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Limits of Orality and Textuality in Ciaran Carson’s Poetry

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Grzegorz Czemiel

Following the evolution of Ciaran Carson’s work, this book aims to trace the tension between orality and textuality, which can be discerned in the poetry of the Northern-Irish writer. Assuming these forces to be the two major sources of all literature, the author delineates, using deconstruction, how they inform and structure Carson’s poetic œuvre. Further thematic analyses focus on three major themes: memory, city and history, adopting various critical approaches, among them New Historicism and psychoanalysis. Finally, taking cue from Carson’s later work, an epistemological and metaphysical dimension of his poetry is revealed. This serves as the final vantage point from which the author offers a potential glimpse beyond the said dialectic, unveiling Carson’s broadly ethical project.
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I Revision of epistemology in For All We Know

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Scrawled hieroglyphs elaborate the black slick of the road. Witnesses Are called upon, but the ink has lightened into amethyst, and soon its blue will be Invisible, as new ideas dawn across the moss. Ciaran Carson

The aim of the previous chapter was to show how Ciaran Carson employs the dialectic of orality and textuality in the three large areas he explores in his work: city, memory and history. By presenting these topics as textual canvases, he shows how a poet can both weave a thread from these broad textures (a walk, a recollection and an identity, respectively) and at the same time expose the general backdrop of those individualizing processes. Such a comprehensive stance regarding human cognition obviously entails far-reaching claims in epistemological terms. No wonder then that Carson’s next logical step is a quasi-philosophical revision of how we “know” the world. Investigations on this subject, the analysis of which forms the first part of this chapter, lead him towards the question of death. It is implicated both in terms of a philosophical reduction that is undertaken in poetry – a version of a phenomenological stripping of subjectivity – and the subject matter of that verse. In the end, as it turns out, story and text, the narrative and its womb – which are all figures of orality and textuality – come to signify life and death. In this way, the poem becomes the space in which their cycle is clearly visible and can be meditated upon in the...

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