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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 2: ‘The post-past city’: Apocalyptic Cityscapes and Cultural Stagnation in the Fiction of Sean O’Reilly

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CHAPTER 2

‘The Post-past City’: Apocalyptic Cityscapes and Cultural Stagnation in the Fiction of Sean O’Reilly

A singular voice in the Irish literary landscape of the early twenty-first century, Sean O’Reilly, the author to date of one collection of short stories and three novels, proffers a somewhat disconcerting vision of the possibility of escaping the past in a post-conflict Ireland. The cities of Derry and Dublin feature prominently in his works of fiction, three of which are dominated by male protagonists searching for some form of release from a past which threatens to engulf them, and one of which charts the gradual usurpation of the city of Dublin by the erotic dreamscapes of the main female character.

O’Reilly was born in Derry in 1969, the year of the Battle of the Bogside at the beginning of the Troubles and, with the exception of his latest novel, Watermark (2005), his short stories and his two other novels are (at least partially) set in his home city, which, even if not specified, is identifiable through linguistic idiosyncrasies closely associated with Derry. Although his novels and some of his short stories are set in the post-Troubles period, O’Reilly is not concerned with representing any kind of facile reconciliation either between communities or with the past. Rather, his works of fiction explore the impossibility of escape from a violent past and the legacy of the latter on the present. Given that his novels and stories deal more or...

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