The Cultural Politics of In/Difference

Irish Texts and Contexts

by Aida Rosende-Pérez (Volume editor) Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection VIII, 266 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 115


From the perspective of Irish Studies, this book seeks to interrogate the discourses and processes that produce and reproduce «Ireland’s cultural politics of in/difference», and its effects both in the material experience of Othered subjects and in their representation in cultural and literary forms. At the same time, it also examines strategies of dissent or resistance and possible alternatives that are being articulated both in the socio-political and the cultural arena, contributing to our communal thinking and imaginative creation of more effective forms of building community based on solid equity and social justice grounds.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1 Introduction (Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez)
  • 2 Systemic Crime and Social Disaffection in Benjamin Black’s Quirke Series: A Struggle for Difference (Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides)
  • 3 Erin’s Sons and Decent Daughters: The Biopolitics of Rural Masculinities in Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn (1948) (Loic Wright)
  • 4 Anne Griffin’s When All Is Said (2019): A Different Haunting Ageing Masculinity in Irish Fiction (Asier Altuna-García de Salazar)
  • 5 The Guts (2013): The Quintessence of Roddy Doyle’s Art of Fiction (Aída Díaz Bild)
  • 6 ‘Girls just wanna have fun’: Female Adolescence and Joyful Insurrection in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s The Dancers Dancing (1999) and Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls (2018–) (Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez)
  • 7 Girls and Women in Rosaleen McDonagh’s Mainstream: Celebrating Difference (Ekaterina Mavlikaeva)
  • 8 Bridging Differences or Burning Bridges: Transforming the Chorus in Irish Versions of Greek Tragedy (Marit Meinhold)
  • 9 Death-worlds and Necropolitics of Abjection in Emma Donoghue’s ‘Counting the Days’ (Belén Martín-Lucas)
  • 10 From Virtual to Aborted Citizens: Childbirth and Citizenship in the Republic of Ireland (Sara Martín-Ruiz)
  • 11 ‘New energies’ on ‘the threshold of an old art’: Democratic Sparkles in Contemporary Irish Poetry (Pilar Villar-Argáiz)
  • 12 The Violent Othering of Women and Animals in Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s and Luz Pichel’s Poetry (Manuela Palacios-González and María Xesús Nogueira-Pereira)
  • 13 ‘Cork is very much male – and so is working class’: An Interview with Lisa McInerney (Hedwig Schwall)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←vi | vii→


This publication has been carried out under the auspices of the research project ‘Bodies in Transit: Difference and Indifference’, Grant FFI2017-84555-C2-2-P funded by MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033 and by ‘ERDF A way of making Europe’.

Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez

1 Introduction

This collection examines and interrogates the concepts and realities of ‘difference’ and ‘indifference’, and how these have been articulated and represented in Irish political, social and, especially, cultural and literary spaces and production. With this focus in mind, the twelve chapters in this book engage critically in discussions and debates across disciplines that address how intersecting categories of difference – notably, though not exclusively, gender, ethnicity, class, disability, age or nationality – have operated within Irish culture and society, and how they are narrated in literary and cultural texts and contexts. Following Sara Ahmed’s argument that ‘all actions are reactions, in the sense that what we do is shaped by the contact we have with others’,1 this volume will also discuss how indifference emerges, in multiple forms and varied expressions, as a highly problematic reaction towards those subjects whose bodies and experiences are discursively and politically marked as Other, as ‘bodies out of place’ either within the space of the nation-state or across its borders.2 Hegemonic discourses of the Irish nation are disrupted by these subjects and their constructed difference and consequently, they become vulnerable to the violence of political, social and cultural exclusion and oppression, forced to constantly ‘negotiate the discursive structures that render [their] bodies Other’.3 Thus, indifference appears in this context, and in the literary and cultural texts ←1 | 2→examined in the chapters in this volume, as a socio-political and also affective response that implies a dual sense that requires appraisal. On the one hand, it openly refers to a lack of care and absence of responsiveness to others who are constructed and consequently felt as ‘different’, be they human or non-human others with whom we share the planet. On the other hand, the term ‘indifference’ can also suggest the assimilation of difference, mainly through its cooptation by dominant neoliberal discourses, a process that in no way alters or erodes the uneven power hierarchies imbued in its operations, and thus perpetuates inequality.

