Queer pastoral: Forrest Reid’s Elysian Ulster
The North of Ireland has both prospered by and suffered from its resistance to prettification. The rural Arcadian ‘otherness’ that Nicholas Green ascribes to Western imaginings of Ireland fails is challenged by the North of Ireland, due in part to its history of political violence, its industrial heritage, and its partitioned status which severing it from the primitivist myths of Yeats and Synge. Unlike the Republic of Ireland, where the Irish revival made nostalgia a dominant ‘sociological phenomenon’ (Frawley 3), twentieth-century Northern Ireland seemed more inclined toward a desentimentalised landscape and a similarly atavistic aesthetics.
Yet the Ulster landscape also has its mythologists. This paper will explore the queer pastoral of Forrest Reid (1875-1947). Painstakingly specific in its geographical embeddedness and strangely divested of significant human presence, Reid’s imagined Ulster is peopled predominantly by children and animals: a phantom memory of a pre-war idyll. Yet Reid’s own lifetime was one of civil discord, of two world wars and a national crisis that culminated in the partition of Ulster. His dehistoricised landscapes have thus been seen as not only a ‘retreat from history’ into a ‘unionist myth of nurture from the land without guilt’ (Hughes, 10) but also as an attempt to ‘prettify an impulse toward pederasty’ (Craig 25). That is, Reid is indicted for his use of pastoral and perceived failure to address the national issue (which is implicitly paramount) and for his queasy morality.
Interrogating these two insights, this paper will examine the ways in which Reid’s work raises questions about the intersection of national and sexual identities in early twentieth-century Ireland. Uncomfortable with the Revival’s ardent nationalism, Reid was definitively an Irishman when in England, but his sexual identity rendered him marginal when at home in Belfast. In a province obsessed with collective orthodoxies, Reid’s fiction insisted on the right of the private individual to deviate from the dominant forms of faith, art, and sexuality. His writing thus reflects this outsider status; his fiction a means of ‘rebuilding the world after my own fashion…so that I could find a place there…the pleasure of the exile who has returned to his native shore…that lost green island of the earlier years’ (Apostate, 146). By examining Reid’s two autobiographical works, Apostate (1926) and Private Road (1940) alongside private correspondence with Pádraic Colum, André Raffalovich, and others, this paper will explore the ways in which Reid deploys the pastoral mode in order to express and naturalise a pederastic identity. For Reid, like Forster, the neohellenist pastoral mode offers a means of expressing and legitimating homosexual desire. Yet while Forster’s pastoral novels explore the relationship between English national and sexual identities, Reid’s pastoral is problematized by the specific tensions of his aesthetic, sexual and national identities – the complications of being an Ulsterman of “the unspeakable Oscar Wilde sort” (Maurice 194). I will argue that Reid’s elysian Ulster represents an utopian “greenwood” (Maurice 216) through which Reid evades the national issue which has predominated in Irish literature and history. In Reid’s autobiographical pastoral it is individual sexual ecology, rather than national or religious identity, that offers the key to authentic human morality.
The Speckled People: A Study in Language Ecology
In The Speckled Peoplethe changing linguistic landscape of Ireland is viewed through the eyes of Hugo Hamilton (Ó hUrmoltaigh), who grew up in a bilingual (Irish/German) family in Dublin. His father is an Irish patriot who zealously promotes the Irish language as his family’s principal home language. His German-speaking mother opens his eyes to another world, which is closely linked to her past. The novel can be read on various levels: as childhood memoirs, as a case study of family bilingualism and/or as a type of sociolinguistic ‘textbook’ on language ecology which examines the issues of bilingualism and language- identity, shift, death, maintenance and revival.
This paper views The Speckled Peopleas a study in language ecology. The primary world is Hugo’s bilingual home environment set in post World War II Ireland. This world is set in opposition to a modern, predominantly Anglo-centric world in which the Irish language is seen as an anachronism.
There is a constant interplay between the parallel worlds of Nazi Germany and Ireland — a Germany seen through the eyes of his mother and her family. The German ecology is disrupted by the onslaught of a killer species which unashamedly overturns the old civilisation. The ethical values represented by her uncle, the respected mayor, are supplanted by a brutal Nazi world view which threatens whole of society as the weaker species (ethnic minorities) are progressively marginalised and ultimately exterminated in the holocaust. The irony is that in Ireland Hugo, the son of a victim of Nazi abuse, is persecuted as if he were the offspring of a Nazi, becoming a victim of blind discrimination. There is also an allusion to racism in the more remote world of colonial Africa which resonates with the Irish world which has suffered centuries of colonisation and foreign domination.
In contrast, the idyllic world of the Gaeltacht, stands out as a rural paradise where culturally pristine Ireland is preserved, evocative of a nature reserve where an endangered species is protected. Hugo’s father sends the family there to get in touch with their linguistic and cultural roots. It becomes a source of empowerment and revitalisation for them.
The worlds of the past and the future are also juxtaposed in the novel. The dead speak from their graves, just as the fossil remains of extinct species bear testimony to a vanished world and a changed ecology, while the world of the future promises to continue their fight for the survival of Ireland. It is the world of the new Irish, the speckled people, the ‘brack’ people, a new hybrid species who offer the hope of a future Ireland, in which the Irish language is revitalised and can hold its own in a multilingual world.
Closely allied to the theme of revitalisation is the campaign for the restoration of Irish names. This can be seen as an act of decolonisation, a way of claiming back the territory that for centuries has been eroded by British Imperialism, an attempt to restore the ecological balance in Ireland.
All Going Back to Nature and Ireland: The Elementals
Written by Irish author Morgan Llywelyn in 1993, The Elementals focuses on the four powerful elements which are essential to life, namely Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Consisting of four chapters divided in accordance to these elements, the novel connects four stories to raise universal ecological awareness and to present the danger of a collapse in nature in the future. Beginning with the element of water, the novel displays the story of survival and the adventure on a newly-found island experienced by a group of people including three men and fifty-five females. The leading female character in this part, Kesair is Irish and she is presented as the ancestor and mother of humanity as well as the primary representative of natural power, which is seen through the protagonists’ point of views in other parts. The second part is about the element of fire and the reflection of the human beings through Meriones, Ebisha and Hokar and the land of Crete before and after the volcanic eruption. When Meriones finds his connection to nature, he sees Kesair’s reminiscence in the water after centuries. The third part describes the discovery of female protagonist, Annie Murphy’s inner relation to the earth, whose mother was Irish and used to believe in natural forces. Finally, the fourth part narrates the grave problem of survival in a world full of diseases due to the destruction of the ozone layer in the air. The male protagonist, George Burningfeather, who is half Irish, half Native American, feels the power of the element of air and is able to save the world with the help of other survivors who are mostly half-blood like him. Therefore having an Irish origin herself, Llywelyn presents the agency of non-human bodies to human bodies, or in other words, Irish originated human bodies, and their innate connection to natural elements. Referring to ecocriticism and New Materialism, the novel emphasises the intra-action of all beings in the universe through the constant recalling of Ireland as a part of nature.
A. Clare Brandabur
Stalking the Ruined Landscape: Prophecy and Epiphany in the Fiction of Cormac McCarthy
Reading All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy at the same time as Jared Diamond’s Collapse, I realized that the novel is set in a ruin of a once-thriving family. Some curse hangs over the landscape through which sixteen year old John Grady tries to understand his parent’s divorce, his father’s ruined health. ‘The last thing his father said was that the country would never be the same. People don’t feel safe no more . . . We’re like the Comanches was two hundred years ago’ (26). This dire pronouncement makes explicit the theme of the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations that is Jared Diamond’s subject. First comes deforestation, then erosion; population increases, production intensifies. Collapse follows swiftly upon the peak of prosperity, the maximum population, the greatest power of kings.
The novel begins with a funeral in a ranch house whose fading architectural detail speaks of lost elegance–portraits of forgotten ancestors on the wall, candles, a formal dining room–in an estate which must be sold but will bring no money, though it was once worth millions. McCarthy’s prose is terse yet lyrical, his debt to Yeats as obvious as his debt to Faulkner.
Cormac was one of the great legendary kings of Ireland, whose adventures suggest a nature-god of plenty–feasts in magnificent castles, charioteers who can be at one minute ‘mightier than a mountain’ and at another, ‘insubstantial as a shadow.’ Just so the Comanches had been exterminated when the ranch was at the pinnacle of its prosperity, and their shadows and war-chants still haunt the collective unconscious of the failing white settlers who replaced them.
In this paper I wish to explore that vision of ecological disaster that pervades McCarthy’s work. Proof that the poetry of Yeats is part of the vocabulary of Cormac McCarthy is a title like ‘No Country for Old Men’ but even more the brilliant metaphors and similes that adorn his prose, as well as.the dark vision of famine and defeat that casts its pall over the anguished trek of a father and son through a desolate post-nuclear American landscape in The Road, and the defeat of the Kid at the hands of the demonic insuperable villain in Blood Meridian, a bitter allegory of Manifest Destiny.
Yet there is a note of hope in these epic verbal structures.and it lies in the human spirit. John Grady asserts his love for the ‘ardenthearted’ in both men and horses and asserts that this ‘will always be so and never be otherwise’ (6), an epiphany echoed by the Duena,in her chilling palimpsestic history of Mexico from which she has learned ‘that all courage is a form of constancy.’ Through great suffering, she has regained belief in a soul, ‘something like a soul or like a spirit . . . which could endure any misfortune or disfigurement and yet be no less for it’ (241). Such thematic reflections mitigate and help to explain the extreme violence characteristic of advanced stages of civilizational dissolution in Diamond’s prescient book.
‘Singing to Empty Benches’: Negating the Body in ‘A Painful Case’
This paper examines the representation of embodiment in Joyce’s short story ‘A Painful Case.’ I argue that Joyce’s representation of the body plays an important role in the discussion of modernity and sexuality found in this story. Drawing on contemporary ecocriticism and theories of the biopolitical, as well as the work of the philosopher Isaac Balbus, my paper contends that the crisis that Joyce’s James Duffy experiences around the issue of his own body is a curious amalgam of his counter-hegemonic sexuality and his deep resistance to modernity, especially as that takes the sociological form of what Frankfurt School theorists refer to as ‘the administered society.’ Joyce’s compelling character fails to consciously admit the existential crisis he is experiencing, and this causes an abreaction to the modern that is recorded in the register of the body in this story.
J.M. Synge in the ‘Garden of Ireland’: The Wicklow Essays
‘I suppose there are some places where they think that Ireland
is a sort of garden,’ he laughed bitterly, ‘and I’ve heard
them say that Wicklow is the garden of Ireland. I suppose
there’s a fine scenery for those that likes it, but it’s a poor place
in the winter and there’s no money moving from the country.’
