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Ireland and Popular Culture


Sylvie Mikowski

This book explores the differences between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures in an Irish context, arguing that these differences require constant revision and redefinition. The volume includes analysis of famous Irish writers such as Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, who are commonly regarded as part of the canon of elite Irish literature but who have either used elements of popular culture in their work, or else occupy a special position in popular culture themselves. Other chapters examine the elusiveness of the boundary between elite and popular culture using objects such as postcards, digital animation, surfing and the teaching of Irish mythology in schools, and demonstrating how this boundary is constantly renegotiated through subversion and parody or through the recycling of folk culture by state institutions. The book also explores the dichotomy between an ‘authentic’ Irish culture, as allegedly exemplified by Irish folklore, mythology, sport and theatre, all of which have been claimed as markers of national identity, and fabricated Irishness, designed to fit commercial or political purposes. The case of Ireland provides a rich and fascinating example of the debates which underlie the study of popular culture around the world today.
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Sylvie Mikowski: Introduction


← viii | 1 → SYLVIE MIKOWSKI

Even though it has for decades featured as a regular subject in academic curricula across universities in English-speaking countries, the study of popular culture has not yet been wholly recognized as a proper field of research in some European countries, particularly in France. This may seem all the more surprising as much of the theoretical background from which popular culture scholars have drawn their inspiration originates with French authors like Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau or Michel Foucault. The suspicion surrounding the study of popular culture in France may stem from the long-held belief that the subject should not be taken seriously, a contention that also lies at the heart of the debate over the value and interest of popular culture which has been going on for centuries. Indeed, ever since Matthew Arnold defined culture as ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world’,1 claiming that only ‘high’ culture could save society from anarchy, some critics have argued that popular culture only tends to debase, corrupt and destroy all that is good and beautiful. Others have claimed on the other hand that ‘high’ culture is only an artificially-constructed territory jealously guarded by a privileged elite who creates and promotes aesthetic standards so as to better secure its superiority and domination over the lower, supposedly uncultivated and vulgar classes. Popular culture was often stigmatized under the derogatory name of ‘mass culture’, which in the eyes of cultural critics such as F.R....

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