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A Poetics of Dissensus

Confronting Violence in Contemporary Prose Writing from the North of Ireland


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 7: Aesthetics of Violence in Contemporary Irish Short Fiction



Aesthetics of Violence in Contemporary Irish Short Fiction

‘They haven’t gone away you know.’ This statement, uttered by Gerry Adams in 1995 in response to a member of the crowd asking him to ‘bring back the IRA’, has entered common parlance to the extent that it is frequently used in media headlines to refer to anything from a potential Fianna Fáil political comeback to English Premier League football.1 Considered in the context in which Adams uttered it, the phrase is often taken to be a provocative one, suggesting that the IRA were waiting in the wings for an encore that Sinn Féin could usher on stage at any time they didn’t get their way politically. This is to ignore the perspicacity of the statement behind Adams’ wry humour, however, since a place which has been locked into a vicious war for three decades does not transform overnight into a haven of peace and the actors of that conflict do not just disappear. It is no surprise then that violence continues to simmer and erupt every so often as old tensions rise to the surface and it is certainly not unexpected to detect an ongoing engagement with violence in the contemporary Irish short story which has, as Michael L. Storey informs us in his monograph entitled Representing the Troubles in Irish Short Fiction, from 1920 onwards, ‘recorded the shifting attitudes of the Irish toward every aspect of the Troubles: nationalist ideology, armed rebellion...

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