(Synge, ‘The Oppression of the Hills’, Typescript)
John Millington Synge’s body of travel writing—the book The Aran Islands and the essays about Wicklow, West Kerry, and the Congested Districts of Connemara and Mayo—has mostly been read as a source for his plays. However, I contend that, far from being a minor achievement, Synge’s travel narratives are instances of a pioneering ethnographic and journalistic imagination. These groundbreaking travel texts privilege plural and dialogic constructs and challenge inherited modes of place portrayal associated with both imperialist and nationalist discourses.
In this paper, I will concentrate on the Wicklow essays written discontinuously between 1903 and 1908 for different periodicals such as The Gael, The Shanachie, The Manchester Guardian.Firstly, I will historicize Synge’s Wicklow essays within Revival travel narratives of nationalistsympathies, such as those compiled by William Bulfin, Katharine Tynan, Mary Banim and others. Iwill show how Synge moves away from a more overt nationalist rhetoric that tends to depictWicklow as a site with a distinct Irish patriotic history or as a tourist resort for the emergingnation. Instead, he favours representations of marginalized locales such as isolated valleys, and ofthe locals’ first‐hand perception of place presented in direct‐speech mode. Secondly, by deployingLaurence Buell’s notion of the ‘environmental unconscious’, I will argue that, in the Wicklowessays, Synge exposes the cultural disconnect experienced by communities inhabiting colonialmarginalities, where place has been re‐defined in hegemonic terms. For example, his interest inthe social landscape of coercive institutions—workhouses and lunatic asylums—as profoundlyembedded in his storytellers’ ‘interior landscape’ represents Synge’s way of denouncing thejeopardized vitality of Irish rural life by mechanisms of colonial surveillance. Moreover, hisWicklow texts also advance ways to reconnect with the environment: against the sedentarycommunity experiencing the repercussions of this environmental disconnect, Synge juxtaposestramps, vagrants and travellers, peripatetic figures embodying alternative modes of dwelling.
‘This great big animal waiting to pounce…’: The Metaphors of Nature in the Novels of Tana French
The novels of Tana French lend themselves easily to ecocritical readings; for one, they all rely heavily on a distinct sense of place and the places in which characters find themselves frequently cause (directly or indirectly) the crimes at the center of each novel. Second, these centrally-figured places are often also sites of displacement; characters are often unhappily situated within them, attempting to relocate, or using a new place as a means to create a new life. Displacement and dislocation within urban and suburban Ireland are recurring themes throughout the novels. Finally, the representation of the non-human ‘other’ within French’s work raises questions within the narratives that are never fully answered within the texts; these representations of non-humans are what I will explore in this presentation.
In discussing the ‘international turn’ in ecocriticism, Ursula K. Heise has noted that ‘non-human alterity’ is a primary concern of the ecocritical perspective. She writes how ‘the animal has moved to the forefront of concerns with difference’ (640), and exploitation of animals has been linked to colonial oppression. I argue that in French’s novels, heavily informed as they are by the Celtic Tiger economy and its rapid demise, the presence (frequently psychological) of animals is linked less to colonial oppression than to oppression by the forces of neo-liberal economics.
In this fifteen-minute presentation, I want to utilize ecocriticism theory focusing on animals to explore this link between the non-human and the economic forces driving the plots of French’s work. The apparently psychological nature of these animals is particularly intriguing; the fact that these animals do not seem to exist in reality represents an anomaly in French’s realism. In particular, her first novel, In the Woods (2007) and her most recent, Broken Harbor (2012), seem to rely most heavily on natural settings and beastly ‘appearances,’ therefore I will focus on these two works, referencing the other novels as they are relevant.
‘One more concrete blot’: The Re-shaping of Dublin in Contemporary Irish Poetry
In the course of the 1980s Thomas Kinsella’s work exhibited a growing preoccupation with the destruction of Dublin through civic neglect and unregulated development, a concern that was echoed in the writings of other observers and in the growing environmental activism of the time. In subsequent decades, the radical alteration of the urban space escalated. It re-shaped both the inner city and the suburbs in unforeseen ways – disfiguring cityscapes, fragmenting communities and destroying natural resources. The environmental damage sustained during the period of the boom can now be assessed with new insight, and its relationship to earlier decades of neglect and poor management examined.
This paper seeks to explore the landscape of contemporary Dublin through the poetic texts of its citizens. Looking at poems by Thomas Kinsella, Paula Meehan and David Wheatley, I will examine how precipitate development has altered the civic space of Dublin, shifting the relationship between public and private, and changing how citizens remember their pasts and envision their futures. These poets, representing three generations of city-dwellers, record the changing face of Ireland’s urban identity and its implications for a sustainable future.
The Rhetoric of Waste and Excess in Thomas Kinsella’s Late Poems: An Anti-Utilitarian Poetics?
‘Waste’ and ‘excess’ are recurring terms in Thomas Kinsella’s Late Poems (2013) as the blurb of the Carcanet edition itself makes clear. By offering to study these two key concepts of consumer societies, and environmental theory, in Kinsella’s collection as ‘rhetoric’, the present paper does not wish to dismiss their treatment by the poet as sophistic. On the contrary, waste and excess are spun into a ‘quarrel with others’, as in Yeats’ famous phrase. They are thus given a political significance that enhances and complexifies their aesthetic value, as the poetry moves from economic or political insights to the heart of Kinsella’s material imagination.
I propose to use the theoretical framework of contemporary anti-utilitarian sociology to analyse the links between Kinsella’s meditations on the flux of material resources, violence, war and sacrifice, between the economic and the religious. These shape a poetic style that continually challenges its own ethics, as when an aesthetics of ‘waste’, ‘debris’, ‘remains’ is suddenly questioned by its application to the significance of war for human societies, stirring up uncomfortable theories about the impact of population on material resources that ecocritics are familiar with. By analysing the (necessary?) ‘excess’ component of Kinsella’s ‘designing for the exact needs’, this paper will try to determine how far it embodies an anti-utilitarian poetics.
Sense of Self, Sense of Place: The Landscape of Urban Violence in Love/Hate
This paper seeks to address the visual representation of nature and the urban landscape in the Irish TV series Love/Hate (RTE, 2010-present). The series’ narrative of gang violence in contemporary Dublin unfolds in a context of globalized urbanization, where nature has largely been obliterated from the characters’ sense of self. The urban landscape is one of technological surveillance and standardized architecture. Nature only appears in the form of softening props at funeral wakes, thus emphasizing the dehumanizing loss of the natural and the organic in the face of the new objects of modern life – the gun, the surveillance camera, the four-wheel drive.
The series’ first episode opens with a view of a leafy suburban street while a voice-over explains how to assemble a semi-automatic gun: our remaining pastoralist vision of the Irish city comes crashing down against the harsh reality of trafficking, gang violence and imprisonment. Love/Hate has been compared to the American TV series The Wire in that it is as much the portrait of a city as the story of individual characters. It depicts the new landscape of urban Ireland through a series of oppositions: love/hate, life/death, open/closed space, city/country, familiar/strange. Nature (and the lack thereof) is a powerful signifier of the damages of urban violence in the series’ narrative. It crucially helps question the structure and logic of urban life and reflects on their consequences on the characters’ uprooted sense of identity.
In order to address the question of nature and the urban landscape in the series, I will examine three separate issues: first, the representation of the city as oppressive space, both in terms of structural dynamics and in terms of architecture. The detention center and the airport have a prominent role in the series’ early portrait of the city, in keeping with the title’s defining contrast. Open spaces have been redefined as the perimeter of drug-trafficking and thus, like the prison, they contribute to the oppressive portrait of Dublin in the series.
In this context of radical violence, the countryside has become an unfamiliar space of danger. Nature unfettered by the packagings of 21st century urban life seems paradoxically unnatural and frightening to the characters, whose own fish tanks and decorative flowers are contained within the strict framing of urban consumption and city planning.
Finally, this dark portrait of the contemporary Irish city leads us to reflect on the importance of space and landscape in the characters’ sense of identity as a whole. Considering Love/Hate as a follower of The Wire, I will examine its representation of nature and/in the city as part of a growing critical tradition denouncing the desolation of post-industrialized capitalist societies in the era of unfettered urbanization.
‘Rearing Experiments’: Gendering the Spaces of Irish Fieldwork and Nature Writing in the Life and Work of Maude Delap (1866-1953)
This paper will explore the gendered practice and cultures of fieldwork through a critical examination of the life and work of the Irish Victorian natural scientist, Maude Delap (1866-1953). Delap is primarily remembered today for her contribution to natural science through her work elaborating the complex life-cycle of the jellyfish, and for her contribution to a maritime survey of Valentia Island published by the Royal Irish Academy in 1899. Delap’s work will be embedded within the multilayered contexts of the late Victorian study and writing of natural history, and the networks and associations between Victorian Britain and Ireland through the formation of particularized pathways of knowledge. In particular, the transition of sites of knowledge with nineteenth-century professionalization and specialization of scientific knowledge away from that of amateur naturalist field-clubs and associations to learned societies and academic institutions will be explored throughout the chapter, in addition to the specific context of paternal, educational and familial associations that formed much of Delap’s intellectual landscape. Other than brief acknowledgements by Robert Lloyd Praeger (1949), a biographical note by Tim Collins (1992), and one extended biographical essay by Anne Byrne (1997), there has been no sustained critical attention directed at Delap’s work and her contribution to our understanding of the history of natural science and contemporary coastal heritages in Ireland and Britain today. The study of the life and work of Maude Delap, as one chapter in the history of cultures of the Atlantic edge, therefore demands a careful assessment of the broader contexts of the cultural and social worlds of Ireland at the turn of the last century, and to the intellectual milieu in which Delap found herself working for most of her adult life.
The concepts of ‘the field’ and ‘fieldwork’ (with the attendant spatial and epistemological assumptions) will be critically evaluated to investigate the different registers of Delap’s ‘spaces’ in the study of natural history and maritime culture associated with Valentia and the west coast of Ireland. As cultural historian Dorinda Outram has noted, little critical attention has been paid to the use of ‘domestic’ space in science, particularly in the context of the gendering of the natural sciences and the role that amateur women scientists, fieldworkers and naturalists played in the constructions of modern European science (Outram, 1996, p. 253). Therefore, the interplay and crossover between private and public, between ‘inner’ spaces and the official spaces of the ‘built’ environment (from the domestic, laboratory, fieldwork and international intellectual spheres), will be considered with regard to Delap’s contribution to Irish and European maritime cultures through her correspondence and fieldwork associated with various national and academic institutions including the National Museum of Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy and the University of London.
The paper will conclude with a final section reflecting on the contemporary legacy of Delap, firstly in terms of the centrality of her life and work to the Valentia Island Heritage Centre and secondly, in the treatment of Delap in a joint project (photography and documentary film) on maritime Ireland and Delap by the artist Dorothy Cross in conjunction with marine biologist Tom Cross that took place over a three year period, 2000-2003. The crossover between science and art was evident in Delap’s work through her writings and illustrative sketches and paintings, and such work now has a public afterlife through the ongoing community and heritage work of the Valentia Island Centre and the visual artworks of Dorothy Cross.
