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‘Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse’

Negotiating Texts and Contexts in Contemporary Irish Studies

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Eugene O'Brien

This collection of essays reconsiders aspects of Irish studies through the medium of literary and cultural theory. The author looks at the negotiations between texts and their contexts and then analyses how the writer both reflects and transforms aspects of his or her cultural milieu. The essays examine literary texts by W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce and Sean Ó’Faoláin; media texts such as Father Ted, American Beauty and a series of Guinness advertisements; as well as cultural and political contexts such as globalisation, religion, the Provisional IRA and media treatment of murders in Ireland. The author also looks at aspects of the postcolonial and feminist paradigms and makes use of a theoretical matrix based on the work of Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan.

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Chapter One Ireland in Theory: The Influence of French Theory on Irish Cultural and Societal Development 11

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Chapter One Ireland in Theory: The Influence of French Theory on Irish Cultural and Societal Development That contemporary Irish society and culture is in the process of a radical transformation is beyond question. However, what is open to question is the context within which this process has been set in motion. From being a socially and religiously conservative, homogenous culture, Ireland has now begun on the problematic journey towards becoming a European pluralist society. The hegemonic pillars of traditional Irish society – the church, the twin governmental parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and ‘republican- ism’ (however undefined) as a default position within the national psyche – are in the process of undergoing a searching interrogation and critique. The position of church and state as arbiters of opinion and unquestioned sources of wisdom has never been more tenuous. This chapter will offer a reading of the engine that initiated this change and will suggest that increasing levels of education, specifically in the areas of literary and cultural theory, much of which originated in France, have been the catalyst behind this process. I think that the emancipatory and political force of such critical discourse is often obscured by the arcane terminology and overzealous jargon of some practitioners. In this discus- sion, only broad strokes will be traced, as the underlying imperative behind the theoretical writings of the last forty years will be examined, and then applied to the Irish situation. Before looking at the process of change, and its contexts, it...

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