New Critical Perspectives
Margaret Mills Harper
‘The Real Thing’: Body Parts and the Zero Institution in Ní Chuilleanáin’s Poetry The recent special issue of the Irish University Review dedicated to the work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has a striking cover photograph (Fogarty 2007). From it, the poet herself looks directly at the reader from a frame of sunlit, cascading hair, which f lows in golden waves from her face and vies for attention with it. The lines of hair run parallel and seem related to leaf less, out-of-focus branches of the tree that makes up the background of the right half of the frame. It is an image of a repeated phenomenon in Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry, namely, that a focus on a part of a human body, in physical immediacy, seems both full of meaning and at the same time utterly elusive of it. This phenomenon has significant implications for the subject associated with that body. Bodies tend to be described in poems as if they are irremediably and physically present, but they also tend to slide abruptly into what seems to be a realm of signification but one that does not perform the comfortable structuring functions that language usually provides. Thus, as one reads, what seems to be there turns out not to be absent but to be expressing something entirely dif ferent from presumed substance. This technique is similar to metaphor, and Ní Chuilleanáin often uses the language of metaphor at its points of occurrence, but figural language does...
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