Nationalism, Ecofeminism and W.B. Yeats
Ecofeminism extends itself to sensitivity towards exploitation of nations by other dominant nations whereby, basic socioeconomic relations are made to suffer. It is here, that one can bring in the diverse ecofeminist discourse in thinking of Ireland’s subjugation by the British and W.B.Yeats’s sensitive reaction that he expresses in his Autobiography, Memoirs and Poetry. In this paper I propose first to theorize ecofeminism as it is relevant in the present context, and then to explore the intersection between the genre and Yeats’s nationalistic consciousness which is covert and symbolic. His many women friends like Maud Gonne, Madame Blavatsky, Olivia Shakespear, and Lady Gregory influenced and restructured Yeats’s mindset and attitude towards Ireland. As noted by Deirdre Toomey, in the Introduction to Yeats and Women, by 1890s Yeats had freed himself from the power of strong paternal influences and transferred his allegiance from men to women. He saw women not merely as ‘icons, sexual objects, muses, but as companions, mentors, fellow-workers’ (xvi). He was vastly influenced by Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical society. Dorothea Butler’s ‘purity of Irish vision’ greatly influenced his thought and poetry. He looked at the British domination of Ireland as ‘raping of the land’ and sought to participate in the Irish National movement evoking an ecofeminist discourse by invoking the various Irish cultural paradigms. From the time of the conquest of Ireland by King Henry VIII, the Irish people were seething under foreign yoke of the British rulers. Majorie Howes in her book Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class and Irishness, has elaborated the problems faced by the Irish people in the hands of the British. The geographical proximity and racial and cultural similarity to England rendered the Irish less radically ‘other’ that the inhabitants of other British territories. The people of Ireland refused to take the colonial policy of the English people lying down. They revolted against the British imperialism in Ireland and demanded Home Rule for themselves with the immediate withdrawal of all British control from Ireland. Initiated by Maud Gonne, W.B.Yeats became involved in the National Movement of Ireland. Confirming to the ecofeminist philosophy of communion and harmony with the help of a saga of rich Irish cultural hallmarks like myths, legends, folktales and literature, Yeats attempts to write and rewrite Celticism and the question of Irish National Identity and its relationship to the production of literature.
Irene De Angelis
The Green Line in Derek Mahon’s Poetry
Mahon’s bleak, intricately urban poetry even as early as the 1970s has always been characterized by a deep nostalgia for a return to nature, permeated by the sense of the ending of an age, historical as well as ecological. In ‘The Apotheosis of Tins’ (1975) the narrating voice is already that of garbage, multiplying monstrously as mass consumerism advances. Here Mahon clearly seems to anticipate Michael Thompson’s idea of transient goods in his 1979 Rubbish Theory, but there are infinite other nuances in his eco-poetry, which ranges from Metamorphosis in the age of technology in ‘Ovid in Tomis’ (‘Pan is dead’), to the concern about city garbage and the rejected of the world: the New York homeless (‘Alien Nation’) or the ‘poet of poverty’ Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose ‘In the refuse of the world a new world is born’ Mahon chose as the epigraph to his ‘Roman Script’ (1999). I will argue that his preoccupation for environmental issues is often intertwined with social concerns and embraces a wider political horizon.
This essay will follow the green line in Mahon’s poetry, looking at how the deep ecologist, ‘slow idealist’ is well aware of the theories of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 apocalyptic Silent Spring is mentioned in the 2005 Harbour Lights as a ‘Durable hardback’, as well as those of the self-regulating Earth system ‘Gaia’ developed by James Lovelock. I will analyze the poetic and thematic crescendo from Harbour Lights to Life on Earth (2008) and An Autumn Wind (2010), looking in particular at the sequence ‘Homage to Gaia’ or ‘Dirigibles’, where the poet advocates a return to ‘refrozen ice, / reflourishing rain forests, / the oceans back in place’. I will argue that Mahon’s 2010 collection echoes Lovelock’s most recent study The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning: Enjoy It While You Can, because as Richard Nixon had it, ‘It is literally now or never’. As Paul Batchelor states in his Guardian review of the collection, Mahon’s poetry is really at its best in ‘The Thunder Shower’, where ‘Squalor and decadence,/the rackety global-franchise rush,… are audible in the hectic thrash //of this luxurious cadence’.
Treasa De Loughry
Eco-Apocalypse and Organising Nature in the Short-Story Novel
This paper examines eco-apocalyptic depictions of nature in comparative short-story novels that depict the exploitation of nature’s ‘free’ or ‘common’ wealths. Throughout works by David Mitchell and Rana Dasupta alternative ecological futures are circumscribed by an eco-apocalyptic imaginary of exhausted resources and imperial decline. For instance, Cloud Atlas’s references to a Malthusian discourse of resource limits and environmental crisis continues into the novel’s future biogenomic section, with an eco-apocalypse ushering in the ‘post-anthropocene’ era of the novel’s conclusion. But the reanimation of Malthusian anxieties and social Darwinism in Cloud Atlas has a long lineage in Victorian to post-Cold War Anglo-American debates about evolution, nature and social organisation, which ultimately facilitated past and present colonial and capitalist expansions, exploitations and the dispossession of environments and resources.
These paradigms are bound up with how capitalism reproduces and sustains its accumulation process by reorganising the world-ecology through the plunder of nature’s ‘free’ resources, from woodlands to genomes. The short-story novel maps these expropriations across the globe, suggesting that comparative imaginaries are vital for parsing the narratives and cultural forms that mediate environmental crisis. This paper therefore explores how contemporary fictions depict nature’s production, commodification and organisation under global capital.
Nature and the Body in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
In A Portrait of the Artist the growing future artist encounters nature less as an external force than as a disconcerting duality. Nature is that which forms and informs Stephen’s body, but more often than not it opposes the aspirations of his soul except in a few passages where nature reflects his exalted or melancholy feelings (thus illustrating Joyce’s remark that “It is we who put romance into her”). In Julia Kristeva’s formulation, nature, for Stephen, is the inhuman foreigner within, always ghosting his attempts to rise above it. As always with Joyce, the royal road to understanding his perceptions of nature is through the body. In this paper I will examine, through a few key passages, Stephen’s oscillation between reaching for transcendence and falling to earth through the vehicle of the body. My theoretical framework depends in part on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and Stacy Alaimo’s materialist feminism, in particular the concept of trans-corporeality.
The paper will constitute a continuation of my work on a book-length ecocritical project titled James Joyce, Nature, and the Body. Recent publications include long essays on Ulysses published in the Joyce Studies Annual and the Irish Studies Review, and an essay on Finnegans Wake forthcoming in the collection Eco-Joyce. A fourth essay, on Stephen Hero and Dubliners, is under consideration by the James Joyce Quarterly.
Broken Places: Post-Celtic Tiger Landscapes in the Novels of Tana French
Irish novelist Tana French has so far published four novels (In the Woods , The Likeness , Faithful Place  and Broken Harbour ) with a fifth one scheduled to come out in June 2014. While her books belong to the genre of crime fiction, or more precisely that of the ever increasingly popular regional crime fiction, French eschews some of the genre’s most prevalent features. Her novels do not have one hero, whose professional and private development is narrated throughout the series, but are only loosely connected by a group of policemen and women working at the Dublin Murder Squad. Each novel focuses on one member of the group and there is no overly important chronological order to the narratives. French’s thrillers can be regarded more or less as four individual works rather than sequels in a series. More important, however, is French’s willingness to forego endings that offer neat solutions, otherwise a fundamental feature of crime fiction, while at the same time engaging with current political and social concerns.
I will argue in this paper that French develops a vision of a traumatised post-Celtic Tiger Ireland in which notions of nature and landscape loom large. Nature is not portrayed as the idyllic or Romantic opposite of urban modernity; instead of easy dichotomies a complex network between the urban and the rural is constructed. As ghost estates crumble and Dublin hovers uneasily between gentrification and a return to pre-Tiger grimness, nature does not simply return and reclaim ‘urban’ or ‘civilised’ spaces but becomes enmeshed with the relics of the boom. Both nature and civilization are broken in French’s novels and the concepts that seemed so stable and universal in the past reappear as uncanny mirrorings of themselves. The result are hybrid landscapes which unsettle and at times threaten their inhabitants as nature no longer offers respite and human structures, such as houses and settlements, can no longer provide security and shelter. French’s writing thus evokes a peculiar notion of unnatural nature which becomes both the setting of and a metaphor for a nation in crisis.
‘Listen to the Leaves’: The Global Ecological Crisis in the Poetry of Derek Mahon
This paper considers Derek Mahon’s most recent two collections of poetry, Life on Earth (2008) and An Autumn Wind (2010) in terms of ecological criticism. Prior to readings of a selection of poems from both volumes, the paper argues that Mahon has always been concerned with the deleterious environmental impacts and legacies of urban, capitalist modernity, and his new works accent the poet’s affinity with non-human ecology, while championing the possibility of redemption through formalist and humanist poetics. These later works also partake of ecological figurations, such as the Gaia metaphor, to impress the mutual fragility of human and non-human ecologies. The earlier work seems to chart and to narrate, in ambiguous tones, the ravages of anthropocentric history, while later work reflects on both the consequences and the potential cures for such destructive historical patterns. Though Mahon does not entirely starve his appetite for the alluring excesses of industrial modernity in recent work, and there are continuities, the contemporary moment is a time for reflection on the harvests of anthropogenic climate change.
The epoch provisionally classified as the Anthropocene by climate scientists – a period in which humans have become ‘geological agents’, influencing the planet’s long-term climatic equilibrium. With his heightened sense of the enduring damage of contingent human history, his ‘rebuke [of] the anthropocentrism of the post-Enlightenment project’, it might be accurate to nominate Mahon as a poetic chronicler of the Anthropocene Epoch, and of its effects, operations, and, latterly, the possible deceleration of its worst legacies. Where Mahon has been lauded as the first Irish poet of the city and of modernity, a poet whose poetic reflexes are excited by ‘North coast seascapes, desolate landscapes littered with the detritus of modern civilisation, frozen wastes, the depressed conditions of urban and suburban life’, more recent work indicates that Mahon might well now be read as the pioneering Irish poet of engaged ecological conscience.
Repetition and Renewed Visibility in Narratives of Environmental Crisis
From the beginning of Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People, attention is explicitly and consistently drawn to the representation of disaster. Set in Khaufpur, a fictionalised Bhopal and a locality blighted by an explosion in an industrial chemical factory decades previously, Sinha’s novel is an unconventional but unrelenting critique, not only of a locale with a poisoned physical and political landscape but of the processes of representation that accompany this. Animal’s People considersthe continuity in the representation of Khaufpur, emphasising narrative circularity and repetition, however, Sinha’s work also moves past the boundaries of the novel, primarily in the extension of the voice of the main character, Animal, into articles for an online version of Himal Southasian magazine. Though Sinha continues to emphasise the persistence of certain narrative modes surrounding the case of Khaufpur, this paper will consider, through the extension of Sinha’s narrative beyond the novel, the possibilities for a renewed visibility of ‘toxic’ presences established in the novel.
