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John Banville

Art and Authenticity

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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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Chapter 4 Lives and Deaths: The Untouchable, Eclipse and Shroud

Extract

It would appear at first glance that the cinematic World War II spy thriller The Untouchable, the introverted, Irish small town gothic-esque Eclipse, and the philosophical novel Shroud have little in common. Yet although these three texts are very much individual novels in their own right, they are strongly bound together by the pursuit of authenticity as both a public and private mode of being. This mixture of public and private is in one sense a representation of the conf lict between the self and world, and in another sense, a ref lection of Banville’s artistic process. There is also, as in the Art Trilogy, a concern for the rehabilitation of the imagination as a constitutive force. The themes which I explore here in these texts – the utilization of fact to create fictional, inauthentic realities, the representa- tion of the politics of authenticity, and textual and existential crises – are related to the possibilities of art at the end of twentieth century as they appear in Banville. These three novels are also outwardly linked together through the common storyline of the double life. While this has been a familiar motif in Banville, it is more thoroughly explored through the figure of the impos- tor, now the central character in these novels. In a playful metaphor for the Banvillian artist-figure, this impostor is invariably a middle-aged, solipsistic man who performs a particular public role that is at some distance from his private self. In keeping with Banville’s familiar theme of the split...

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