Approaching in/difference as a cultural politics in the sense Sara Ahmed gives to this expression in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, that is, as a form of ‘world making’,4 this book seeks to explore the discourses and processes that produce and reproduce what we have dubbed as Ireland’s ‘cultural politics of in/difference’, and its effects both in terms of the material experience of Othered subjects and in their representation in cultural and literary forms. How have categories of ‘difference’ and expressions of ‘indifference’ been integral to the socio-historical construction of Ireland as an ‘imagined community’?5 How are they being interrogated and negotiated in the current milieu? What role do cultural and literary texts play in these interrogations and negotiations? How are ‘difference’ and ‘indifference’ narrated in Irish literary and cultural texts? How can these narratives contribute to more just, more responsible, more responsive forms of understanding and working with and across differences? All these questions traverse, in one way or another, each of the chapters in this book and the wide range of issues they address. Taken together, the collection ultimately aims to prove that these are preoccupations that have greatly concerned a number of Irish writers, poets and cultural creators more generally. And it can be in their work that we might find some answers or, equally important, productive ways of posing the key questions that can potentially engender momentous change. Both the writers whose works are examined here and the scholars who study them show in their texts, creative or critical, this ←2 | 3→desire for transformation that we situate within the orbit of what Claire Hemmings defines as ‘affective solidarity’. For Hemmings, this is a form of solidarity that is ‘thoroughly cognisant of power and privilege’ and ‘not based in a shared identity or on a presumption about how the other feels, but on also feeling the desire for transformation out of the experience of discomfort, and against the odds’.6

It is this desire for transformation ‘through an engagement with others across difference’ that lies at the root of this volume. And this is also reflected in the theoretical and methodological frameworks the contributors employ in their research, which unequivocally confirm how, as Renée Fox, Mike Cronin and Brian Ó Conchubhair argue: ‘Irish Studies scholarship has reoriented itself in relation to social changes in Ireland over the last several years, embracing theoretical fields including queer studies, disability studies, critical race studies and ecocriticism as crucial interlocutors in a field that has been primarily dominated by postcolonial studies.’7 This is a reorientation that is clearly palpable in the different chapters and the authors’ engagement with issues of affect, biopolitics, necropolitics, biocapitalism, globalization, ecofeminism, ageing masculinities, girlhood or citizenship. Furthermore, The Cultural Politics of In/Difference: Irish Texts and Contexts aims at being not only a multi- and interdisciplinary study but also a transhistorical one, as it ranges across literary and cultural production from the 1930s to the present. In this way, the book’s critical focus on in/difference speaks to the contemporary moment by engaging in discussions that consider the past, present and even future developments. In the end, as Elizabeth Grosz claims, ‘[t]‌he past is the virtual which coexists with the present. The past, in other words, is always already contained in the present, not as its cause or its pattern but rather, as its latency, its ←3 | 4→virtuality, its potential for being otherwise.’8 And for this potential to be realized, and to give way to otherwise presents and futures, it is essential that we pay attention to the ways in which these works activate and/or engage with strategies of dissent and resistance. Thus, this volume finally seeks to examine the creative alternatives to exclusionary configurations of ‘difference’ and ‘indifference’ that are being articulated in Irish texts and contexts, contributing to our communal thinking and imaginative creation of more effective forms of building community based firmly on the grounds of equity and social justice.