Striving to provide renewed visibility on toxic distortions in an Irish context, Donal O’Kelly’s performance piece Fionnuala, also explores silence, repetition, and circularity. A one-person performance based on the fictional monologue of Shell insider in Bellanaboy, O’Kelly’s piece explores a very different moment in an environmental and representational crisis. However, both works explore silence, repetition and circularity and both are centred on apparent points of stasis in labyrinthine dealings with multinationals. Though this paper will focus on Sinha’s extended interaction with the Bhopal disaster, it will also consider O’Kelly’s exploration as an important contribution to global environmental politics from an Irish context. Both works, it will be suggested, situate themselves within a spectrum of repeated environmental violence and crisis, drawing attention to the continued proliferation of such events worldwide
Ecocritical and Geocritical Conjunctions: Environmental Mixed Media and Place-Based Poetry in Ireland and Newfoundland
The aim of this presentation is to explore two trans-Atlantic interactive mixed media websites that focus on site-specific poetry. These seemingly disparate approaches to literary and spatial studies negotiate the borders among disciplines, genres, and platforms. I will investigate the intersections and conjunctions of ecocriticsm and geocriticism in new digital forms of capturing environments (virtual and material spaces) and literary texts. In the first website, Marlene Creates, an environmental poet and photographer in Newfoundland, Canada, has created a mixed media experience titled, “’A Virtual Walk of the Boreal Poetry Garden.’ The website contains an interactive Google map of the location (Portugal Cove, NL) and site-specific poetry readings in the immediate bioregion, which, according to Mitchell Thomashow, is a way to ‘integrate ecological and cultural affiliations within the framework of a place-based sensibility’ (1999: 21). Across the North Atlantic, another website focused on Ireland, The Poetry Project: Poetry and Art from Ireland, employs a similar mixed media design, incorporating short videos of place-based poetry read orally in both built and non-built environments. What is striking about these online representations of place and poetry is that they use elements of interest for ecocritics and geocritics alike–that is, through their layering of literary text and media they use spatial and environmental theories of place, bioregions, and real-and-imagined environments. I argue that both websites demonstrate, through literary and visual representation, the ability to promote environmental awareness through spatial positioning in both real and imaginative ways.
‘A Myth of a Mother-Tongue’: Maternal Landscapes in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s ‘The Pale Gold of Alaska’ and ‘Midwife to the Fairies’
Sophie loved her child. She fed him with her own milk, she wrapped
him in furs, she sang to him and told him stories about Ireland, about
the mountains, about the creek that ran sweetly outside her cabin
(Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, ‘The Pale Gold of Alaska’)
This paper will look at representations of natural landscapes in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s short stories ‘The Pale Gold of Alaska’ and ‘Midwife to the Fairies.’ It will argue that landscape is primarily envisioned as a maternal space in both stories. However, its maternality is neither wholly positive nor essentialist. Ní Dhuibhne’s landscapes are often wild but they are also socially constructed. In ‘The Pale Gold of Alaska,’ the natural landscape liberates Sophie, the protagonist, from her tyrannical husband. Nature gives her the space to express herself and her sexuality. Yet, for Sophie, nature can also be dangerously vast and isolating. In ‘Midwife to the Fairies’ female sexuality and maternality is circumscribed within a dark and mysterious natural landscape. The titular Midwife reluctantly traverses unknown natural landscapes in order to fulfil her inherited maternal role. Ní Dhuibhne’s writing does not argue for a female return to nature nor does it disregard nature as stifling feminist attempts to assert women’s place in culture. Maternal landscapes offer ways of suggesting the interconnection of nature and culture as categories which produce and reproduce each other. Her subtle reconfiguring of ideas of maternality and nature is an innovative approach to undermining dualisms which have contributed to the historical denigration of women and nature
Self and Soil: Narratives of Healing in the Irish Landscape
This paper provides an ecocritical analysis of the biography of Joe Cassidy, Irish healer and water diviner (The Diviner, 2012). Cassidy’s narrative traces his upbringing in an urban landscape, his trade apprenticeship and the subsequent discovery of skill in healing (people and animals) and water divining. Considered within a broader context of self-directed belief and spirituality, Joe Cassidy’s experience is distinctive both in terms of his socio-cultural background and gender (spiritual healing practitioners and clients in western countries are dominated by a female middle-class socio-cultural group).
It also exemplifies popular conceptualisations of healing and the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘balance’ that are core to them; as well as distinctive Irish traditions that inform Cassidy’s specific framework. In particular this paper will articulate the way in which the environment, its health or illness, is viewed as an active agent in the interrelationship between humans and non-human agents.
Cassidy’s is an animate landscape urban and rural) that challenges boundaries between self and environment. As such it is a personal narrative informed and intersecting with broader climate change and environmental debates.
Exorcism and Anamnesis for a New Ireland
The construction of any human dwelling requires an anamnesis, a ‘naming’, the calling of a divine power instituting a centre of the world. This mytho-poiesis is neither arbitrary nor can it be ‘rationally’ chosen by the builders. Rather, it must be ‘discovered’ through the revelation of some divine agency. Anamnesis is achieved by incanting a verba concepta that interrupts the ordinary passage of time and by repeating the archetypical gesture of the mythical hero. The Leabhar Gabála has it that when the Milesians, the first invaders of Ireland in about 2,000bce made their landfall on the Beara Peninsula, it was necessary for their bard, Amergin, to chant the land into existence so that they could set foot on shore.Similarly in modern Ireland we can identify precisely the place and time of the mystical inaugural rite that initiated the Mythic Age of Globalization. In this instance the verba concepta, repeated as a mantra ever since, is ‘Tax Free Zone.’ The verba concepta, the divine logos, states the law. In this case the incantation that was intended to bring prosperity and to provide a basis for society by inaugurating the free Market invokes a demonic power that opens a hellmouth into which society disappears. Rites of exorcism are necessary to control the demon and to appease the powers of the underworld. These themes will be developed with reference to the origins of Shannon Free Trade Zone as ‘cargo cult’ and The International Financial Services Centre as hellmouth.
Quick Red Foxes: Irish Women Write the Hunt
United Nations derived definitions of sustainability emphasize the interconnected concerns of economic exploitation, social injustice, and environmental degradation. The healthy eco-systems and just economic and social structures grounding this definition of sustainability should necessarily improve human/non-human animal relations by challenging the ravaging accumulation model that commodifies non-human animal bodies. However, discourses of sustainability continue to value animals for their instrumental uses to humans; in doing so, they arguably compromise the entire project of sustainability. As Carol Adams has argued, hierarchies of value among living creatures create the category of the sub-human: we normalize the brutalization and killing of animals and then make of the Other an animal. In this paper, I want to use Ireland as a case study for exploring the ways a particular animal, the red fox, appears in the cultural products of capitalist driven colonialism and post-colonialism. Considered one of Ireland’s twenty-one indigenous mammals, the fox has for centuries been hunted for sport and for fur as well as raised on fur-farms in Ireland. By examining a variety of texts, including Arthur Stringer’s popular eighteenth-century hunting book, The Experienced Huntsman (1714) and Somerville and Ross’ nineteenth century fox-hunting sketches in Further Experiences of an Irish R.M., I hope to explore how the degrading of animals is co-extensive with the degrading of the Other; indeed, we can see in these Anglo-Irish texts how the constructed proximity of the indigenous Irish to animals justified the colonial use of force to subdue and contain them.Conversely, making the ideological connections between the oppression of women, the Irish, and animals, prominent nineteenth-century animal advocates from Ireland like Richard Martin of Galway, worked for both human and animal liberatory practices. I find in twentieth century Irish poems by Geraldine Mills and Paula Meehan representations of foxes that restore both the fox and the female narrators to the feral and undomesticated, providing a model for the ways true sustainability requires that the lives of animals be acknowledged as having intrinsic worth.
On the Other Side Are the Cyclades: Derek Mahon’s’Christmas in Kinsale’ and Michael Longley’s’A Hundred Doors’
In his his millenial Yellow Book, Derek Mahon diagnoses numerous manifestations of decline and degeneration of the modern world, including environmental change, consumerism and pollution by tourism. The collection is divided by a poem on the Cyclades and closes with another image of these Greek islands. While mid-way through the volume ‘Aphrodite’s Pool’ paints, in an apparently trifling tone, Cycladic tourist paradise and traded ancient myth, the coda of the collection evokes a transcendental concept of the Greek archipelago, whose cultural meaning and the powerful effect it creates reside in the phenomenon of pure Aegean landscape. Those short three lines concluding the Yellow Book counterbalance all the chaos of Irish and global civilisation as well as the changing order of the universe.
Over a decade later, Michael Longley in the eponymous poem of A Hundred Doors, visits the Cyclades in a spirit of both tourism and reverence. The poem exemplifies the process of personifying the elements of nature which compose the architectural amalgam of a Byzantine shrine and an ancient temple. Simultaneously, Longley blends ancient pagan and Christian beliefs, only to finish with a cryptic reference to some of his well-known poems on literary fiction and the art of writing. All these devices and techniques result in transporting the reader into the other, spiritual dimension of the tangible natural world.
These two trips to the Aegean continue the themes preoccupying both authors for some years: the relationship between landscape and imagination, and between nature and memory; conceiving of and sanctifying landscape; nature as private myth. These themes are often linked to the poetic method of a list/catalogue or litany which both poets practice in a different vein and for different purposes.
The Rich Soil of Ulysses: Joyce’s Organic Models
‘You could grow any mortal thing in Irish soil,’ opines garrulous sailor D. B. Murphy in Ulysses’ ‘Eummaeus’ episode. Though we may mistrust the word of a man who claims to have seen Simon Dedalus perform in Hengler’s Royal Circus, Murphy’s boast holds figurative truth beyond the agricultural facts it hyperbolizes: the cultural record of the of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries reveals that the Irish soil was capable of supporting a diverse span of ideologically resonant interpretative paradigms.
Chief among these paradigms was, of course, the linking of Irish soil with Irish cultural nationalism. While this equation is one common among constructions of modern nationhood, this connection held particular resonance in Ireland, given the history of absentee landowners’ exploitation of Irish tenant farmers, which movements such as Michael Davitt’s Land League were formed to redress. Combined with Christian iconography and constructions of revolutionary subjectivity, this history further explains why the notion of blood sacrifice replenishing the soil held sway among nationalists such as Padraic Pearse, to whom Yeats famously gave the last word in an exchange with fellow Easter Rising leader James Connolly: ‘There’s nothing but our own red blood / Can make a right Rose Tree.’
