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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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In this book, I attempted to explore the limits of orality and textuality in Ciaran Carson’s poetry. These two reference points, which are the traditional signposts demarcating the field that we call literature, are also – as I would argue – the right points of entrance into Carson’s oeuvre. However, their examination does not stop short of taking long detours on a fascinating journey, for the exploration of those boundaries of discourse leads the poet to the field where language, as well as poetic practice in general, is redefined on a different ground. This is where Carson becomes a poet-philosopher, who obliterates traditional distinctions in the humanities. He shows that it is possible to think in language, as his work progresses, in a zigzag manner, between the posts of orality and textuality, pointing to the realm of the unthought.

In this sense, he overcomes traditional metaphysics and installs in its place original insight into the questions of expression and communication. This entails certain displacement of subjectivity, as the self-referential angle in his work becomes ever stronger, albeit not erasing or ignoring the foremost preoccupations and stimuli that set his pen in motion, i.e. ethical issues that are part and parcel of the Northern Irish political situation during the Troubles and later on. Retaining that twofold perspective, one leg standing firmly in the here-and-now of a piercing geopolitical diagnosis, the other venturing far out into epistemological and ontological areas of interest, Carson encompasses an unusually large field of inquiry....

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