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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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14 Violence and the Catharsis of Beyond the Grave Counter-Discourse in the Theatre of Brian Friel (Virginie Roche-Tiengo)


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14 Violence and the Catharsis of Beyond the Grave Counter-Discourse in the Theatre of Brian Friel

It is too soon to be birds,

to play

in the heavens.

— MARAM AL-MASRI, ‘The Children of Syria …’ in Liberty Walks Naked (2017), translated by Theo Dorgan.

Thomas Kilroy, paying tribute to Brian Friel on 2 October 2015 spoke of ‘the irreverent voice, the marvellous mimicry of the man behind the plays’1 he first met in 1969. In the midst of a gale-force wind of violence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles from 1968 onwards, Brian Friel explored the Irish psyche and exposed it to social, economic, religious and state violence, because he believed that theatre might ‘make some tiny thumbscrew adjustment to our psyche’.2 Neither a priest, even though he studied for the priesthood at Maynooth college for two and a half years and talked of the theatre as ‘a theoretical priesthood’, nor a politician, even though he was a member of the Nationalist Party for a time and was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1987 by the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey, Brian Friel explored and dug his pen3 into the mythical and transformative relationship ← 233 | 234 → between violence and the human soul. He pondered over the elements in the soul that are transformed by merciless violence. Simone Weil expanded on the ruthless transformative effect of violence which ‘obliterates anybody who feels its touch...

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