The nationalist reading of Irish soil took more peaceful forms as well, such as the models to be found within the editorial pages of the The Irish Homestead, the weekly journal founded by Horace Plunkett in 1895 and edited for many years by poet, mystic, and Ulysses’ personage George Russell, a.k.a. Æ. The Homestead offered an unusual melding of agricultural advice with Russell’s Theosophical enthusiasm; not surprisingly, the ideological valences it extracted from the Irish soil combined equal measures of co-operation, self-determination, and esoteric enlightenment.
Considering Joyce’s skepticism toward both the hypermasculinity embodied in in Pearse’s cult of blood sacrifice and the Theosophical-agrarian Romanticism of Russell’s editorial work, it is not surprising to find that contesting interpretative paradigms inform his representation of the soil in Ulysses—a text which turns out to be surprisingly earthy given its urban setting. In particular, the scientifically minded (if not always scientifically accurate) Leopold Bloom gestures repeatedly to biological accounts of soil depletion and renewal that suggest a layman’s acquaintance with the principles of early twentieth-century soil science such as those collected in Thomas Lambert’s Bone Products and Manures (1901), Filbert Roth’s First Book of Forestry (1902), and Eugene Hilgard’s Soils (published in 1906, and thus an anachronistic text for Bloom, though not for Joyce’s authorship) and disseminated in the popular British press. Among this literature of soil science were ideas that would ultimately develop into the modern organic farming movement.
Given the persistence of earlier soil paradigms, an ecocritical assay of the soil of Ulysses must excavate strata of mythic, political, and aesthetic signification alongside then-contemporary scientific developments. My presentation thus seeks to participate in the ongoing ecocritical project of elucidating ideological systems that would seem to be contradictory—the syncretism of adjacent narratives of pre-empiricist cultural belief and modern scientific progress—yet which in practice often work in concert, both in Joyce’s imaginatively rendered Dublin of 1904 and in our own cultural moment.
The Phoenix Park in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
In the twenty-first century, we think of a park as a place of peace and quiet. However, in Finnegans Wake, the Phoenix Park is anything but peaceful; it is a site of violence, transgression, betrayal and uncertainty.This talk focuses on the role of the Phoenix Park in the Wake, particularly on the early phases of composition, exploring how Joyce employs the park to articulate the relationship between violence and nature. The paradox of the serpent in Eden recurs throughout the Wake through the Phoenix Park, the seemingly peaceful space defined and afflicted by violence and tension. Drawing on historical origins of parks in general and on a palimpsestic image of the Phoenix Park, Joyce works towards an anti-pastoral image through the violence inherent in the natural world and the ways in which nature’s discursive construction, politicization and genderization have enabled such violence. One of the primary examples of this violence in the Wake is hunting, and throughout the composition process Joyce engages hunting in varied contexts to explore the changing hierarchies of nature and its intrinsic brutality.
I use the word “violence” in a sense that includes the secondary definitions of violation, offense and constraint in addition to the term’s primary connotation of the infliction of injury or harm.
Even the Beasts: Animals, Queers, and Violence
In Keith Ridgway’s The Long Falling (1998), a father violently rejects his gay son, Martin, slamming his head into a table after he repeatedly remarks, ‘The animals in the field don’t even do that.’ While this rhetoric suggests that heterosexuality is part of the natural order, a predictable discourse (natural/unnatural) in the realm of anti-gay rhetoric, it does so by deploying the language of ‘animals in the field’ to determine what is truly human—and what isn’t. It is no accident, then, that the father tells his son not to talk to him, and that he tells the boy’s mother she ‘killed the wrong fucking one.’ (An infant son died in an accidental drowning years before, and he blames her.) If, as Carol Adams argues, two of the most predictable ways of making someone less human are ‘to define them in false mass terms and to view them as animals,’ this novel shows how those terms may work in the context of Irish gay life. If animals, like humans, are heterosexual, the language of the animal condemns Martin as outside-the-human—one of the queer, as his father says. So he is silenced, and violence against him is justified. That the novel places this family story in the context of the x case—and thus uncomfortably connects gay rights to abortion rights—only amplifies questions about violence and humanness that impel the novel.
In this paper, I want to examine the work of three Irish gay writers: Ridgway, Gerry Stembridge, and Aodhan Madden, all deploying the language or representation of animals to inflect definitions of the human, and how gay men are (or are not) human. Ridgway’s novel falls between two novellas in which the death of animals—horses in Horses (1997) and a mouse in Animals (2006)—raise questions about human sympathy for animals and our capacity for violence. Stembridge’s The Gay Detective (1996), explicitly addresses law and sexuality before decriminalization in 1993, awkwardly relying on animal types (the characters mostly have animal names) to re-humanize gay men in a culture that would deny them human status. Madden’s Sea Urchins (1988) reimagines Flynn’s murder. Though Adams and others have shown that the representation of animals as the non-human and humans (like animals) as types is used to justify violence against others, these works suggest more clearly the ways this language is deployed against gay men in Irish culture.
Unpaved Inroads: ‘Nature’ in the Works of John McGahern
This paper offers a broad reading of the ecological subtext in John McGahern’s oeuvre by tracing the origins and development of various concepts of ‘Nature’ in his work. Specifically, ‘Nature’ as:
– sin and perversity
– symbolic/divine mother
Evidence of McGahern’s ecological consciousness can be seen in all his work. It has a point of origin which is both separate to and inseparable from his literary aesthetic. It is an awareness which develops from being an inherent aspect of his early writing to having a mature and intentional quality in his later work. Within the four themes, this paper discusses the narrative shift from an implicit inclusion of ecological thought in his early work to an explicit ecocentric focus in his later career.
The paper also suggests that the pattern of McGahern’s artistic evolution in terms of the ecological subtext of his work has a hypothetical relationship to Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies in which he reflects on contemporary ecological concerns. McGahern’s oeuvre unfolds in a pattern which is conjecturally equivalent to Guattari’s model. The latter suggests that our comprehension of ecology needs to be on three registers; namely those of human subjectivity, social relations and the natural environment. His positing of a thesis which advocates an ecology of self and an ecology of society, as well as ecology in its conventional environmental sense, is the pattern of development in McGahern’s ecological consciousness as his oeuvre expands in a series of concentric circles through his progressive explorations of psyche, society and environment.
It evidently must be acknowledged that McGahern’s drive was distinctly different to Guattari’s. McGahern was engaged in creating fictional narratives over several decades which both mapped and predicted cultural change. Guattari’s motivation was the necessity of writing a complex theoretical discourse in order to outline an urgent cultural dilemma. Nevertheless, McGahern’s oeuvre can be understood as progressively expanding through the three registers, with an ecological subtext as a point of origin and basis for this expansion.
The Queer Ecology of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
This paper seeks to read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a text that is fundamentally concerned with ecological issues, demonstrating awareness of the land beyond and outside of Dublin. Following on post-colonial critic Edward Said’s argument that imperialism ‘is an act of geographical violence,’ I will demonstrate that Joyce frequently depicts the colonization of Ireland as centred on the control of land in the form of agriculture, which he brings into the political foreground of the novel’s characters. The text’s ecological images are often violent in tone, enacting both protagonist Stephen Dedalus’s and Joyce’s mourning for the ecological destruction caused by imperial agriculture, that is, the violence against the land and animals which supplant other ways of being in the world. This violent ecology also results in moments where Joyce conflates images of colonial violence and the violence engendered by resistance to this colonialism. While this ecological reading demonstrates the ‘gendered double bind,’ the simultaneous imposition of colonial masculinity and the inherent violent manhood of resistance as outlined by Joyce scholar Joseph Valente, I argue that Portrait’s anti-violence and ecological awareness can be read usefully through the lens of queer ecology, as introduced by ecocritic Timothy Morton in his 2010 article ‘Queer Ecology.’ Morton argues for ecological intimacies that centre on ‘thinking and practicing weakness rather than mastery…and deconstructive tentativeness rather than aggressive assertion,’ a way of being that revels in ‘multiplying difference.’ With this in mind, I argue that Stephen demonstrates this queer ecology as a way of thinking through aggressive masculinity around him, such as his statement in a discussion about nationalist politics that ‘We are all animals. I also am an animal.’ These moments on Stephen’s part represent non-violent resistance, a rejection of the dehumanizing and violent discourse of British colonization and the rhetorical tropes of nationalist resistance, which equated violence with sturdy masculinity. Stephen’s observations are a memento animalis, a queer rebellion that moves beyond constricting categories and reminds us that we are, indeed, all animals.
John Patrick Montaño
Landscape, Nature and Civility: The Plantations in Tudor and Stuart Ireland
As a historian fascinated by the concept of ecocriticism I was particularly taken with the quotations from Joyce, Wilde and Yeats in the Conference Announcement. The idea that Wordsworth discovered ‘sermons he had already hidden’ or that he ‘found his image in every lake and puddle’ evoked the ideas and strategies of officials, settlers and colonists in Tudor and Stuart England. It would be extremely helpful and very exciting for me to present some ideas about the relationship between the plantations of early colonial settlers in Ireland and their attitude to landscape before a Conference on Ecocriticism.
I have argued (for too long and too often, perhaps) that Tudor officials were deeply influenced by Renaissance ideas about agricultural society as a sign and indicator of civility. Virgil’s Georgics had established husbandry as a heroic endeavor and popularized the association of settled agricultural societies with civilized life rooted in private property, walled towns, and tilled fields. From Antiquity the pastoral alternative was condemned as disordered, barbaric, and savagely inferior. These assumptions served to justify Tudor confiscations and colonies in Ireland after 1536, informing a strategy that very much had land, landscape, and land use at its core. Not only were the Irish in need of a sharp dose of civility, the Irish landscape was equated and sometimes blamed for the chaos and disorder that seemed to characterize Ireland and all its customs and traditions. If the landscape could only be made to look and appear like lowland England, then agriculture, urban settlements, order and civility—the very image of idealized England—might appear. The idea of planting English farmers on Irish land was product of this way of thinking, and the wave after wave of plantations became more detailed in their commitment to transforming the Irish landscape with stone houses, fortified bawns, urban settlements, walls, fences, roads, bridges, cultivated fields, orchards, deer parks and more, the material culture of English civilization that would allow the (new) inhabitants to uncover the sermons so long hidden within the waste lands and pastures of Ireland.
I plan to use the accounts of official strategies for Ireland alongside the considerable evidence of attitudes towards and the determination to change the landscape of Ireland. The clearing of forests, draining of bogs, building of roads and bridges will be discussed as well as the division of the landscape and the introduction of breeds, plants and crops to displace barbarous indigenous flora and fauna with more civilized ones imported from England and beyond. Most importantly, all of this was to be recorded and preserved in the official buildings that made up the necessary architecture of urban life: imposing stone structures that came to dominate the landscape and to serve as ominous demonstrations of the permanence of the multifaceted alterations to the landscape. The material culture as well as nature and the landscape were being constructed in Tudor and Stuart Ireland.
