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O Ireland! Our sireland! Once fireland! Now mireland! No liar land shall buy our land! A higher land is Ireland! James Joyce, V.A.6 Notebook, f. 3v, Joyce’s Notes and Early Drafts for Ulysses: Selections from the Buffalo Collection, p. 185 James Joyce certainly had the forests in mind when he drafted the above poem in the V.A.6 notebook for ‘Cyclops’, although it is unclear as to the reason why he later disposed of the passage. The transformation from ‘fireland’ to ‘mireland’ in the second line connects the history of ancient land clearings1 to the contemporary landscape of the Irish bog.2 As is well known, the Land Purchase Act of 1903 allowed Irish tenants to buy land and precipitate a felling of forests in the following decades.3 Indeed, the history of Irish forestry up to the early twentieth century can be read as a series of protracted struggles between Crown and rebels, landlord and tenants, environmental preservation and industrial profits, and between Anglo-Irish landowners and, after the practice of Land Purchase Acts, Irish ones. But the question of afforestation is more often than not a more complicated issue than the dichotomies that tend to structure Irish nationalist historiography would permit.4 It has, like Eoin Neeson comments in his introduction to A History of Irish Forestry, ‘paralleled the political history of the country’.5 In fact, it is an Irish political history of its own accord. This article dwells on the history of trees in Ireland, along with its politics from the time of Tudor Conquest to fin-de-siècle Irish economic and nationalist propaganda, to consider dynamics of the Tree Wedding catalogue in ‘Cyclops’.6 Few scholars have paid specific attention to the environmental politics indicated by this catalogue, The Tree Wedding and the (Eco)Politics of Irish Forestry in‘Cyclops’: History, Language and theViconian Politics of the Forest YI-PENG LAI 91 and those who have drawn passing references to the passage read it either as a parodic journalistic account on Joyce’s part or as another example of Cyclopean gigantism. Although both readings provide insightful perspectives on the rhetorics of the catalogue and Joyce’s linguistic gigantism, the catalogue and the Tree Wedding itself deserves a closer examination in light of the politics of deforestation and reafforestation in Ireland in Joyce’s time, as well as a reconsideration of the forest as a paradigmatic Irish cultural landscape, one which implicates questions of civilisation, matrimony and patriarchal institutionisation. In Forests: the Shadow of Civilization, probably to date the most comprehensive book-length study of cultural politics of the woodlands in Western literatures, Robert Harrison examines the concept of the forest in Western literary history from ancient epics to twentieth -century environmental writings. The forest, in his view, ‘appears as a place where the logic of distinction goes astray. Or where our subjective categories are confounded. Or where perceptions become promiscuous with one another, disclosing latent dimensions of time and consciousness’.7 Forests are imagined as spaces of confusion, of wilderness, but also of escapist relief, of utopian possibility and nightmarish darkness. Above all, they are imagined in relation to the history of Western civilisation; whether that civilisation is seen in its emergence, as in Vico’s New Science or the epic of Gilgamesh, or civilisation after the Enlightenment and industrialisation, as in works by more modern writers like Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Interestingly, in his passing comment on Joyce, Harrison writes: ‘In retrospect it seems clear that a modernist writer like James Joyce, whose literature exploited the almost limitless resources of the sayable, never really heeded the “nature” of the times’.8 This essay challenges Harrison’s argument and attempts to demonstrate that although Joyce may not be a writer as keen for transcendental environmentalism as Henry David Thoreau, especially not in his earlier works of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the renowned urban epic Ulysses, he is certainly cognisant of contemporary environmental debates around reafforestation, the cultural politics of the forest, Viconian historiography and the question of nature, nation and human civilisation. This awareness is specifically exemplified in his composition of the Tree Wedding catalogue in the ‘Cyclops’ episode of Ulysses. * * * 92 ECO-JOYCE I Natural historians have pointed out the drastic deprivation of trees in Ireland since the time of Tudor conquest. A.C. Forbes, an active advocate of Irish afforestation in the early twentieth century and later...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781782050735
Related ISBN
9781782050728
MARC Record
OCLC
882713144
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-04
Language
English
Open Access
No
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