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Liminal Borderlands in Irish Literature and Culture

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Edited By Irene Gilsenan Nordin and Elin Holmsten

Liminality, if interpreted as a concern with borders and states of in-betweenness, is a widespread theme in Irish literature and culture, which is perhaps not surprising considering the colonial and postcolonial background of Ireland. The liminal, from the Latin word limen, meaning «a threshold», can be broadly defined as a transitional place of becoming. It is a borderland state of ambiguity and indeterminacy, leading those who participate in the process to new perspectives and possibilities.
This collection of essays examines the theme of liminality in Irish literature and culture against the philosophical discourse of modernity and focuses on representations of liminality in contemporary Irish literature, art and film in a variety of contexts. The book is divided into four sections. The first part deals with theoretical aspects of liminal states. Other sections focus on liminal narratives and explore drama as liminal rites of passage, while the last part examines transformative spaces in contemporary Irish women’s poetry.

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3 History in/of the Borderlands: Emily Lawless and the Story of Ireland Heidi Hansson 51

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3 History in/of the Borderlands: Emily Lawless and the Story of Ireland Heidi Hansson Considered as a number of events in the past, history has no intrinsic meaning and an occurrence cannot be regarded as in itself favourable or unfavourable, since a change of perspective can reverse its significance. The meaning of history is a matter of emplotment, as Hayden White said, (White 83) and a number of factors – many, if not most, of them located in the present – determine what story the historian chooses to tell. This is no longer a particularly revolutionary insight. Especially where Irish history is concerned, it has long been recognised that history-writing functions as a means to further an agenda, which requires characters and incidents to be subordinated to the overall demands of plot (Foster 25). The story-format invites reader identification and encourages action, and in the turbulent political climate of nineteenth-century Ireland, writing history was almost a national pastime. The two basic plotlines are, first, the story of English oppression and Irish suffering put forward in, for instance, A. M. Sullivan’s widely read The Story of Ireland (1867) and second, the tale of benevolent English intervention and general Irish ineptitude presented in Standish O’Grady’s much less appreciated The Story of Ireland (1893). As the title indicates, O’Grady’s work was written in direct response to Sullivan’s history and attempts to reverse its analysis of the past in every way. A story presupposes an ending, and the logical close of Sullivan’s tale is liberation or...

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