The volume opens with Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides’ chapter ‘Systemic Crime and Social Disaffection in Benjamin Black’s Quirke Series: A Struggle for Difference’, in which she addresses difference not so much as the result of a process of differentiation and Othering, but most powerfully as a call to both see and act differently in order to make a difference in the ways Ireland has (or has not) dealt with systemic inequalities and oppression. She also engages with what she terms ‘social disaffection’, a choice of words that simultaneously calls attention to Ireland’s social indifference towards the most vulnerable, and to the affective cultural politics implicated in it. Through the lens of Slavoj Žižek’s theories in his work Violence (2008),9 and making use of Sara Ahmed’s critical insights into the cultural politics of emotions, Pérez-Vides examines two of the seven crime fiction novels known as ‘the Quirke series’, written by the celebrated Irish writer John Banville under the pen name of Benjamin Black. Through an insightful analysis of Christine Falls (2006) and Even the Dead (2015), the author compellingly exposes how these narratives are concerned with the structural nature of the crimes tackled in them, in this case the hideous treatment of women in Magdalene laundries and the illegal trafficking of infants from Mother and Baby Homes, concurrently displaying a consistent critique of the transhistorical indifference to the socio-structural victimization of women that has dominated the Irish milieu. For Pérez-Vides, ←4 | 5→Quirke, archetypical noir investigator, can be said to embody the dialectics of indifference / care that allows Black (Banville) to raise interrogations about the extent to which interpersonal relations may bring about change, ultimately leading, even if not in a completely effective manner, to closer encounters with social justice.

Like Pérez Vides, Loic Wright looks at the nation’s past to explore oppressive gender dynamics that still get reproduced in the present. His chapter, entitled ‘Erin’s Sons and Decent Daughters: The Biopolitics of Rural Masculinities in Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn (1948)’, examines to what extent rural men and their performances of manhood were moulded by attempts to conform to the state-sanctioned ideals of masculinity in the years leading up to the foundation of the Irish Republic. The author addresses these issues by analysing Patrick Kavanagh’s novel Tarry Flynn in light of R. W. Connell’s Masculinities and Michel Foucault’s work.10 Wright’s contribution thus examines the hegemonic masculinities of the men in Cavan in the 1930s as well the correlation between the legislation passed in the preceding decade and the consequent cultures of rigid patriarchal dominance and, in many cases, state-sanctioned misogyny.

Hegemonic constructions of masculinity are also at the core of Chapter 4, ‘Anne Griffin’s When All Is Said (2019): A Different Haunting Ageing Masculinity in Irish Fiction’, in which Asier Altuna-García de Salazar draws upon tenets on ageing and masculinity by providing a close reading of Anne Griffin’s debut novel that reveals how indifferent Irish society and culture have been to these issues. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s views on hauntology, especially mourning and melancholia,11 Altuna-García de Salazar captivatingly manages to reveal a different construction of masculinity informed by age and a haunting spectral melancholia. The analysis of the 84-year-old’s extended internal monologues is complemented with a ←5 | 6→comprehensive corpus of scholarly literature on masculinity in Ireland that makes it easy for the reader to grasp the weightiness of the topic at hand.

Aída Diaz Bild’s chapter, entitled ‘The Guts (2013): The Quintessence of Roddy Doyle’s Art of Fiction’, also reflects on issues of masculinity and how hegemonic patriarchal understandings of same get destabilized, this time by an unexpected illness and an impending death at an untimely age. The author proposes here that Doyle’s The Guts encompasses the most distinguishing traits and attributes of his fiction, one of the most significant of them being the use of comedy and humour to deal with complex and sometimes even tragic events. More importantly for the purposes of this volume, Díaz Bild emphasizes the fact that Doyle’s choice of subject matter in The Guts, where Jimmy Rabbitte, the hero of Doyle’s 1987 novel The Commitments, is diagnosed with bowel cancer, continues a trend in his work to make readers look at what is usually overlooked or consciously ignored. And this is a look that intends to remind us, Díaz Bild argues, that even in the face of suffering and desperation we must renew our capacity and reclaim our right to laugh.

