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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 Four ‘You can never know women’: Framing Female Identityin Dubliners 67


Chapter Four ‘You can never know women’: Framing Female Identity in Dubliners In The Truth in Painting, Jacques Derrida discusses the relationship between the frame ( parergon) and the work itself (ergon): ... the parergon is a form which has as its traditional determination not that it stands out, but that it disappears, buries itself, effaces itself, melts away at the moment it deploys its greatest energy. The frame is in no case a background in the way that the milieu or the work can be, but neither is its thickness as margin a figure. (Derrida 1987b, 61) The structure of a work of art is predicated on a framing device which is both part of the work of art, and, at the same time, part of the ground from which that work originates. The resulting relationship between form and theme, frame and text, is a vexed one in literary studies, and, given the widely recognised architectonic nature of Joyce’s work, is relevant to any investigation of his work. The term ‘parergonal ’, as Marian Hobson notes, does not point ‘to an outside transcending the picture, but to a push and pull relation between the interior and the exterior’ (Hobson 2001, 147). The premise of this essay is that such a parergonal structural line can be traced through Dubliners in its concern with the social construction of the gendered subject’s identity and with that subject as sign: in Dubliners, the role of subjectivity, and specifically that of female subjectivity, acts as a...

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