know. I think that people are freer in certain ways to explore themselves, the dynamics. In other words, if you just watch them now -- and I suppose I’m just old enough to watch more than I do anything else -- you watch them getting drunk. Their drunkenness is more manic than before. There’s more money around to get drunk. And also young women are drinking vast amounts more. And their parents are drinking more. You watch a drunken set of Irish people in a Spanish resort or in a Dublin pub on a Saturday night about 1:30 in the morning, there’s something darker and more manic going on than before. But I don’t really notice any difference to the Irish character under the pressures of economic improvement. Other than just greater greed.

I know I’m talking about you in competition with the English now, but how do the Irish writers today compare with the English? Does London have a greater literary life?

There’s no literary life in Dublin. People just work on their books. There’s no literary pub. There’s no world like that. There are a few things worth commenting on. One is that individual editors within English publishing houses are always very interested to see an Irish book. A. Because we sell more. B. Because Irish people will read the book. You can publish in London, export it to Dublin and they’ll buy it. You can publish a book by a young British writer and it could sell none. None. I mean 50. That could never happen with an Irish writer. There would be enough friends, family, supporters. It would be paid attention to in the towns and in the villages. People would think it was important.

When I began to write I noticed something absolutely astonishing. American writers began to pay attention to what I was doing quite early on. People, who for me, would have been way out of my league. People like Don DeLillo and Richard Ford were actually reading my books as a natural thing. They were readers and they would just read books. I mean the idea of one of those English novelists picking up one of my books and reading it would be really quite hard to imagine. In recent years, Ian McEwan I think has read me. And I’m friends with Alan Hollinghurst. But the relationship between England and Ireland among the writers is really quite different than you realize once you arrive in America where you realize you’re being read in a certain completely different and much more open way. It’s almost a sense in London, sometimes, of an odd mix of a halo around you and huge nuisance value. And you can often make the most of that by upping the nuisance part as much as you can by shouting loudly or getting drunk and insulting someone who’s important and so forth.

I wanted to ask about Love in a Dark Time (2002). All the writers you discuss in that book write about homosexuality as if it didn’t have a name. Were you consciously avoiding Christopher Isherwood or Edmund White?

First of all, this happened by chance in that I wasn’t asked to review anything by Isherwood or by White. So it’s really a collection of long pieces I was asked to write about books. Part of the reason I wasn’t asked to write about Isherwood or Edmund White is that they did not problematize their sexuality. They enjoyed it. And in my work no one ever seems to enjoy anything much. Therefore I’m not good about enjoyment.

That’s what I meant before about your sex scenes.

Yes, you’re probably right in that the sex scenes that I described as being pleasurable didn’t seem so later on. They cause nothing but trouble in their own way. So sorry, you’re absolutely right.

I was brought up in a dark time, where certainly homosexuality had no name. I remember being a certain age, like 17, when someone described to me what two guys did together and being absolutely horrified that this could occur, while at the same time, almost, in the same body longed to do precisely that. How could you manage that? I don’t know. But I did. I think those are the years that affect you more than any amount of therapy or self-help you can do to get out of them. [The therapy and self-help] could only be a way of lessening the shadows or brightening the darkness slightly. But it’s there… 

But I don’t think that’s a good book for someone young to read because it’s all with [Roger] Casement and [Oscar] Wilde dying and everyone else seemed to just suffer. Homosexuality as a form of perversion and suffering. But the pieces were there and I thought they were worth collecting. And I don’t think the book’s had any influence or has had any great sales or anything. It was just something I needed to do.

The concept of the closet is dying from American life. It may be too early to declare its death. But it’s starting to die. It persists in extremely anti-intellectual corners of American life. It’s hard to imagine a literary soul who grows up reading books who is from an environment where people read books hiding his homosexuality today. It’s easy to imagine that if you grow up in the Bible Belt. But I don’t know if a genius like Henry James, if he were to be born into American society today, would have any closet imposed on him. He may still have a fear of intimacy, but it wouldn’t come from his society.
                       
