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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 6: Consensus and Dissensus in Fictional Representations of Working Class Protestantism and Loyalism

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CHAPTER 6

Consensus and Dissensus in Fictional Representations of Working Class Protestantism and Loyalism

Jeff Dudgeon, the Unionist politician arguably best known for his role in bringing about the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the North of Ireland, paints an arresting, if somewhat disturbing picture of the future of Protestants in the North, overtly associating Protestantism with loyalism in a discussion which Susan McKay recounts: ‘A tribe of warriors who will hold the frontier. Uncivilised and unscrupulous. It is a feature of the withdrawal of the unionist middle class from politics. The paramilitaries are an army without an officer class. They are lawless. There is no control mechanism – they’d cut a person’s arm off with a garden shears’ (McKay 2000, 51). McKay goes on to suggest that this particular ‘monstrous’ vision was probably ‘camped up for effect’ (McKay 2000, 52) but she nevertheless concludes her monograph on Northern Protestants with the admission that the ‘Protestant North’ has a ‘culture of dire warnings’ and ‘a liking for biblical desolation. A fatalism that revels in predicting the reaping of whirlwinds’ (McKay 2000, 363). For Billy Mitchell, PUP politician and former UVF prisoner, loyalist paramilitaries are like Frankenstein’s creature: ‘When you incite people to form armies and then walk away, you create a monster and the monster does what it wants’ (McKay 2000, 52). It is quite striking that even these very staunch Unionists stress what they perceive as the uncontrollable nature of loyalist paramilitary activity and its potentially volatile...

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