Despite a long and continuing history of English colonization in Ireland, Irish literature and culture are rarely mentioned in the numerous books and essays which over the past decade have sought to theorize and categorize culture from the perspective of postcolonial studies. This absence may be in part a consequence of the ways in which the study of postcolonial literatures has been developed on the one hand from US based "Black Studies" and "Third World Studies" origins, and on the other by critics whose involvement began with Commonwealth literature. Ireland's departure from the Commonwealth in 1949 preceded by some 25 years the inauguration of the Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies in 1964. The assumption that Third World and non-white are co-terminous. as, for example, in Frederic Jameson's contentious 1986 essay, "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capital," has also led to the exclusion of the Irish in theories addressing the consequences of imperialism and deriving from the approaches of Marx or Fanon. Jameson's contrast between "the sophisticated pleasures" afforded by modernist texts such as James Joyces' Ulysses and what he sees as the comparatively unsophisticated "national allegories" inevitably produced by "Third World" writers also reveals the degree to which Irish writers such as Yeats, Joyce and Beckett have been appropriated into the modernist and New Critical enterprise, isolating the work of these authors from the social and political contexts in which they wrote.
David Lloyd's new book seeks to address a wide range of Irish writing from the perspectives encouraged by postcolonial theory. The result is provocative, challenging, and highly enlightening. Although it does not make explicit comparisons with other postcolonial literatures, this book is also suggestive in the ways it tests and contests theories that have been used in other contexts. Gramsci provides the central reference point from which Lloyd views Heaney, Beckett, Yeats, Joyce, and nineteenth-century novelists and popular poets and ballads. But Gramsci's theories are modified and extended in the light of Fanon, Benjamin, Bahktin and Benedict Anderson, as in turn each of these theorists are modified in the light of the Irish experience.
Anomalous States consists of five separate essays linked by their reading of texts in the context of Irish nationalism and the politics of identity formation. The first essay, on Seamus Heaney, is perhaps the most polemical and likely to be the most controversial, written as a response to what Lloyd sees as the suspect "canonization" of Heaney by English and American critics and his elevation as the poet who provides a special insight into the nature of the Irish. Lloyd persuasively traces Heaney's poetics to the romantic nationalist ideology and aesthetic of the Young Irelanders a century earlier, and his citing of Heaney's essays to condemn him out of his own mouth is devastating. So is his sharp analysis of the bog poems and their [End Page 182] seeming endorsement of the view that violence is intrinsic to Irish identity. Of some of the other poems, one might argue in Heaney's defense that the tension between the acknowledgment of division and the metaphorical imposition of reconciliation is a merit rather than a flaw, dramatizing the desire for a unity which cannot be easily achieved. Such a tension is acknowledged and explored with remarkable astuteness in the essay on Yeats' poetry, where Lloyd interrogates received views of the relationship between the poetry and the politics. The rereading of "Easter 1916" is exemplary, both as a close analysis of the components of the poem and as a profoundly suggestive meditation on the political and aesthetic implications of the "terrible beauty" refrain yoking together the categories of the sublime and the beautiful.
Like Joyce's Ulysses, Beckett's First Love is read as a reaction to the nationalist obsession with a unified identity and with the "antiquarianism" that was one of its features (as manifested, for example, in Yeats's early poetry). Here psychoanalytic as well as postcolonial theory is used as a mode of...