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‘Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse’

Negotiating Texts and Contexts in Contemporary Irish Studies

Series:

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 Three The Body Politic: The Ethics of Responsibility and the Responsibility of Ethics in Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes 47

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Chapter Three The Body Politic: The Ethics of Responsibility and the Responsibility of Ethics in Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes I would begin this chapter with the body of a woman and stones; I would conclude this chapter with the body of a woman and stones. The two women are different and their stories are different, as are their fates. What connects them is the power of words and ethical decisions, a power which is ethical in its import on language and the law, but which is practical and potent in its import on the bodies of these women, who stand as synecdoches for millions of other bodies upon whom the consequences of the decisions of the body politic are enacted. I will not begin with the caving in of Antigone as one might expect (and the colloquial meaning of the term ‘caving in’ is hauntologically present in the action as it is her very refusal to figuratively ‘cave in’ that results in her literal ‘caving in’ by Creon), given the title of this book, but with another woman who stands accused by men in a story that has come down to us from the time before and beyond. In the title essay of The Government of the Tongue, Heaney is discuss- ing the ‘paradox of poetry and of the imaginative arts in general’ (Heaney 1988, 107), and muses on the efficacy of poetry. He says in one sense, the efficacy is ‘nil – no lyric has ever stopped a...

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