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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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Valérie Morisson: From Hinde to Hillen: Postcards and the Issue of Authenticity in Popular Culture


← 180 | 181 → VALÉRIE MORISSON

In 1948, T.S. Eliot opined that ‘even the humblest material artefact, which is the product and symbol of a particular civilization, is an emissary of the culture out of which it comes’.1 Though postcards have been part of visual culture for 150 years,2 they have attracted little scholarly attention in the field of visual culture, with research perspectives being ‘rather narrow and removed from their broader social and cultural contexts’.3 In Ireland, a country much advertised through postcards, they are seldom considered in relation with cultural or art history. However, as David Prochaska argues, ‘postcards form a constitutive part of the way in which the business of art, commerce, history, and identity is negotiated on a daily basis’.4 He holds that ‘rather than their originality, it is precisely their lack of originality that makes postcards significant’.5

← 181 | 182 → Postcards indisputably are emissaries of mass and popular culture. The postcard phenomenon,6 reaching its heyday between 1895 and 1914,7 was tied to mass-consumption, entertainment, and the rise of the middle-class. Photography played a crucial role in their dissemination and facilitated the staging and retouching of idealized views of places and people. In this context, photographs are produced, traded, and circulated commodities.

The wide circulation of John Hinde’s postcards8 and their reutilization in Seàn Hillen’s postcard-like collages9 have contributed to defining Ireland and Irish identity. Hillen’s Irelantis (1994–2005) and Searching for Evidence (2007–2009), works ‘saturated in...

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