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John Banville

Art and Authenticity


Eoghan Smith

This study explores the fiction of John Banville within a variety of cultural, political, ethical and philosophical contexts. Through thematic readings of the novels, Eoghan Smith examines the complexity of Banville’s view of the artwork and explores the novelist’s attraction and resistance to forms of authenticity, whether aesthetic, existential or ideological.
Emphasizing in particular the influence of Banville’s major Irish modernist precursor, Samuel Beckett, this book places the local elements of his writing alongside his wide-ranging literary and philosophical interests. Highlighting the evolving nature of Banville’s engagement with varieties of authenticity, it explores the art of failure and the failure of art, the power and politics of the contemporary imagination, and the ways in which this important contemporary writer continues to redefine the boundaries of Irish fiction.


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This study considers the intersections between ideas of art and the pursuit of authenticity in a variety of cultural, political, ethical and philosophical contexts in the fiction of John Banville. To date, Banville’s work has generated a relatively large and rich body of academic scholarship which has greatly illuminated both the complexity and value of his fictions. It is not unreasonable to say that in terms of literary innovation and intellectual vibrancy, he is the most successful Irish prose writer since Samuel Beckett, and the diversity of criticism of his writing ref lects the many ways in which his narratives can be mined. One approach to Banville, predominantly originating from scholars studying Irish litera- ture in the 1970s, has broadly interpreted his early works as a wide-ranging aesthetic reaction to the contingencies of Irish history and literature, and in more specific instances, as a response to contemporary Irish historiographi- cal practices. Banville’s work, it is suggested, can be read as an intervention into Irish cultural and political discourse, however oblique and contrarian that is. A view of Banville as an avant-garde writer in the Irish modernist tradition gained purchase; his writing has been often viewed as a continu- ation of a literary line that stretches through Flann O’Brien, Beckett and Aidan Higgins, and ultimately back to Joyce. Although there have been disagreements as to precisely where Banville fits in relation to Irish mod- ernism, the ‘Irish’ approach has borne much fruit for the theorization not only of his writing, but...

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