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A Poetics of Dissensus

Confronting Violence in Contemporary Prose Writing from the North of Ireland

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Fiona McCann

Twenty years after the peace process began in the North of Ireland, many thorny political issues remain unresolved. One of the most significant questions involves the means by which acts of violence and the ideologies that subtended them can be dealt with, interrogated and questioned without rekindling conflict. This book focuses on a number of fictional and non-fictional texts published during the last two decades and analyses, through the prism of French cultural philosopher Jacques Rancière’s work, the emergence of an aesthetics of dissensus within these novels, short stories, graphic novels and memoirs. Associating close textual analyses with wider contextual readings, the book investigates the overlap of politics, aesthetics and the redistribution of the sensible in recent prose works, revealing how the authors avoid the pitfalls of a facile discourse of peace and reconciliation that whitewashes the past and behind which unaddressed tensions may continue to simmer.
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Chapter 1: Between Understatement and Overkill: Anna Burns’ No Bones and Little Constructions

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CHAPTER 1

Between Understatement and Overkill: Anna Burns’ No Bones and Little Constructions

Arguably the most exciting contemporary writer of fiction from the North of Ireland, Anna Burns, the author of two novels, No Bones (2001) and Little Constructions (2007), has garnered surprisingly little critical attention to date. This probably has to do with the profoundly disconcerting nature of her work which foregrounds gendered violence as a norm within society in the North of Ireland and which clearly takes to task some of the dominant ideologies subtending the conflict. I will be suggesting that Anna Burns is very much concerned with the politics of literature, as Rancière defines this, in so far as she uses her novels to ‘provide a different sensorium, a different way of linking a power to perceptibly affect and a power to signify’ (Rancière 2011a, 14). Furthermore, her two novels produce a ‘re-poetization of life, capable of converting all the rubbish of ordinary life into poetic bodies and signs of history’ and simultaneously ‘read signs written on bodies’ and ‘loosen bodies from the meanings people want them to take on’ (Rancière 2011a, 29; 44).

Burns was born and grew up in Ardoyne, an area of Belfast that was (and still can be at certain times of the year) one of the flashpoints of the Troubles, before emigrating to London where she lives today. Unlike many of her contemporaries, most of whom are male, Burns focuses primarily on...

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