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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 4: The Politics of Identity and the Language of Dissensus in Ciaran Carson’s Exchange Place

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CHAPTER 4

The Politics of Identity and the Language of Dissensus in Ciaran Carson’s Exchange Place

In an interview with Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Ciaran Carson has this to say about storytelling: ‘Stories are very important. They may be everything regarding writing. And it seems to me that the moral of every story is to put the reader in another place, to make them consider other possibilities; to imagine what it might be like to be someone else, or see the world through another’s eyes’ (Kennedy-Andrews 2009, 24). Anyone familiar with Carson’s work will immediately notice that what he calls ‘the moral of every story’ is also the central preoccupation of a lot of his prose works. From Fishing for Amber and Shamrock Tea to The Pen Friend and Exchange Place, Carson has consistently returned to the notion of what it is to imagine oneself to be someone else, to see the world through another’s eyes and, in the process, to find out more about oneself. In a sense, from The Star Factory onwards, one might say that Carson has repeatedly explored the politics and complexity of identity, whether his own self, in the first three prose works poised somewhere between fiction and encyclopaedic account, or that of fictive characters, in the two most recently published works which are more easily labelled novels. This emphasis on exploration of the self (often through the other) does not mean that Carson is engaged in a project which celebrates the individual...

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