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Sons of Ulster

Masculinities in the Contemporary Northern Irish Novel


Caroline Magennis

Both masculinity and the Northern Irish conflict have been the subjects of a great deal of recent scholarship, yet there is a dearth of material on Northern Irish masculinity. Northern Ireland has a remarkable literary output relative to its population, but the focus of critical attention has been on poetry rather than the fine novels that have been written in and about Ulster. This book goes some way towards remedying the deficiency in critical attention to the Northern Irish novel and the lack of gendered approaches to Northern Irish literature and society.
Sons of Ulster explores the representation of masculinity within a number of Northern Irish novels written since the mid-1990s, focusing on works by Eoin McNamee, Glenn Patterson and Robert McLiam Wilson. One of the key aims of the book is to disrupt notions of a hegemonic Northern Irish masculinity based on violent conflict and hyper-masculine sectarian rhetoric. The author uses the three sections of the text to represent the three key facets of Northern Irish masculinity: bodies, performances and subjectivity bound up with violence.


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3. ‘I’m toxic, necrotic and inflamed’: The Body Abject in Ripley Bogle 40


40 Chapter One has explored the ways in which McNamee’s novels adhere, in the strictest and least sophisticated sense, to Mulvey’s theories of the gaze. As noted, subsequent sections will explore a more playful sense of masculine self, a masculinity that is knowing, ironic and mutable. 3. ‘I’m toxic, necrotic and inflamed’: The Body Abject in Ripley Bogle One of the most striking elements of the novel Ripley Bogle is the manner in which it destabilises hegemonic portrayals of the male body. While the figure of the tramp is prominent in Irish literature, particularly in Synge and Beckett, it is rarely quite as leaky as Ripley. They are often unwashed, perhaps, and even fetid. But few are allowed to ooze over the pages in quite the way that Ripley does. As we have seen from the discussion of the maternal grotesque, the male body is figured in the modern cultural imagination as comparatively closed and discrete. What this section seeks to argue, though, is that Wilson overthrows this convention by making the male body as incontinent as any female body as figured in the male imagination. In destabilising these boundaries between self and other, he is setting himself against prevailing codes of the masculine Northern Irish body. Wilson discusses Ripley’s plight: He threw up, you know, because he was fucking homeless. And they said it was relent- lessly disgusting. I was perplexed by this. That simple pragmatism is the main engine. He’s a tramp – he’s going to smell, he’s going...

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