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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 Six ‘Inner Émigré(s)’: Derrida, Heaney, Yeats and the Hauntological Redefinition of Irishness 99


Chapter Six ‘Inner Émigré(s)’: Derrida, Heaney, Yeats and the Hauntological Redefinition of Irishness In his recent book, The Other Heading, Jacques Derrida spoke about the hybridity that is central to our notion of European identity. He stressed the difference between the Europe of today and ‘a Europe that does not exist.’ In Specters of Marx, Derrida discusses what he terms hauntology, in answer to his question: ‘What is a ghost?’ (Derrida 1994, 10). In the latter work, he discusses the spectrality of many areas of meaning, seeing ghostly hauntings as traces of possible meanings. One might compare his haun- tology to the paradigmatic chains which hover over (haunt) the linearity of the syntagmatic chain. But Derrida makes one important distinction, in that he sees spectrality and time as closely connected. He makes the point, speaking both of the ghost in Hamlet, and the ghost that haunts Marx’s Communist Manifesto (where the first noun is ‘specter’), that: ‘[a]t bottom, the specter is the future, it is always to come, it presents itself only as that which could come or come back’ (Derrida 1994, 39). In this sense, Derrida’s notion of spectrality has a lot to do with a sense of engagement with modernity, and with the relationship between that modernity and the historical context which led up to it, and the future which it precedes. In a specifically Irish context, literature has been that Janus-like discourse wherein notions of modernity have been both eschewed and embraced. In...

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