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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 9: Troubling Narratives of the Troubles: Commemoration, Sensationalism and Author-ity



Troubling Narratives of the Troubles:Commemoration, Sensationalism and Author-ity

Even before the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which ‘officially’ put an end to the Troubles in the North of Ireland, the contemporary conflict which began in the mid 1960s had spawned a massive amount of literature, ranging from anthropological works to bad thrillers and from historico-journalistic accounts to first class poetry.1 In the wake of the Agreement, this tradition has continued, a plethora of fictional and non-fictional narratives of the conflict in the North of Ireland having been published by independent and mainstream publishers alike. Ranging from personal testimony to multiple narratives edited by well-known journalists, these accounts all contribute to a process of collective introspection as the inhabitants of this part of Ireland and the main paramilitary and ← 187 | 188 → political actors of the conflict attempt to make sense of and acknowledge a troubled past in order to move towards a less violent future.2

At least, this is the ostensible explanation for the appearance of so many Troubles narratives over the first decade of the twenty-first century. However, there is also a distinct sense of competing narratives, all battling to fill the new political space, and the slippery slope towards political score settling and sensationalist account appears to be becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. As many contemporary theorists have pointed out, the questions raised by the confrontation or collision of individual memories and collective memory are...

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