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4 Theoretical perspectives and the Irish context The concept of the ‘Other’ or Otherness has been explored through a diverse array of discourses including the historical, the socio-cultural, the anthropological, the psychoanalytic (see Freud, 1938, 1950a, 1950b, 1957, for example), the linguistic and the philosophical (see Lévinas, 1996; Volf, 1996). While the question of the ‘Other’ or Otherness may have not have been a term which carried much significance in Irish academic circles during the 1950s and 1960s when folklorists such as Seán McGrath were writing, it can be said with little fear of contradiction that it was the search for Otherness, albeit Irish and Gaelic and primarily through the reclamation of the folklore and tradition-rich heritage of Ireland’s Irish-speaking regions, which was in reality the fundamental impulse underpinning much of the valuable work undertaken by the Irish Folklore Commission and its devoted collectors. ‘Othering’, ‘difference’ and how difference is constructed came to the fore as a question in Cultural Studies particularly during the second half of the twentieth century. It is an issue with which social and academic analysts continue to have a strong engagement, partly as a consequence of the increasingly globalised nature of the world, one where human migration is an issue of considerable social and political significance. Of particular interest to academics who have recognised the importance of this question of Otherness has been a re-engagement with the manner whereby aspects of the Enlightenment and the formation of European/Western identity were heavily predicated on the articulation and creation of the ‘Other’. This analysis has included an examination of the role which ideology (see Eagleton, 1991; Said, 1993) played in the internalisation of values that accompanied colonialism and the legitimisation of ideas about the ‘Other’ so that these ideas appeared ‘natural’. Many theorists have identified the concept of Otherness and ‘difference ’ as essential to the very question of meaning itself. Otherness and 04 Insubordinate Irish 036-049 13/6/11 14:21 Page 36 the way in which ‘otherness’ or ‘difference’ elucidates meaning has dominated French thought especially, where a linguistic and structural analysis of otherness was attempted by de Saussure at the turn of the twentieth century. French analyses of Otherness have focused on the philosophic, the linguistic and the psychoanalytic, in particular. De Saussure (1915) Lacan (1977) and Derrida (1974, 1978, 1982) all became dominant influences on the cultural movements known as structuralism and post-structuralism, movements for which the analysis of the relational and binary aspects of the question of Otherness were of primary importance. The French theorisation of the Otherness question highlighted the necessity for ‘difference’, a difference without which meaning itself cannot exist. Meaning depends on the difference between opposites, particularly those oppositions which are binary e.g. black/white, masculine /feminine, etc. It is possible to understand what black means, because it can be contrasted with its opposite – white. This view of ‘difference’ or ‘otherness’ as an element of the human condition which exists prior to meaning came to dominate the thought of many intellectuals who attempted to theorise and conceptualise not only Otherness but the question of the human psyche and its very relationship with society in the twentieth century (see Cixous, 1975; Kristeva, 1982, 1991; Lacan, 1977). Lacan explored the complexities inherent in any attempt to map the self, the Other and their relationship with reality as produced in any linguistic text. For Derrida, the complexities of the self meant that attempts to define meaning based on the difference between opposites were fraught with the dangers of over-simplification and reductionism. Derrida (1974) attempted to deconstruct the binary oppositions upon which much of Western literary and philosophical debate had been premised and showed that a relationship of power was inherent within the nature of these binaries. Hall (1997) outlined Derrida’s deconstruction of these power relationships in the following manner: ‘There is always a relation of power between the poles of a binary opposition (Derrida, 1974). We should really write white/black, men/women, masculine/feminine, upper class/ lower class, British/ alien to capture this power dimension in discourse’ (1997: 235). The theorisation of the ‘Other’ as encompassed through the dialogue that is language was examined by the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin. For Bakhtin the ‘Other’ was essential to meaning because of the dialogic nature of human interaction. Meaning was dialogic because everything we say or mean is modified by the interaction with another Theoretical perspectives and the Irish context 37...


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