Experiments with Realism in Irish Language Short Stories by Daithí Ó Muirí

Relying on Joseph McMinn’s statement that the connection between realist and non-realist fiction is not a hierarchical relationship, this essay maintains that realism in Irish language fiction is, and has always been, an energizing force for experimentation. This is nowhere more evident than in the work of writer Daithí Ó Muirí (1954-), a native English speaker now residing in an Irish speaking area in Ireland. Much of Ó Muirí’s work is experimental due to his use of allegory and fantasy, yet many of the stories remain rooted in the realities of the world, particularly in his representations of masculinities and in works concerning the impact of war, violence, and displacement on men’s lives. The essay examines Ó Muirí’s first three collections, Seacht Lá na Díleann (1998), Cogaí (2002), and Uaigheanna agus Scéalta Eile (2002), in which he explores subjects that are classically realistic: war, death, religion, and relationships between men and women. The essay explores how Ó Muirí’s work often combines realism and magic realism, and shows that Ó Muirí’s fiction provides a fresh if somewhat bleak narrative of 21st century realism in Irish language prose fiction.

Suspended Lives: Lucy Caldwell’s Three Sisters in Post-Agreement Belfast

Lucy Caldwell’s 2016 adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters relocates the play into Belfast in the 1990s. This paper examines Caldwell’s adaptation in the context of Irish and Northern Irish rewritings of Chekhov’s dramatic works, paying attention to the motives behind appropriating the Russian works for Irish audiences. Inspired by the perceived affinity between the two seemingly distant cultures, Irish authors have tended to adapt Chekhov (and other Russian classics) to reflect on their own social, cultural, and political environment, often with the aim of shaping the cultural-political landscape of their present. Similarly to earlier Chekhov adaptations, Caldwell’s play engages not only with the original Russian work, but, most importantly, with the cultural-political context of its setting—the five hopeful years preceding the Belfast Agreement (1998), as well as the post-Agreement context of its writing. The play allows its audience in 2016 a complex, retrospective, re-evaluative view of the achievements of the peace process from the vantage point of the early twenty-first century. (ZSCS)

Drink and Alcohol Literature: Two Critical Perspectives

The essay discusses two contrasting critical perspectives on the intersection between drink/alcohol and literature, claiming that criticism concerning the literature of the British Isles (English, Scottish, and Irish authors’ work) is generally text-oriented, that is, targets literature per se and the way writers thematize drink, while criticism concentrating on the American literary scene focuses on the alcohol-dependence of writers, and/or the way their alcohol-dependence affects their work, or the way alcoholism is portrayed in literary works. Whereas the criticism on authors in the British Isles emphasizes conviviality as a key trait of the way drink/drinking is represented in literature, studies on American authors often highlight drinking alcohol as a pathology, a physical, mental, and social malfunction. Thus, the former can be labeled drink/drinking literature, and the latter can be framed as what Marcus Grants has dubbed “alcoholism literature.”  (WK)

Beckett’s Politics of Space

Book review:

Little, James. Samuel Beckett in Confinement: The Politics of Closed Space. London: Bloomsbury, 2020. 235 pages. ISBN 978-1-3501-123-2. Hb. $115.

Irish History, Ethics, the Alethic, and Mise En Abîme in John Banville’s Fiction

A controversy within John Banville scholarship focuses on his seemingly ambivalent relation to his Irishness. The dominance of Banville’s philosophical topics has seemingly rendered the specifically Irish issues redundant. However, there are Irish traits that have significance for more subtle themes or motifs in certain novels. These passages often appear as side-paths in the eccentric protagonists’ meandering narration. In The Blue Guitar, Oliver Orme mentions that his “namesake Oliver Cromwell” attempted an attack upon the town in which his childhood home is situated, but eventually “the victorious Catholic garrison hanged half a dozen russet-coated captains” on the hill where the house stands and where “the Lord Protector’s tent” had been erected. Such casual remarks on violent historical incidents harbor a key to a particular Banvillean ethics. The frequently recurring prose structure of thematized mise en abîme and the mazes of signifiers indicate that no historical ontology in terms of a meta-narrative seems to exist. However, many of Banville’s novels revolve around the disclosure of a truth. This alethic element questions an all too convenient reliance on a completely constructivist understanding of history and thereby of Irish historical events appearing in the Banvillean oeuvre. (JW)

Re-Running the Rising: Centenary Stagings

Drawing on his experience as an Irish Times Theatre Awards judge through 2016, the author analyzes a range of shows relating to the Easter Rising produced in Irish theatre in that centenary year. The aim is to show their variety of styles, realistic and experimental, but also the political viewpoints, whether belonging to a traditional nationalist historiography or its revisionist alternative. Some of the plays maintained the conservative representational dramaturgy so characteristic of much Irish drama, but more worked with dance, song, and video in theatrical mixed modes, including a radically innovative production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre. Site-specific shows sought to immerse audiences in the original experiences of the Rising, while the most formally experimental plays avoided direct representation altogether. The political positions were as varied as the theatrical styles from conventional nationalist hagiography to those which questioned the value and meaning of the Rising.

