Crisis is a term rooted in Greek tragedy, meaning “a decisive moment or turning point in a dramatic action”. It is a moment of suffering and confusion, a time when everything that seemed to be fixed becomes suddenly unstable. The events of November 2010, with things spinning wildly out of control, certainly meet this definition. But the point of crisis in Greek tragedy is that it leads to catharsis, a sense of things being purged.
Václav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic and himself a distinguished dramatist, used precisely this metaphor while addressing his nation in 1997, when it had been hit by the twin scandals of political corruption and a banking bubble. “However unpleasant and stressful and even dangerous what we are going through may be, it can also be instructive and a force for good because it can call forth a catharsis, the intended outcome of ancient Greek tragedy. That means a feeling of profound purification and redemption. A feeling of newborn hope. A feeling of liberation.”
From that perspective, a cynic might be tempted to remark that the Irish are not even capable of having a proper crisis. We’ve had the unpleasant, painful and dangerous bit – and we’re going to go on having it for the foreseeable future. But we don’t do catharsis.