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G&S Typesetters PDF proof Ireland Must be Important . . . TERENCE KILLEEN When it came to the choice of an MA course at University College Dublin in 1969, for me and for almost all my friends who had graduated with a BA in English, there was only one real option—ModernEnglishandAmericanLiterature .Oneortwospecialists,ofcourse, would choose Old and Middle English or Linguistics, but these were unloved by the bulk of us, who had resented being required to devote what felt like a disproportionate amount of time to them during our undergraduate years. The only other possibility was Anglo-Irish Literature, but this was almost automatically rejected. It consisted, as we perceived it, of uninspiring courses in such matters as Anglo-Irish speech patterns, the Abbey Theatre, short stories, and Nineteenth Century novelists, with even the risk of the dreaded Irish language, remembered with distaste from its compulsory imposition at school, making an appearance . Dullsville, in short. Anyway, Anglo-Irish Literature, as we saw it, was meant for Americans, and mainly Americans took it. No, Modern English and American Literature was where the action and the intellectual stars were. It promised access to the great world, to the world of contemporary and even avant-garde fiction and poetry, of the nascent but already inspiring literary theory—Writing Degree Zero had just appeared in translation in a cheap paperback: I read it with great excitement and without understanding a word— and of political consciousness—an important issue at the time; a world, in short, far removed from the provincialism, narrow perspectives and cultural isolation of our origins. And from these origins we could not get far enough away. Joyce Studies Annual, Volume 14, Summer 2003© 2003 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, Texas 78713-7819 03-T2928 3/3/04 11:02 AM Page 18 G&S Typesetters PDF proof terence killeen 19 1 For a fuller account of Beckett’s strange position in the Irish literary world at that time, see J. C. C. Mays, “Young Beckett’s Irish Roots,” Irish University Review 14.1 (Spring 1984): [18–33]. Even then, though, some of us were conscious of a small contradiction . At the threshold of this new world was a couple of writers who themselves were Irish. The presence of James Joyce was longstanding ; a more acute issue at the time was the emergence of Samuel Beckett, a writer whose Irishness was then almost unacknowledged and, indeed, disowned. The problem was acute because Beckett had just won the Nobel Prize and could no longer be ignored. Nevertheless , it was possible then (just) to write as if Beckett’s Irishness was irrelevant, an embarrassment, an accident of birth. More Pricks Than Kicks, his most obviously Irish work, was still generally unavailable, facilitating the view of him as a quintessentially stateless writer.1 Joyce’s case was different. The nature and subject matter of his writing left no room for the pretence that his Irishness was irrelevant. But the peculiar mixture in his work of a radical literary technique and an essentially local subject matter meant that he tended to fall between two stools, as he probably did literally, once or twice, in life. Joyce was too Irish for the Modern English and American Literature Department, too modern for the Anglo-Irish Literature Department. If to study his work one had to take an Anglo-Irish Literature MA, most of us would, for the reasons I have mentioned, still say No. I am convinced that something more than the normal exercise of choice of interest by postgraduate students is involved here: this is demonstrated by the fact that no fewer than six of the people in my UCD year and the one immediately preceding, who are now working, in one way or another, in Anglo-Irish studies, did not take the Anglo-Irish MA course; they opted for Modern English and American Literature. The area they chose for their first postgraduate studies—when some specialization is supposed to begin—did not subsequently become their major focus of interest. It is hard not to see such a fact as symptomatic. It scarcely needs saying that all the attitudes I have been describing were callow, crude...


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