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  • Modernist Nationalism in Dana: An Irish Magazine of Independent Thought (1904)*
  • Dathalinn M. O'Dea (bio)

The difficulty is to begin: and to make a beginning is especially difficult in a country like Ireland, where our bards and prophets have never learned to deal directly and as men with the elements of human nature, and to dispense with traditional methods and traditional themes. We are in the position of a marooned civilian who has struck his last Lucifer match in a desolate isle, and who, with the intention of broiling the fish which he has snared, or the beast which he has slain, is making his first pathetic efforts with flints or dry sticks.

Frederick Ryan and John Eglinton, "Introductory" (May 1904)

With this deliberately provocative conceit, coeditors Frederick Ryan and John Eglinton opened the first issue of Dana, offering a stark if figurative critique of Ireland's emergent literary movement and the cultural nationalism to which it was linked. Dana, subtitled An Irish Magazine of Independent Thought, is best known as the journal that published an early poem by James Joyce and later rejected his serial story, "A Portrait of the Artist," deeming it "incomprehensible." 1 But the rejection was not representative of the magazine's [End Page 95]

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The cover of the first (9 May 1904) issue of Dana: An Irish Magazine of Independent Thought. Image provided courtesy of the Modernist Journals Project and the University of Tulsa, Department of Special Collections and Archives.

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otherwise progressive editorial policy. Writing in a period of cultural recovery and innovation, Dana's introductory editorial condemned "a certain hollowness in the pretensions of Irish literature" and diagnosed the country's condition as that of a stranded civilian struggling to bring forth a modern Irish culture. 2 This primitivist image pits tradition against modernity, here signified by the last match, and recasts cultural renewal as the beginnings of civilization. To turn from the present to the country's past, the editors suggested, was to sidestep both the divisiveness of Irish culture and the potential for transnational dialogue on political and artistic levels.

Ryan and Eglinton's submission policy signaled the magazine's democratic impulse, calling for "contributions in prose and verse which are the expression of the writer's individuality" rather than "the belligerent expression of opinion." 3 Soliciting work that engaged with contemporary polemics, Dana challenged revivalist nativism as a basis for Irish literature and identity. In its place, it advanced an alternative Irish nationalism with a decidedly socialist undertone, and one acknowledging the contributions and import of the Celtic Revival without succumbing to that movement's insularity. Serving as a forum for political, cultural, and literary debate, Dana included original poetry and essays, literary reviews, articles on Irish life and culture, and work addressing and written by non-Irish writers. It championed individual expression in the face of what its editors perceived as a retrograde and insular nationality promoted by the burgeoning Celtic Revival. In their attempt to counter revivalist nationalism, Ryan and Eglinton encouraged discussion of the country's sectarianism and social and political strife, framing this discussion with their appraisal of revivalist literature and drama in Ireland and its place in a broader modern movement.

Following such editorial provocation, this essay attempts to define Dana's nationalism in the context of Irish modernism and to [End Page 97] explore the role of little magazines in showcasing alternative national identities in early twentieth-century Ireland. The short-lived publication challenged monolithic conceptions of both the political and aesthetic dimensions of modernism by exploring what Luke Gibbons describes as countercurrents within Irish nationalism in the years preceding and during the Revival. Gibbons warns that in failing to attend to "the variegated pattern of nationalism, the fissures and tensions in a disparate set of responses to colonial domination," revisionist historians have overlooked alternative nationalisms such as the one Dana articulated. 4 Borrowing Alex Davis and Lee M. Jenkins's terminology, one might argue that in form and content, the magazine voiced a "modernist nationalism"—one that was culturally syncretistic and that advanced a secular pluralist model of the nation to challenge competing...


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