Experimental Dramaturgy, Intellectual and Art-related Subjects in Irish Theatre

Book review:

Woodward, Guy, ed. Across the Boundaries: Talking about Thomas Kilroy. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2014. 112 pages. ISBN 978-1-909325-51-7. Pbk. €25.00

Irish Native Autobiography: Tomás O’Crohan’s The Islandman

The paper addresses Tomás O’Crohan’s The Islandman (1929) as a representative of Irish native autobiography. The genre, it is argued, best defines the specificity of O’Crohan’s work, since it well delineates the complexity of its creation process involving an author, an editor, and a translator. Furthermore, the reading of The Islandman as Irish native autobiography sheds a new light on the text as capturing Walter Benjamin’s media shift from oral to written tradition observable at the beginning of the twentieth century. Tomás O’Crohan manages to converge the art of storytelling with a new genre of autobiography thanks to many foreign influences, especially Maxim Gorky’s life-narratives. Consequently, The Islandman, contrary to the traditional understanding of the work as purely Irish, thus free of any outside leverage, emerges as a cosmopolitan text which, similarly to other European literary works of the time, successfully adapts the oral heritage to a new form of autobiography.  

John Williams’s Stoner and Literature as Dark Matter in the Age of Educational Managerialism

The tension between Bildung and more utility-oriented dimensions of education is nothing new. For instance, Friedrich Nietzsche addressed the issue in a series of lectures despising nineteenth-century tendencies to let education be controlled by external forces. The contemporary literature teacher may feel inclined to endorse some of Nietzsche’s sentiments. What will remain of the subject of literature in the age of massification, learnification, and criterion-referenced teaching in secondary and tertiary education? Through an analysis of certain aspects of John Williams’s Stoner, the article considers a few central questions: why is the devoted literature teacher forced into a hypocritical position, pretending to do a set of stated things (learning outcomes), while actually doing (or wanting to do) something completely different? Is it not precisely what cannot be put into words that is the actual driving force of the study of literature? The article suggests that this Gordian knot cannot be untied and should not be cut, but also that the attempts to untie it are in themselves vitalizing forces that ought not to be neglected within literary studies and teaching. (JW)

Rewriting History: Narrative Resistance and Poetic Justice in Martin McDonagh’s A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Martin McDonagh’s A Very Very Very Dark Matter (2018) explores how the stories of exploited people have been written out of history. The play includes several storytellers, and it both replicates and deviates from the details of numerous existing narratives, including McDonagh’s own plays. Set in 1857, the play imagines that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales were written by a pygmy woman from the Belgian Congo who has traveled back in time; Hans calls her Marjory and keeps her in a box in his attic. Eventually Marjory writes herself out of the box and departs for Africa to prevent the colonization of her people. Dark Matter compels us to question the narratives about the past that have become embedded in our culture and to uncover the facts that official accounts have altered or suppressed; rewriting history is acceptable only in imaginative storytelling, as an act of poetic justice. (JL)

Alternative Readings of J. M. Synge’s Drama Predicated on Archival Material

Book review:

Collins, Christopher. Theatre and Residual Culture: J. M. Synge and Pre-Christian Ireland. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 301 pages. Hb. ISBN 978-1-349-94871-0. €106.99.

Dermot Healy, Resourceful Playwright

Book review:

Hopper, Keith, and Neil Murphy, eds. Dermot Healy: The Collected Plays. Victoria, TX: Dalkey Archive P, 2016. xxxiii + 583 pages. ISBN 978-1-56478-930-3. Pbk. $21.00/£15.00.

The Aging of the “Youngest People in Europe”

Book review:

Ingman, Heather. Ageing in Irish Writing: Strangers to Themselves. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 209 pages. ISBN 978 3 319 96429-4. Hb. €74.89.


