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Non-Violent Resistance

Irreverence in Irish Culture


Edited By Agnès Maillot, Jennifer Bruen and Jean-Philippe Imbert

Humour, by its very nature controversial, plays an important role in social interaction. With its power to question assumptions, it can be used a weapon of subversion, and its meaning and interpretation are embedded within the culture that generates them in complex ways. The scrutiny of Irish culture through the lens of humour is highly revealing, contributing to an alternative, and sometimes irreverent, reading of events. As John Updike wrote of Raymond Queneau’s witty re-imagining of the Easter Rising, humour can effectively expose «casual ambivalence».

This volume investigates the many ways in which writers, playwrights, politicians, historians, filmmakers, artists and activists have used irreverence and humour to look at aspects of Irish culture and explore the contradictions and shortcomings of the society in which they live.

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9 From Ireland, with Irreverence: The ‘Fierce Indignation’ of Jonathan Swift and Paul Durcan (Anne Goarzin)


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9 From Ireland, with Irreverence: The ‘Fierce Indignation’ of Jonathan Swift and Paul Durcan

In Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Swift’s character expresses utter surprise and shock upon realizing that the relatively human appearance of the Yahoos conceals an animal ‘detestable on all accounts.’1 Yet the Travels, as an allegory of man’s follies and moral imperfections, proposes few alternatives to this realisation: as an imperfect creature, man either falls prey to his own vices (which might be summed up as pride or hubris, and which take the form of greed, envy, manipulation, and any violent physical manifestation of these), or to other people’s vices. Exposing and fighting them was Swift’s lifetime goal, and only death was to put an end to his ‘fierce indignation’ at his own unfair, unjust and hubristic times, as he made clear in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Here is laid the Body

of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology,

Dean of this Cathedral Church,

where fierce Indignation

can no longer

injure the Heart.

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