I’m interested in the very, very few people who come forward with their prejudices blazing. I’m interested in what John Updike had to say about Alan Hollinghurst, for example. It struck me as representing a considerable body of views among civilized literary people that this sort of novel about these sort of people was not what a novelist of any talent should be devoting himself to.

You are referring to his review of The Spell.

Yeah, his review of The Spell. And if you look at it carefully, that view of his will eventually eat into his reputation. Because his own elaborately confident and super-developed heterosexuality is actually an impediment to the proper writing and it eats at his sentences at times and it eats at his books… If you start reading Updike very carefully you start reading the astonishing boasting about sexual life which I found much more offensive than he does Hollinghurst’s book. I find the recent book by Reynolds Price very interesting in which he seems to feel -- well he doesn’t seem, he says he feels so we have to give him credit for it -- that somehow readers aren’t interested in books about homosexuals. And the thing is, I’m not even sure I am homosexual in that I often forget that I am. When I’m walking around and listening to Schubert, who was probably homosexual, well, is that a homosexual listening to a homosexual or is it me listening to Schubert?

I suppose the point I’m making is that life is very interesting so that you could write a great novel about anything. Possibly not about insects or animals. Maybe animals. The idea that somehow homosexuals have to be confined in some way or another…

I’m not sure how many people who teach in American universities at the moment who are men, are homosexual [and] married. Every campus has two or three. Everybody seems to know they’re gay except them. And they’re teaching so people can see them wandering around. I’m not sure about the Bible Belt. I think the Bible Belt might be the solution in the end rather than the problem.

The problem is very simple. When a guy or girl find themselves at 13 and 14 and they realize what it is, it’s difficult. And that difficulty remains for me an immensely dramatic thing if I’m a novelist. But if I’m not a novelist, which is most of the time, it’s horrible and I’d like to do something about it. So therefore, the more images we have of it and the more normalized it becomes in society and the more parents we have who are both gay or one of them is gay and the other is something else, the better. It would be like suddenly looking in the mirror and suddenly seeing, “Am I the only person black? Or white indeed? On this planet? Is there anyone else like me out there?” So, anyway, all that’s got to change. Have I preached enough?

No, it’s good. Your sense of the Catholic Church in Brooklyn is very warm. There’s a priest who is the operator in America who sets Eilis up in school. And there’s a priest who is so kind to her in confession. It reminded me of an interview with Pedro Almodóvar when Bad Education came out where he was asked if he was trying to have a go at the Catholic Church and his answer suggested that he had a certain affection for it. I don’t know if, despite all the problems in the church these last few years, you have that affection for it as well.

I have a particular affection for the Catholic Church in America. And how it’s developed. It’s terribly interesting that you have about 30 or 40 top prelates who are always preaching about various things including homosexuality. But then you have thousands and thousands of priests who don’t believe what the prelates are preaching and the congregations know they don’t believe it. And you go to any Mass or any church on Sunday in America and you know that the ordinary priests have very serious spiritual lives and have very well-developed levels of tolerance both for their own failings and for those of others. You don’t actually see [that] in the American hierarchy. So once you ignore the American hierarchy. (Look at their photographs, they’re always big overfed-looking fellows. I mean, they really are big overfed-looking fellows. They should do something about that. And they look awful in those clothes.) But once you go beneath them into the ordinary church, things are very different. And the ordinary churches in America have become great places for building community, for the Hispanic communities as they were for the Irish communities. If you live as I do much of the time as a rampant materialist then anything spiritual that comes your way from music to someone deciding to change to the bread and wine, the body and blood, and “Forgive us our sins” and things, you think, “Oh well that’s probably better than going to a shopping mall and trying to buy a new shirt or something.” It’s got some sort of value attached even if it’s a value where I don’t believe in its ultimate aims or its ultimate sense of transcendence. I don’t at all buy it but at least it’s something. It’s somewhere to get so that we’re not merely in the terrible terrible trap of commerce, the permanent commerce with each other.