Introduction to the Special Section: Negotiating Aging and Ageism in English-Speaking Fiction and Theatre

Dramaturgical Roles of Present and Past Teenage Characters in Post-Agreement Northern Irish Drama

The Good Friday Agreement (1998) has set in motion significant changes in Northern Ireland, generating new conditions which, however, also brought numerous problems to the surface on various levels of society. Sociologists have called attention to how intensely the persistent afterlife of sectarian hostilities affect especially teenagers who are often unable to see their goals clearly. Several contemporary Northern Irish playwrights have relied on young characters to pinpoint timely and pressing social and cultural issues as well as to throw light on the precarity of the post-Troubles environment. This essay discusses three plays from different decades of the post-Agreement period: Gary Mitchell’s Trust (1999), Lucy Caldwell’s Leaves (2007), and Owen McCafferty’s Quietly (2012). Their respective dramaturgies showcase the long-lasting influence of the historical burden of the Northern Irish conflict on young peoples’ subjectivities as well as demonstrate how middle-aged characters are still haunted by memories of the psychic wounds they suffered during the most formative years of their lives. Through their underage protagonists, each playwright suggests that members of this generation might not be able to further strengthen the peace they have formally inherited. (MK)

“Fun, disturbing and ultimately forgettable”? : Notes on the Royal Court Theatre Production of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen

The essay compares the reflections of a translator on the text of Martin McDonagh’s latest play, Hangmen (2015), with the impact of its first production by the Royal Court Theatre in London. It considers the response of multiple reviewers and of the Royal Court and West End audiences and argues that while this may be the first work by McDonagh that features a serious concern—this being the practice of capital punishment and its effect on society—the Royal Court production unduly obscured this aspect of the drama by mostly playing it only for the laughs. (OP)

A Novel Inquiry into a Strategic Aspect of Irish Women’s Theatre across a Century

Book review:

Hill, Shonagh. Women and Embodied Mythmaking in Irish Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019. 257 pages. ISBN 978-1-108-48533-3. Hb. ₤75.

Half-Formed Modernism: Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

This paper positions Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) at the vanguard of a resurgent modernism in the 21st-century Irish novel, in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crash. It asserts the value of experimental literature to a country which has awoken from a dream of late capitalist prosperity into a sobering confrontation with late capitalist crisis.
McBride’s novel reproduces certain generic characteristics of the historical realism which was the dominant literary mode of Celtic Tiger Ireland. However, it also innovates: McBride’s new, fragmentary adaptation of Joycean stream-of-consciousness navigates its familiar themes through the internal states of its traumatized protagonist.

Editor’s Notes

Editor’s Notes

Nature (as) Language in the Poetry of Seán Lysaght

The article focuses on a selection of poems by the Irish poet Seán Lysaght to demonstrate that in his work, Lysaght looks to explore nature’s intricate design, its pre-human and pre-linguistic layers of significance through investigations of birds, arguing that rather than offering culturally or politically inflected images of wildlife and landscape, as Irish poets from W. B. Yeats through Patrick Kavanagh all the way to Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley have been wont to do, Lysaght sets the vast natural world, which eludes apprehension in language, against the modern world and its obsession with material productivity and pragmatic efficiency. This aspect of Lysaght’s poetry is discussed against the background of Heaney, Yeats, and William Wordsworth, who are shown to share some insights with Lysaght, but from whose influence he strives to steer away.  (WP)

Iterations of Silence

Book review:

Fadem, Maureen E. Ruprecht. Silence and Articulacy in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019. 310 pages. ISBN 978-1-7936-0707-2. E-book. $115.

Doubling Dublin: Mimetic and Anti-Mimetic Use of Urban Space in Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds

The article examines the use of references to the topography of Dublin in mimetic and anti-mimetic sections of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (1939). It studies the three different layers of fiction that have been defined on the basis of their ontological status within the narrative. The article argues that references to actual Dublin locations serve as a means of building and then breaking the mimetic framework of the seemingly realistic descriptions that belong to the first two layers (“reality” and “fiction” within the novel). The strikingly anti-mimetic Western novel sections (“fiction within fiction”), which lack any credibility in their depiction of Dublin, can be seen as a radical rewriting of the urban space that does in fact have the actual city’s character at its core. O’Brien thus unsettles the conventions (and the readers’ expectations) and explores the possibilities of representing elements of the real world in fiction.

Our Affairs from England

Book review:

Kiséry, András. Hamlet’s Moment. Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England. New York, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 340 pages. ISBN 9780198746201. Hb. £66.

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