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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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12 Once more with Feeling: Restaging History in the Work of Gerald MacNamara (Eugene Mcnulty)


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12 Once more with Feeling: Restaging History in the Work of Gerald MacNamara1

If modern life has become a sustained tragicomedy, then Irish writers have seemed particularly equipped to give expression to its tensions and paradoxes. As Vivian Mercier noted in his classic study The Irish Comic Tradition (1962), the ‘prevalence of the comic spirit in Anglo-Irish literature of the twentieth century needs no demonstration. One has only to start listing the names of writers – Joyce, Synge, O’Casey, George Moore, James Stephens, Lady Gregory, Frank O’Connor – and at once the point is made’.2 The fact that Mercier’s designation of all these writers as ‘Anglo-Irish’ has undergone a radical re-interrogation in the intervening years tells us much about the politico-cultural tensions shadowing his further note that ‘Even W. B. Yeats or Samuel Beckett has his own special vein of defiant or despairing humour’.3 Mercier’s idea of a defiant humour finds a further echo in Norman Vance’s description of Flann O’Brien as a writer possessed of a ‘disrespectful wit’.4 There is much here that is suggestive in the context of this essay and the collection to which it contributes. Each of these writers invites consideration of the ways in which the comedic has the capacity to open up spaces of resistance, to point us towards the ideological undergirding of dominant discourses. As each of these figures ← 203 | 204 → demonstrate in their own particular way, the comedic functions through its search for imaginative friction,...

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