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The Crossings of Art in Ireland

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Edited By Ruben Moi, Brynhildur Boyce and Charles Armstrong

The essays in this volume explore interartistic connections in Irish literature, drama, film and the visual arts. Within modern and postmodern culture, innovation is often driven by surprising interrelations between the arts, and this book offers a discussion of this phenomenon and analyses a number of artworks that move across disciplines. Several contributors examine the concept of ekphrasis, looking at how Irish writers such as Seamus Heaney, John Banville, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Patrick Kavanagh, W.B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett have responded to the visual arts. Others explore interartistic ‘crossings’ in the drama of Brian Friel, in James Barry’s eighteenth-century Shakespeare paintings and in contemporary Irish film. Together, the essays present a fresh perspective on Irish artistic culture and open up new avenues for future study.
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‘A Momentous Nothing’: The Phenomenology of Life, Ekphrasis and Temporality in John Banville’s The Sea

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Art opens us to knowledge of an entirely different nature: it is a knowledge without object. Life is its ontological milieu, a life which embraces itself entirely without ever separating from itself and without being placed in front of itself like an object […]. One must stand within life in order to gain access to it; one must begin from life.

— MICHEL HENRY, Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky

Like so many of John Banville’s protagonists, Max Morden in The Sea has problems making sense of his life and indeed of life itself. Like a number of his fictional predecessors he is tormented by the indifference of the physical world: ‘I marvelled, not for the first time, at the cruel complacency of ordinary things. But no, not cruel, not complacent, only indifferent, as how could they be otherwise’?1 As in the whole novel, the ubiquitous affective mood is here that of suffering: Morden’s wife has just received her cancer diagnosis, and this is an important detail. It is made clear that suffering is felt not to be part of exterior reality, which is something that frustrates the narrator. As for instance Freddie Montgomery in Banville’s trilogy of novels on art2 and Victor Maskell in The Untouchable, Morden tries to make sense of the human condition and like many of Banville’s characters, especially in and after the art trilogy, he tells his story by frequently using pictorial art as ← 183 | 184 → scaffolding for his seemingly futile...

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