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Beyond Borders: I.A.S.I.L. Essays on Modern Irish Writing (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 2, Winter 2007
pp. 398-403 | 10.1353/jjq.2007.0029

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As historians and critics have frequently noted, Ireland is a deeply divided nation. Geographical, political, religious, and social boundaries have defined the Irish ethos and left an indelible mark in the work of Irish authors. This sense of division has determined, in multiple ways, the fragmentation that recurs as thematic component and stylistic device in their fiction. Beyond Borders recaptures these notions of boundaries, borders, and limits, as well as the associated concepts of transgression, crossing, and disruption as the organizing principles for the sixteen essays that form this collection.

In "The Victorian Celt Stereotyped, Historicized and Imagined," Simon Trezise offers a historical and literary perspective on the phenomenon of stereotype formation. Focusing on nineteenth-century views of the Celts, particularly those of John Beddoe and Sophie Bryant, Trezise analyzes the interrelations between scientific bias and stereotypes. In opposition to the pseudoscientific notions of the Celt, he exposes the historical factors which led to the emergence of the Irish Celt as necessary racial and religious Other, stressing the attempts to combat those stereotypical views during the Irish Literary Renaissance. In J. M. Synge's work, Trezise finds a more genuine, yet unsentimentalized, view of the Irish that arises from actual observation of, and interaction with, the people. This piece prepares the ground for the two subsequent essays, both of which foreground the relation between Padraic Pearse and W. B. Yeats. "Yeats and Pearse in Dialogue," by Robert Tracy, reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as political document, literary work, and response to Yeats's play Cathleen ni Houlihan. According to Tracy, through his use of imagery and his dramatic reading of the Proclamation, Pearse established a dialogue with Yeats that the latter would acknowledge and continue in his poem "Easter, 1916." Paul Murphy's "Yeats, Pearse and the Sublime Subaltern" lays emphasis on the ambiguity of Cathleen ni Houlihan. The play lends itself to two competing interpretations, both of which rely on the subordination of the archetypal "peasant" to national and class interests. By contrast, in Pearse's play The Singer, the idealized peasant assumes "oxymoronic status as the sublime subaltern" (48), which conceals his subordination. In Murphy's view, these plays exemplify the distinct approaches of "Anglo-Irish" and "Irish-Irish" ideologies in postcolonial contexts.

It is hard to imagine that a conference on, or overview of, Irish literature would fail to include Yeats and James Joyce, and the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures' collection proves no exception. Ellen Carol Jones's "Joyce and Dividing Lines" and Louis Armand's "Joycean Hypertext: Technology and the Word in Finnegans Wake" approach Joyce's work from the perspective of postcolonial and postmodern theory respectively. Jones's somewhat obscure reading of the "Oxen of the Sun" episode in Ulysses explores the uses of language in the negotiation of identities through the production of "hybrid writing" in an "in-between space" (57). In such a space, the subaltern can engage in acts of translation, transgression, and transcription. In reference to the transgressive use of translation, Jones wonders, "How does cultural translation as a tropic movement transform the heliotropics of a dominant culture, the heliopolitics of imperialism?" (58). This type of "cultural translation," she argues, appears as pastiche in "Oxen of the Sun" and serves the purposes of interrogating and fragmenting the dominant cultural paradigms. At the same time, the creation of hybrid language and writing attests to the miscegenation resulting from imperialism. Having acknowledged Jacques Derrida's and Jean-Michel Rabaté's essays on Finnegans Wake, Armand characterizes Joyce's text as a language-producing machine. He claims, "The desiring machine, miming the totalizing movement of an exegesis, or exe-genesis, approaches a topological relation to itself similar to that of the Cantorean paradox of the set of all sets" (73-74). This statement illustrates the ways in which the complexities of Armand's prose complicate his interpretation of Joyce's text. Finnegans Wake, he argues, operates on the repetition of two strands of initials that resemble a genetic code and whose repetition gives rise to identity or a "network of possible identities" (77).

The next four articles, dealing with contemporary novelists, are less densely theoretical and proceed mostly...

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