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‘Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse’

Negotiating Texts and Contexts in Contemporary Irish Studies


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 Two The Ethics of Translation: Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troyand Beowulf 27


Chapter Two The Ethics of Translation: Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troy and Beowulf Seamus Heaney has been variously accused of not speaking directly enough about the politics of Northern Ireland: ‘his poetry says nothing, plainly or figuratively, about the war’ (Fennel 1991, 16), while at the same time he has also been described as a ‘laureate of violence’ (Carson 1975, 183). His translations of The Cure at Troy and Beowulf demonstrate that both of these readings are one-dimensional in that they do not recognise the complexity of perspective in Heaney’s work. The transformations of lan- guage and thought that are central to the process of translation become templates for a process of constructive dialogue between the nationalist- republican-Catholic tradition and that of the unionist-loyalist-Protestant communities, a dialogue that is broached in aesthetic terms but which also embraces strong ethical and political components. Stanislaw Baranczak, who collaborated with Seamus Heaney on the latter’s translation of Kochanowski’s Laments, has made the point that Heaney’s aesthetics could well be termed an ‘ethics of creativity’ (Oeser 1994, 85). If Baranczak is using the term ethics in the context of conti- nental philosophy, then he is speaking about the standards and values that govern the relationship between self and other. Because translation generally involves the changing of the language of the other into that of the self, its ethical component would seem to be obvious. In bringing the texts of one culture before the readership of another, the aesthetic experi- ence, by definition, has the...

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