It is also our right to laugh that the following chapter vindicates. Aida Rosende-Pérez’s and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez’s ‘“Girls just wanna have fun”: Female Adolescence and Joyful Insurrection in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s The Dancers Dancing (1999) and Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls (2018–)’ takes the reader on a journey through representations of Irish girlhood. Teenage girls, the authors claim, have been either overly exposed or unseen in Irish culture, which similarly oscillates between positioning them as sign of difference, often connected to the female body and sexuality, and showing an absolute indifference to their actual, embodied experiences. However, according to Rosende-Pérez’s and Jarazo-Álvarez’s analysis, The Dancers Dancing and Derry Girls open new paths for alternative representations of Irish female adolescence, both emphasizing the girls’ bodies in motion, and determinedly challenging conventional associations of teenage girlhood and trauma. The analysis mainly draws on Susan Cahill’s and Caroline Magennis’ work on literary and cultural engagements with (Northern) Irish girlhood, and on Libe García Zarranz’s inspiring formulation of ‘joyful insurrection as feminist methodology’,12 to ultimately assert the need to ←6 | 7→reconsider the power of ‘having fun’ as a crucial site for feminist rebellion against patriarchal violence in its multiple forms.

The focus on girlhood continues in Chapter 7, entitled ‘Girls and Women in Rosaleen McDonagh’s Mainstream: Celebrating Difference’, in which Ekaterina Mavlikaeva explores the connection between disability, gender and ethnicity in Traveller author Rosaleen McDonagh’s critically acclaimed play. Mavlikaeva proposes an interdisciplinary reading of the experiences of Traveller characters during and following their institutionalization by the Irish State as children and adolescents. Throughout the play protagonists resist hegemonic constructions of gendered and disabled bodies, as well as the marginalization of Traveller girls and women with disabilities and their constructions as negatively different by a largely indifferent state. Their shared experience of oppression, according to the author, breeds a sense of resistance and solidarity which unequivocally contributes to social change.

In the following chapter, ‘Bridging Differences or Burning Bridges: Transforming the Chorus in Irish Versions of Greek Tragedy’, Marit Meinhold also works on drama and addresses the concept of difference in the adaptations of Greek tragedies in the last four decades in Ireland. According to the author, such adaptations have constituted the prime site on the Irish stage for discussing identity, be it national or individual, notably when the adaptations deliberately break with the established form, or when stories and productions highlight the risk of pushing individuals towards desperate choices in environments that do not tolerate difference.

The articulations of in/difference in the volume touch upon different preoccupations and the following two chapters look at them from a common theoretical perspective, Achille Mbembe’s critical views on the necropolitical.13 In Belén Martín-Lucas’ ‘Death-worlds and Necropolitics of Abjection in Emma Donoghue’s “Counting the Days”’, the author ←7 | 8→suggests that Donoghue’s short story should be read as a critique of the mid-nineteenth century’s cross-border transits from Ireland to Canada forced by poverty and the risk of starvation. Martín-Lucas examines here how Donoghue brings to the fore the necropolitics of both old and current biocapitalism, showing how abjection produces anger, and how the latter materializes in cholera and ultimately in death.


VIII, 266
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
Irish Studies Difference Indifference Dissent Resistance Aida Rosende-Pérez Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez The Cultural Politics of In/Difference: Irish Texts and Contexts
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. VIII, 266 pp.

Biographical notes

Aida Rosende-Pérez (Volume editor) Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez (Volume editor)

Dr Aida Rosende-Pérez is Lecturer in English at the University of the Balearic Islands. Her research has focused principally on the politics and poetics of transnational feminism, specializing in transnational women’s literature and cultural production, and paying special attention to the narratives and (audio)visual productions of contemporary Irish women writers and artists. Dr Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez is Lecturer in English at the University of the Balearic Islands. His research has focused on British Cultural Studies and the influence of Anglophone cultures in Spain; William Shakespeare in twentieth century Spain, masculinities in British telefantasy and sci-fi.


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276 pages