The Queer Irish Anthropocene
The island. A last effort. The islet. The shore facing the open sea
is jagged with creeks. One could live there, perhaps happy,
if life was a possible thing, but nobody lives there. The deep
water comes washing into its heart, between high walls of
rock. One day nothing will remain of it but two islands, separated
by a gulf, narrow at first, then wider and wider as the centuries
slip by, two islands, two reefs. It is difficult to speak of man,
under such conditions.
(Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies)
This paper will explore Irish literary responses to questions of how gender, sexuality, and family structures are implicated in the Anthropocene–the working term for the new geological epoch that acknowledges the significant influence of human behaviour on the Earth’s atmosphere. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame, to name just two, present post-apocalyptic worlds in which the institutions ensuring the vitality of normative masculinity have been withdrawn. Moreover, as the global population approaches nine billion, and as livable land continues to shrink in the face of inland desertification and coastal erosion–a topic of recurring preoccupation in the fiction of Colm Tóibín–a future is upon us which, for the planet to remain viable for humans, the current rate of reproduction will have to be checked. Alternative conceptualizations of ‘family’ seem destined to emerge. How, this paper asks, might ‘queer’ enable a vocabulary for grasping this near-future that is upon us? Is queerness, for better or worse, the necessary condition of our future? I conclude by musing that the era of the Anthropocene, while negatively-understood on one hand, also opens the possibility for an alternative, comparatively liberated future.
From Conservation to Sustainability:Changes in Irish Environmental Discourse
In his essays ‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’ and ‘Dark Ecology’, poet, novelist and journalist Paul Kingsnorth launches a stinging critique of what contemporary environmentalism has become. He argues that a movement that started out as an effort to defend natural ecosystems and wild places against the encroachments of humanity has become more concerned with finding ways to maintain our current lifestyle without undermining the ‘natural capital’ upon which it is based. Rather than being driven by a sense of the value of the non-human world, our contemporary concern with sustainable development is a wholly human-centred project, ‘the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy’. In the light of Kingsnorth’s argument, I want to compare some examples of public discourse about nature and the environment in Ireland in the 1980s and the period 2008-2013. To what extent has a concern with the potential of innovative technologies and green growth to put our affluent lifestyle on a more sustainable basis replaced a sense of the inherent value and beauty of the natural world? Has the focus of environmentalism shifted from conserving nature to sustaining human civilisation? And to what extent does this reflect a wider social transformation – our increasing insulation from any reality which is not socially constructed and our deepening absorption into a virtual world of technologically-mediated images and relationships? What kind of relationship to nature is possible in the 21st century?
Joyce without Nature: Ulysses, Scale, and Ecocriticism
Taking its cue from Joyce’s dictum (quoted in the CFP) that “nature is quite unromantic,” this paper takes up the challenge of thinking about Joyce eco‐critically. The approach I take to the question will be based on the attention in the novel to global scales of apprehension and action in the “Ithaca” episode. The oscillation between micro- and macroscopic scales may be read as an attention to the difficulties and pitfalls of representing the social totality, but they might also allow us to attend to another kind of ecological totality. Fredric Jameson’s and Raymond Williams’s (and others’) description of modernism as being uncompromisingly of the city have blocked the passage of ecocriticism into modernism, but recent work by Bonnie Kime Scott and James Fairhall has attempted to plot the relationship between nature and uncompromising modernism of the city. While this represents a breakthrough, I ask what kind of ecocritical reading might we deploy that will allow Joyce to remain outside the field of nature writing. In keeping with recent work by Ursula Heise and Tim Morton on scale and ecology, I hope to offer a critical reading of Joyce’s global scale as a proto‐ecological move, in which he turns our attention to a scale of thinking that refuses to be caught up in the worship of nature, but still attends to an ethical relationship with the planet.
Writing Landscapes: W.B. Yeats and Eavan Boland
W. B Yeats and Evan Boland are bold voices of their times. They were even bolder in their differences in their engagement with poetry. Poetry and politics, rather poetry as politics stretched Yeats’s career from the trials and tribulations of the pre-independence Ireland to its post-independence period. Boland interrogated the hetero-normativity of Irish patriarchy in a significant way. The two poets, evidently, had varied concerns and pre-occupations. However, a commonality that embraces them in a league is their rootedness in and proximity to their land. They wrote landscapes as much individually as differently. But land with its ultimate materiality remained at the horizontal axis, the differences proliferating at the vertical level as alternative possibilities in their poetry. My paper will analyse this issue in the poetry of W.B, Yeats and Eavan Boland.
Landscapes are aesthetic and cultural constructions. They derive their meaning from the cultural codes of the social power structure of a people, drawing heavily on their dreams, memories and imaginations. Writing landscapes, then, is an act of mapping a people: indeed a discursive and self- reflexive engagement. Literary Geography is always more than mere fictional settings. It tends to offer an alternative history of a people which is more authentic than the authoritative (hegemonic) official version. It is more so in case of the Irish people as they primarily wanted to see and fashion the future of Ireland through the lens of the pastoral antiquity. My paper would analyse this issue in the poetry of Yeats, and Boland.
I propose to study landscapes in Yeats and Boland in the context of the project Mesocosm. As such, Mesocosm is not going to set standards for my study, but I’ll borrow certain critical tools and vocabulary from the project for my use. The paper will focus on the projection of human umwelt and its intimacy with the immediate environment. It would thus look for and priorities the projection of environment as content than being the ‘constitutive other’ in a meaning-producing mechanism. Mesocosm displays it efficiently: environment doesn’t produce a content; it is the content.
Trouble at the Ecotones: Culture, Politics, and the Sea-Fisheries in Walter Macken’s Rain on the Wind.
Isn’t it a strange thing, Mico, that you know a poem called
The Wreck of the Hesperus and another one called Rosabelle?
They are the only two poems you could learn in the course of
seven years. (33)
So says Pa, legendary schoolmaster of the Claddagh, to Mico, destined to be a fisherman, who is incapable of learning any pastoral or agrarian poetry. Mico’s life experiences are angled towards the sea; the land holds little meaning in his world. Yet the land has dominated Irish culture for hundreds of years. Oona Frawley has written, ‘Pastoral politics were thus infamously used as the foundations of the nation, and would exert a vice grip on Irish culture’ (104). Shaun Richards sees the ‘frightening fidelity to the land’ in Irish culture as synonymous with promulgating concepts of the nascent nation, where land acquisition had been historically the major battleground both politically and literarily (80-93). Jim Mac Laughlin points out that such issues ‘so dominated public discourse that the needs of coastal communities and the concerns of fishermen were scarcely considered,” reflecting Ireland’s “rural fundamentalism’ (295).
As such, Walter Macken’s Rain on the Wind responds to the consistent devaluation of Irish fishing communities, directly connected to the valuation of the land and rural peasantry during the Land Wars and Revival period, and continued on throughout the first two decades of Irish independence as reflected by the government’s lack of a fisheries policy. This paper will therefore engage with moments of cultural and economic disparity in Macken’s text between land and sea as they are produced and themselves influence government attitudes towards the Claddagh. It will investigate Macken’s cultural critique in this particular novel of Ireland’s bias towards the urban and rural in culture and political thought and the associated knock-on effects on the cultures, economic requirements, and dignity of Ireland’s fishing communities, the peripheralised of the new nation’s socio-ecology.
‘Save the trees of Ireland’: James Joyce, the Irish Literary Revival, and Arboreal Culture
It was with an adept understanding of his historical setting that James Joyce employed arboreal references in Ulysses to attack nationalist pretensions. Trees were of great concern to the doyenne of the Irish Literary Revival, Lady Gregory: ‘Ireland, more than other countries, ought to be a country of trees’, she had written in an 1898 article on ‘Tree Planting’ for George Russell’s weekly The Irish Homestead, ‘for the very letters of her alphabet are named after them.’ In this way, Ireland’s forestry in the late nineteenth century became a matter of cultural identity as much as an economic resource and only the Irish tongue could properly recover her trees: ‘Perhaps with the revival of her old language they will be better called to mind.’
Joyce’s repeated references to trees allude to the connection between trees and class on the one hand, and the revivalists’ interest in arboreal culture on the other. This literary discourse can be placed in the contemporary historical and bibliographical context at a period of intense political discord as the last two decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of land agitation as well as separatist nationalism that would challenge the status quo of the landed elite. In consequence, there was a revival in the discourse on landscape improvement in general, and estate improvement in particular. So Gregory’s ‘Tree Planting’, written in the period following the land acts of the 1880s, was a response to widespread political, cultural and economic concern about deforestation. This historical antagonism over the causes of deforestation re-emerged in fresh debates on the felling of trees after the land acts. Whilst Joyce’s Citizen in Ulysses blames ‘the yellowjohns of Anglia’ for the deforestation of Ireland, the landed class pointed the finger at the behavior of new tenant proprietors attacking their trees.
This paper considers the ways in which arboreal culture is codified in the writings of the Revivalists and functions as a metaphor for elitism and class pretensions in Joyce’s Ulysses. In so doing, it will examine the discourse on trees as a nexus for colonial, literary and artistic ideas.
Pauline Cummins’ Water/Leopard: Eco-PerformanceA and the Alberta Tar Sands
Pauline Cummins’ performance at the Mountain Standard Time (MST) 6 Performative Art Festival in Calgary in 2012 was a comment on the environmental politics that have come to dominate the Canadian agenda under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Cummins has always been concerned with economic and political themes and is best known for her work on gender relations in the Irish context, often using the symbolism of the natural landscape in her work. In Water/Leopard, she turned her attention to the Canadian environment and to a creature that needs fresh water to survive, but lives in an area where a clean and plentiful water supply is now threatened by industry. Water/Leopard dealt with the fate of Alberta’s Northern Leopard Frog, now listed as an endangered species because its fresh-water habitat has been destroyed by oil-sands development. In her performance, Cummins embodied the plight of the Northern Leopard Frog and redeployed it as an ominous warning to change human behaviour before we suffer the same fate. The performance was a meditation on the potential loss of the frog, and by extension, on all that we stand to lose in terms of our natural environment thanks to short-sighted development in the name of even shorter-term economic prosperity. Cummins is not the first Irish commentator on the environmental emergency that now exists in Canada as a result of oil sands development. Dr. John O’Connor, the Limerick GP who went to Canada in 2000 to work as the family physician in the tiny community of Fort Chipewyan, is the subject of the RTE documentary, Undue Alarm (2013). But Cummins’ approach to eco-criticism, taking the form of performance art and focusing on the plight of the Northern Leopard Frog, is an unusual one. By engaging the viewer in unusual ways with nature and politics, this performance allows us to explore the ramifications of oil sands development for individual and communal health. She invites us to ponder the systematic destruction of our fragile ecosystem and its consequences, not only for the frog, but for humanity. Cummins’ performance is therefore an example of an Irish artist engaging in eco-critique on an international scale. By supplying the metaphor, Cummins’ performance allows us to engage with nature and politics, with environmental destruction and sustainability, and with federal policies and treaty rights of indigenous communities. In doing so, this paper will explore the environmental consequences of tar sands development in Canada from an Irish Studies perspective.
