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7 Narrative and the Irish imaginary: Contested terrains Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold (The Second Coming – W. B. Yeats) Traditionally post-colonialism has read Irish culture through its inherited dichotomy of colonised/coloniser and empowered/disempowered thereby replicating imperialist power structures of old; the reading of the two primary strands within the representative discourse explored here points rather to the atypicality, the nomadic qualities, of Ireland’s postcolonial configurations and the subaltern histories of social groupings which Gramsci characterised as ‘fragmented and episodic’ (Gramsci, 1971: 55). My discussion seeks to underscore the importance of rethinking and re-interpreting nationalist ideology and praxis within the Irish (post-) colonial context. Emphasised in the narratives explored here however is the ‘radically undecidable nature of the text’ and a general re-appraisal of our assumptions with respect to colonial textuality. In narratives such as those explored below contested ideas of Irish identity and nationhood as relating to both the Traveller and settled communities are played out through a deconstruction of textual authority whereby the discourse is shifted laterally, opening up a dimension beyond the binaries of traditional or ‘contested discourses’. In these exemplars the Irish colonial text is ‘strained between representing the other and denying Otherness, giving authority and giving it away, the text becomes both the refuge of colonial ideology and repeated sign of its own ambivalence and incapacities as a discourse’ (Hooper and Graham, 2002: 38) The text is the limen. It is that special point of tension, the margin which is simultaneously the border and the crossing point. Viewed from the perspectives of scholars such as Bakhtin and Bhabha this is the place where textuality and discourse are in a constant state of tension between that which exists inside and outside the text. It is a text 07 Insubordinate Irish 091-102 13/6/11 14:27 Page 91 which oscillates between that which is apparently stable and one which is hybrid, restless and disruptive and where it cannot be firmly ‘contained’ within the bounds of ideology. This is Bakhtin’s ‘absolute Other’ or Bhabha’s ‘Third Space’, a space which ‘though unpresentable in itself … constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure the meanings and symbols of culture have no primordial unity of fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, historicised and read anew’ (Bhabha, 1994: 37). It is evident that the ‘Othering’ of Irish Travellers has been influenced and energised by a range of discourses, whether folktales, narratives or other texts, each of which can be said to form elements within this ‘Third Space’ and which have assimilated Irish oral tradition including a range of folktales which encompass both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic impulses and which constitute a discourse of ‘othering’ regarding the Travelling community. In the following chapters I explore the central attributes of this discourse which incorporates both affirmative and negative ‘constructions’ of Travellers from within the Irish tradition. The liminal margins of the text present exciting new opportunities for textual analysis; in particular, they offer places where agency in the form of oral traditions influence the discourse, where the text is decentred , loosened and re-contextualised. The text begins to operate as a nexus where political resistance and social agency preclude any single meaning. Such a process is in line with the ‘new’ function of the literary or cultural critic as delineated by Barthes (1977) whereby the focal point is on the reader/audience – those who read/hear and interpret the text, as opposed to those who generate text: ‘to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others in such a way as never to rest on any one of them’ (Barthes, 1977: 146). Texts are placed one against the other in order to challenge and alter the prevailing orders of power. As delineated by Foucault, such a process involves contextualising the circumstances of narrator and audience and reader, in short everybody who generates and ‘receives’ the text, whether in oral or written form: ‘Perhaps it is time to study discourses not only in terms of their expressive value or formal transformations, but according to their modes of existence. The modes of circulation, valorization, attribution, and appropriation of discourses vary with each culture and are modified with each’ (Foucault, 1984: 117). The ‘modes of existence’ I explore here relate to both vernacular culture and the juxtaposition that is the ‘local struggle’. The contingency of power dictates that the liminal historical discourses I explore here were muted yet tenacious. The fact...


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