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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 3: Postcolonial Gothic and Body Politics in Recent Novels by Patrick McCabe

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CHAPTER 3

Postcolonial Gothic and Body Politics in Recent Novels by Patrick McCabe

Since the critical acclaim which greeted the publication of The Butcher Boy in 1992, Patrick McCabe has carved out a quite specific place for himself in the contemporary Irish literary landscape and has been twice nominated for the Booker prize. Generally set in small-town border country, although there are exceptions to this such as Breakfast on Pluto (1998), his novels engage with uncomfortable political and social questions through larger-than-life characters inspired by his love of comics. Refuting the idea that he is somehow attacking small-town Ireland, depicted as a place full of deranged and unstable characters, McCabe instead suggests that ‘you should view them as prisms through which the feelings of society are reflected. These are not naturalistic fictions.’ His recourse to disconcertingly sinister narrators allows him to explore what he calls the ‘mayhem, chaos and madness’ (O’Mahony n.p.) of the world, in particular the Irish borderlands, and to tackle the thorny question of violence, particularly, but not exclusively, political.

The south Ulster setting of his novels is, I think, essential to the aspect of his works which will be under discussion in this chapter. Dubbed ‘The King of Bog Gothic’ by one reviewer (O’Mahony n.p.), McCabe, who refutes this term, preferring to see his novels as ‘social fantastic’ (Lebargy 141), uses and abuses elements of the Gothic genre to create a disconcerting satire of contemporary Ireland, but, and this is...

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