Ireland’s Green Revirginisation
Until about the mid-sixteenth century, the entire island was covered in vast forests, predominately oak, birch, hazel and elder tree, forests which have been almost completely removed to satisfy the needs of the British fleet for good quality woods, within a timespan of about 300 years. Forests were turned into timber–the main material to build the ships that enabled Britain to expand and strengthen their empire, to colonise other countries, and to support the developing mercantile capitalist economy by transporting, sugar, spices, tobacco and slaves. The cutting of the forests also signalled the beginning of the industrial revolution, fired by the pieces of wood that could not be used for construction, and by the easy accessibility of cheap Irish workers, who –deprived of their natural environment and its food resources – now had to make a living elsewhere. After all, capitalism is based on the transportation of goods bought at a cheap price or even stolen from a place where they are plentiful and sold at the highest possible price in a new location where they are rare. The speed and the conditions of transport are everything in our current economic model, even today.
In this context, it is striking and contradictory that the Irish ‘product’ that sells best in the global market is the image of ‘untouched nature’. And German tourists are the biggest target of this campaign. My paper will explore the interdependency of such image creation and economic transactions. Furthermore I will argue that the need to sell the Irish landscape as ‘virgin’, can be seen in the framework of a traumatic complex: it is a landscape that tries to forget the violent acts that brought it about and presents itself as a simulacrum of wholeness.
Cellular Structures: The Spaces of Nineteenth-Century Fenian Rebellion
The ‘failed’ Fenian Rebellion of 1867, like two other mid-nineteenth-century resistance movements (the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 in Jamaica and the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in India), was intimately related to land and to labour of that land, especially the condition of Irish tenant farmers. Indeed, many of the broadsheet ballads, poems, plays, novels, and memoirs published in the aftermath of the Rebellion (leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising) buttress Fenian anticolonial struggles against British imperial rule through a romanticization of the land, conceptualized as rural and agricultural, as ‘naturally’ Irish (and despite the ‘betrayal’ of the land towards its people during the Great Hunger). Yet the Fenians, an international organization composed of members in the United States and staging raids in Canada, had the support of the radical English working classes, Chartists, and the First International (led by Marx’s support for Irish independence as a necessary precursor to the strengthening of organized labour in urban England). In other words, the Fenian anti-colonial movement bled green beyond its putative ‘natural’ and national borders.
This interesting interconnection between urban and rural spaces and labour within Ireland and without can be seen especially in the production and circulation of mid-century broadsheet ballads in the northeastern American cities of Boston and New York. Taking as their subject the Fenians and Irish independence, these ballads invoke, stage, perpetuate, and manage nostalgia for a pastoral Ireland within an urban working-class American setting. For this conference, I propose to examine how these broadsheets romanticize an Irish land (and identity) even through the act of deconstructing that romance.
The larger chapter from which this paper is drawn examines the Fenian Rebellion through the concept-metaphor (in Spivak’s formulation) of the cell: biological (as the fundamental unit of the ‘natural’ world), organizational (the Fenians were decentralized rather than hierarchical and characterized as terrorist by the British press), incarceratory (the imprisonment of the captured Fenians and the Clerkenwell Prison bombing), economic (Marx famously notes that the ‘commodity-form of the product of labour, or the value-form of the commodity, is the economic cell-form’), and formal (the aesthetic framing of texts, such as broadsheet ballads, for example). In the paper for this conference, I use this concept-metaphor of the cell in examining the anti-colonial broadsheet ballads to unpack the framing of the un/natural, the inter/national, and the rural/urban in order to probe the interconnection between an imagined nation-state and geographical space (the land within its borders) in an era of anti-colonialism and uneven industrial capitalism.
Locus of the Inexpressible: Lakes and the Crisis of Masculinity and Modernity in Irish Literature
From George Moore’s The Lake (1905) to Michael Harding’s memoir Staring at Lakes more than a hundred years later an affinity is established between the Irish mind and nature, and how this becomes a reflection on the mores of the society.
The locus of love is important, and despite James Joyce expressed disaffection of the link between nature and human emotion, a short over-view of works published in Ireland over the last century show a surprising need for the Irish psyche to be connected to nature.
The crisis in masculinity is perhaps the true index of the crisis in modernity. Michael Harding, an ex-priest, in his book Staring at Lakes gives an account of such a character in turmoil, providing a counterpoint to the saturation of consumerism, while illustrating its dire nexus .As society becomes increasingly urbanised, the juxtaposition of images of Celtic Tiger Ireland and the access to contemplation that a lake offers relief from the author’s depression. The book provides an occasion to chart a contemporary malaise which is as much due to modernity as to patriarchal norms which have been elided but which still exist in the author’s idea of himself as a hunter-gatherer who has lost his ground. The lake provides the author’s only real connection with himself and with society, with nature. Could it mean that the Ireland of rural beauty is lodged firmly in the societal glue and indeed in the national psyche?
Maeve Binchy’s The Glass Lake (1994) shows how a natural feature becomes a token for the wild and unpredictable passions which shake societal mores, while John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun (2003) is set around a lake, and provides an off-side commentary on the stories of the characters more so even than the plot, the modern world of advertising and design provides the money by which these lifestyles can be maintained.
The lake as Reflection, repository, and site of remembrance becomes a way of articulation out of the inexpressible emotions and conflicts in Irish society, which like the larger society is in existential and environmental crisis.
Beyond in Bohane: Language, Topography and Urban-ness on the West Coast of Ireland
In this paper I will consider the fiction of Kevin Barry, in particular his award-winning debut novel City of Bohane, published 2011. Barry is the literary architect of Bohane–a city on the western seaboard of Ireland, forty years into the future. The novel presents a functioning dysfunctional city, mired in social upheaval, rife with tribal tensions, loaded with the threat of imminent violent feuding: ‘a small city so homicidal’ with ‘the taint of badness on the city’s air’ rising off the ‘blackwater surge’ (3) of the Bohane river. The city is made up of distinctive spaces such as the ‘evil labyrinth’ (4) of the Back Trace; the ‘violently windy’ (25) Northside Rises; the ‘squashed-up place’ of Smoketown with ‘its troubled lungs’ (69); and beyond, the Big Nothin’ waste with its ‘bogside dark’ (13).
Bohane’s discrete regions, its topography and morphology, offer more to the novel’s narrative than simply acting as the backdrop for the activities of the characters such as Logan Hartnett, Jenni Ching and The Gant Broderick. It could be read that the city itself is the central protagonist of the novel, the collective of its physical and spatial natures leading to both its demise and suggested future, as presented by the narrative.
In this paper I will offer three ‘readings’ of the novel that resonate with spatial interests. I will consider the impact of topography on the urban condition of Bohane; the nature of urban-ness in the west of Ireland as presented through Bohane; and the nature of the language used by Barry, the sounding of the city. Through these readings I wish to consider what Barry’s Bohane, though fictional, means for the contemporary urban condition in Ireland.
‘The very poorness of the soil saved these fields’: Reading John McGahern in the Zone of Over-Development
John McGahern’s Memoir (2005) begins with an intimate evocation of the Leitrim countryside. At the end of the second paragraph, the scale shifts, placing the lakes, lanes and hedges in a broad geographical and historical perspective. ‘The very poorness of the soil saved these fields’ (McGahern writes) ‘when old hedges and great trees were being levelled throughout Europe for factory farming and, amazingly, these fields have hardly changed at all since I ran and played and worked in them as a boy.’
The reference to ‘factory farming’, and the word ‘saved’, imply a specifically ecological nostalgia. The structure of feeling draws on a Romantic sense of loss, as we hear an echo of Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode: ‘But there’s a Tree, of many, one, / A single Field that I have looked upon, / Both of them speak of something that is gone.’ But what is ‘gone’ in some other places–indeed, ‘throughout Europe –has survived in Leitrim. The poor soil, which has made industrial farming impossible, appears now as the condition of salvation. What we might have wanted to call ‘underdevelopment’ is preferable to the alternative–overdevelopment, or ecocide.
This paper traces the implicit presence, across McGahern’s oeuvre, of the ecological sensibility which is made explicit in his late work; and raises related questions of audience and representation. I begin by noting that aspects of the local, the customary and the laborious are celebrated even in McGahern’s earliest fiction. Nonetheless, his work up to Amongst Women (1990) records a process of change in the north-west midlands that appears not only inevitable but in many respects welcome. Only in the last of his novels, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002), can we find a clear affirmation of what we might call rural ‘tradition’: by no means a straightforward one, however, since there is an unobtrusive but significant emphasis on ways in which the protagonist, Joe Ruttledge, is at odds with the community he lives in.
Ruttledge values ‘poor soil’ because he has experienced the contemporary metropolis and found it wanting. In this he speaks to metropolitan readers, outside and inside Ireland, who question metropolitan overdevelopment. However, his experiences and choices are not typical of the people among whom he has chosen to come and live. Assessing that aspect of That They May Face The Rising Sun, the paper concludes by reflecting on what it means for the claim (made by President MacAleese at the time of McGahern’s death) that his oeuvre has made ‘an immense contribution to [Ireland’s] self-understanding as a nation’.
Holly Connell Schaaf
Caring About Beings with Non-Human Cares: Connections with Animals in the Poetry of Moya Cannon and Mary Montague
In her poem ‘Mountain,’ about Ben Bulben, Moya Cannon declares that ‘neither the Fianna’s chroniclers nor Yeats / did more than pay their respects / to what was already there’ (6-8). These lines exemplify Cannon’s reverence for nature not as raw material for art, but as a diverse interdependency of which human poets are a part and whose actions they may emulate but cannot replace. Christine Cusick praises Cannon’s ‘humility in face of nature’s intrinsic value—a value that exists quiteindependently of any attribution of cultural worth’ (59-60) in her 2005 article “‘Our Language was Tidal:’ Moya Cannon’s Poetics of Place.” Cusick stresses Cannon’s importance for ecocriticism, bemoaning the relative neglect of Cannon’s work by the critical establishment, a neglect that has for the most part continued in the ensuing years though Cannon has produced two additional volumes of poetry: Carrying the Songs (2007) and Hands (2011). Zoologist-poet Mary Montague’s work has also received little critical attention. Her most recent collection Tribe (2008) features numerous poems that speak to her knowledge of individual species and reveal her zest for depicting their lives not as metaphors for some more important human experience, but as experiences with which humans may gain some familiarity, but cannot fully understand.
Instead of burdening the skylark with their cares before they can celebrate it, Cannon and Montague each start from observations of specific species’ behavior and life ways. Their poetry tends to neither romanticize nature as superior to human beings nor imply the inferiority of non-human animals by suggesting that these beings need to be measured by a human standard. Instead, the poems of Cannon and Montague indicate the place of the human being as just another organism, not by denying the power of human beings to affect the lives of other species, but by reaffirming the shared vulnerability and joy in the face of larger natural forces that humans and non-human animals experience.