I found this novel to be far more Jamesian simply in its construction than The Master. The Master is not a book Henry James could have written. Brooklyn felt like one of Henry James’s novels, except it’s in the reverse of someone from America seeing Europe. People talk around subjects, not directly to them. The high dramatic moments aren’t really high dramas. They’re often small changes someone notices and then the next chapter comes. Maybe you’ve become more Jamesian with each novel. Were you consciously writing an homage to James in this book the way Hollinghurst consciously paid an homage to him in The Line of Beauty?

I don’t know if it’s conscious.  But, I suppose I would have paid a lot of attention both to the construction of both Catherine Sloper in Washington Square and Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady. And I would have done this in my own time. I was teaching those books for a little bit. The idea of Catherine Sloper’s un-knowability in Washington Square and Isabel Archer’s astonishing ability to renounce or not take what she really does want or not ask herself what she wants in The Portrait of a Lady… The fact that everyone holds a secret and that those secrets, if told, will be explosive. And they can go on for a very long time with the secret. Secrets are almost necessary. All those things I would have gotten from James some way or another. I would have been given permission somehow to explore that fully by James. I wouldn’t have said I’m going to sit down and write a Jamesian novel set in a provincial town. If you did that it would be awful. I tend to work where I have the character and then I’m working on the detail. And I don’t think about anything else much. “Is this Jamesian or not?” It would be the most loopy sort of question to ask myself.

When you’ve departed from Ireland previously in your work you’ve always departed for Catholic countries. Spain. Argentina. The places you write about in The Sign of the Cross (1994). I can’t think of any others.

Are there countries that aren’t Catholic?

Well you never go to England.

No, I can’t see England.

But here you go to America where there isn’t an overriding Catholic Church that controls everything and where there’s a society where a lot of people aren’t Catholic.

Oh really. (smiles)           

So Eilis encounters people for whom a Catholic upbringing doesn’t shape their whole worldview.

Is Henry James a Catholic? (laughs) I was just trying to think.

Okay, the last few books.

All the books except one. You see, I don’t notice Catholicism. It’s like Borges says, that there are no camels mentioned in the Koran. [The Arab world] was so full of camels that no one really saw them or thought it was necessary to mention them. So we shouldn’t really infer that there were no camels in that society because there were none in the Koran. One should infer quite the opposite. I’m sort of the same with Catholicism. My Henry James is quite a northern Catholic creation in his guilt and his silences and the world he moves in. I’m probably incapable of imagining a universe which isn’t infused with certain northern Catholic darkness. Even my Argentina is a northern Catholic country. (laughs)

You said you can’t see England. Why can’t you see England?

I can read England. And I go there and I really like it there. But I can’t imagine an English character. I simply cannot imagine what that would be like. I tell you, I can’t see the conflicts. And how they would arise. And being of a lesser class in a posh house would not be enough for me. It would not have a spiritual element attached to it, enough for me that I could deal with it. But when I come across it in Hollinghurst, like in The Line of Beauty, I can admire it. Even On Chesil Beach has a class thing. He’s of a lower class than she is. Each time you go there you look for it and there it is again as a thing that almost gives people an erection…

So the Irish writer is not someone who sees class?

Oh, Brooklyn is filled with class distinctions. But it’s not the issue. The issue is some sort of spiritual yearning for something else way beyond, that Eilis oddly enough has. [She’s looking] for some sense that her aura could find its match. And she’s panicked into making various decisions about it which is closer in fact to Isabel Archer than to anybody else. It’s still about class. But no one gets their erections off class. People get their erections off some sort of spiritual yearnings or spiritual lackings or spiritual need. Notice no one gets their erections from what they should be getting it from. Which is erotic charge. (laughs) Except Tony.