However, the degree to which experiences can be shared across species remains unresolved and ambiguous in their poetry. The work of Cannon and Montague raises questions as to whether human poems can ‘carry the songs’ of non-human beings as these species might communicate them, or if human audiences for the poems always demand some concession to anthropocentrism. The poems not only reveal what they can about the lives of the other species on which they focus, but also imply that a great deal remains hidden or has been lost in the translation of carefully observed yet half-imagined non-human experience into human language. The work of these two poets is important both for its genuine attempts to understand non-human experiences on their own terms and for its acknowledgements of the near impossibility of this task.
From Nature to Natures in Paula Meehan’s Poems
Last September, Paula Meehan’s poetry gained greater national and international visibility when she was named informal poet laureate, ‘Ireland Professor of Poetry’, becoming the second woman to be awarded this prestigious post, set up in 1998, in the wake of Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize. When he announced the news last September, Dr Patrick Prendergast, provost of Trinity College, noted that Paula Meehan ‘has worked with prisoners and people from disadvantaged backgrounds and is regarded as giving a voice to people and places that are often marginalised and forgotten.’
In this paper, I would like to study how Paula Meehan’s poems give life to these places that are ‘often marginalised and forgotten’, how she blends personal and collective changes, pointing to the ways Irish cities (especially Irish suburbs) and Irish nature undergo transformations that are the witnesses of historical and mental shifts. In Painting Rain, her last book, her poems blend personal, family memories and global, economic, national changes, brought about by the Celtic Tiger’s boom. Her self-awareness and personal preoccupations are brought together to uncover truths about the public sphere, about the way our common perception of nature for instance has changed. Modernity is put to the test in poems where communities and actual neighbourhoods break up, where nature slowly disappears. Yet, I would like to focus on two specific poems – ‘The Mushroom Field’ and ‘Peter, Uncle’ – to show how complex Meehan’s responses to these changes are. Traditional oppositions and clichés are put upside down, feminist stances are questioned, new singular vistas are given. Nature can no longer be the place of a singular Romantic union with nation, comfort or feminine symbols. It has become places of contrast, mixed gendered loci, where the power of human and poetic memory is challenged by larger technological and historical recordings. In Paula Meehan’s poems, Nature therefore becomes a palimpsest of former literary natures and an interrogation on the poet’s place and voice when confronted to these changes, to these diverse natures, which are both Irish and foreign, personal and common.
Ruins in Ireland, Ireland in Ruins: Symbols and Semiotics in Irish Contemporary Visual Art
The reference to artistic portrayals of ruins in the Irish landscape generally brings to mind eighteenthand nineteenth century paintings and prints of romanticized, medieval remains. The function of these images was various: they fostered a romantic notion of the tension between nature and culture; they reflected the fashion for such structures in the landscaping of demesnes, giving rise in turn to the construction of facsimiles in vistas devoid of such features; the images also nourished the appetite for a reconstruction of pre-invasion Irish heritage, and the demonstration of a cultured national legacy. While the production of such representations is associated with colonial era imagery – at least scholarly analyses are confined to that period – the visual evidence indicates that the ruin in the landscape has remained a significant motif in the work of artists ranging from Sean Keating, Gerard Dillon, and Tony O’Malley to contemporary practitioners, like James Coleman, Sean Hillen, Mairead O’hEocha, and Stephen Brandes.
This paper is intended to selectively evaluate the nature and role of ruin imagery along with its definition and interpretative strategies within the last hundred years. I will explore the extent to which the modern ruin motif draws on a combination of established traditions and of contemporaneous circumstances. More particularly however, this study focuses on the more recent response to economic hubris by artists who characterize as ruins the unfinished projects–the housing estates and apartment blocks, office buildings and commercial sites and their relationship with their environments, as a defining motif of the debacle. Among the artists are Brian Maguire, Anthony Haughey, and Andrew Dodds, whose interpretations will be considered in relation to the concept of ruins in reverse a term coined by US land artist and theorist, Robert Smithson in 1967. To what extent can this idea be applied in the examination of the current strand in contemporary art in Ireland?
Waking Up to Waste: Narcotics, Narratives, Topographies and Temporalities
Sustainability, it has long been argued geopolitically, depends on reduction (mainly of consumption but also of expectation). For this reason it looks to modulate experience (of commodity and being) as we currently understand it. Sustainability’s phenomenology, however, depends on conceptions of long-range spatio-temporalities (reliant on capacities of imagination and empathy) stemming from facts of immediacy. I suggest that to imagine a sustainable future we need to re-think the phenomenologies of the offerings of capitalism, science and technology: ‘products’ and ‘services’ that distort space and time often by contracting them to the present moment, and ultimately relying on falsified conceptions of waste. I explore this by analyzing the literary evocation of a principal commodity of colonial economy, opium, whose hallucinogenic effect over experience, and wasteful consequences in human and non-human natures, point towards reconceiving all products which distort spatio-temporalities of experience as waste. I refer (intermittently) to Finnegans Wake, a richly polyvalent text that visualizes the world from the prospect of Dublin, the second city of empire, and provokes slow reading through hallucinogenic textual effects. It is also a text that refers to opiates, is built on conceptualizations of waste (time, history, reading and writing), is transhistorical and transnational. It allows me to think through temporal connotations of surplus and exponential expansion of waste, and the possibilities of ‘world-literature’ made available through a sustainable reading practice.
‘An Alternative to the World’? Consumption and the dialectics of development
It has been said that prior to the emergence of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, Ireland’s deficient modernisation occasioned anxious ruminations among historians and sociologists on the ways it which it had remained an uncanny site of the ‘pre-modern’ despite its location astride the highway of Euro-American modernity. And yet in the eyes of others, this uncanny backwardness was trans-valued and recreated as the island’s greatest resource – as a kind of sublime ‘alternative to the world’, a place outside the mainstream of development (cf. Joe Cleary, introduction to Modern Irish Culture, eds. Joe Cleary and Claire Connolly, CUP, 2005).
My talk will address this ‘dialectics of development’ in the context of the mutations of the recent boom and recession years, and consider its contemporary eco-political inflections and potentials. A sustainable future, it will argue, requires a form of modernisation that undoes the link between ‘progress’ and continuous economic expansion but without the cultural regression and social conservatism that has traditionally accompanied resistance to economic growth. Brief illustration will be given of the ways in which such a form of modernisation could be said to be adumbrated in the work of Irish writers of the Twentieth century, including by Joyce, Beckett and McGahern. It will conclude by asking whether Ireland today might be in a position to draw upon its peculiar history of relations to modernity, and its exceptional literary resources, in order to pioneer a new, and greener, way of thinking about the politics of prosperity in the post boom-and-bust era. Might it, for example, now commit to a more mediated culture of modernisation: one that retained the commitment to social emancipation while at the same time reconstituting—and reworking in a distinctively post-consumerist mode—something of the earlier romantic spirit of sober consumption and prioritisation of spiritual over material gratification?
Stolen yet Returned: The Landscapes of ‘The Stolen Child’
In this paper, I propose to survey re-settings of W. B. Yeats’s poem ‘The Stolen Child’ in landscapes of tourism (The Yeats Passport Trail), futurism (the Kubrick-Spielberg film A. I. Artificial Intelligence), and human rights (Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama). Such re-settings may ‘uproot’ the poem’s literal grounding by re-setting the poem in constructed places, some worlds away from Sligo. On the other hand, these re-settings may restore the poem’s ‘ecology,’ in the sense that they present the natural and supernatural as restorative rather than threatening.
This paper will be part of a longer project I am undertaking on this text. In this paper, I propose to use both reader response criticism and ecocriticism in my analysis of how a text and its contexts function as an ecosystem.
Skeleton Houses and Bats: The Re-haunting of Ireland
While much British and American ecocriticism relies on a romantic stance toward nature and a ‘realistic’ mode of representation in literary texts, as the call for papers notes, Irish Studies brings alternative traditions of both literary representation and life in nature to the discussion. While tourists and members of the diaspora may find the countryside of Ireland beautiful and romantic, within Ireland and Irish literature, the landscape has often signified hardship, struggle, conflict, and loneliness than aesthetic contemplation. Arguably the distinctive characteristic of the Irish landscape is the bog, yet the word ‘bog’ figures in ordinary speech as a derogatory label for someone or something substandard or rustic, and not in a romantic way. The power of the sea, never far from any location on the island, certainly meeting the criteria for the sublime, seems too realistic a power to be aestheticized fully. Precisely because the south of Ireland did not fully go through the industrial revolution, nature only recently became something to be museumized and cherished. The relatively new Visitors’ Centers at the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway signify a new commodified, tourist-oriented approach to Ireland’s natural features.
Colonialism, twentieth-century underdevelopment, and emigration shaped the landscape of the Republic up until the building frenzy of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period. Since the mid-1990s pristine new highways have come into play along with wind turbines and glass high rise buildings. Between 1994 and the 2008 economic recession people bought second homes and investment properties like mad. In the aftermath of the real estate bubble, Irish writers and commentators have struggled to come to grips with a host of inter-related questions about the ethics of consumer capitalism. Tana French’s mystery novel, Broken Harbour (2012), inscribes the grisly murders of the perfect Celtic Tiger nuclear family on a ghost estate north of Dublin, called Brianstown, built on the site of an old fishing village called Broken Harbour. The question of motivation for the murders engages with the larger question of what happened to Irish society and Irish land or natural environment during the heady years of the boom and the aftermath of bust. The novel is interesting as a case study in a particular approach to ecocriticism, one that approaches ecology in relation to political economy, as David Harvey does in Justice, Nature & the Geography of Difference, and one that recognizes that ‘nature’ or ‘ecology’ cannot transcend language and culture as he also does.
Just the name of the novel encodes a history of interactions between human society and place, or local ecosystem. While the word ‘broken’ in this proper name is a double entendre, a moral and psychological signifier as well as a place name, it also encodes a cultural story as is the case in many indigenous societies. Early in the detective novel, the chief investigator, Scorcher, asks his assistant, “‘Brianstown. Heard of it?’ He shook his head. ‘Name like that, it’s got to be one of those new estates.’”
While the rookie detective Richie sees the new name of the housing estate as a signifier of Celtic Tiger building developments, it is in fact similar to the names of colonial settler estates built by the Anglo-Irish in the eighteenth century as they took over lands formerly occupied by the colonized Irish. The mystery genre makes questioning, motivation, and morality central to the narrative, and allows for the detective’s story to unfold alongside that of the murderer and murder victims. The novel’s interrogation of the Celtic Tiger as morality play is discourse that is found in the Irish Times and various studies of the fallout from the burst bubble as well.
French invites an ecocritical approach to the novel in two respects: first, the superimposition of ‘Brianstown’ onto Broken Harbour with all that implies, and second, the metaphysical incursion of animals and animal nature into the built landscape on the one hand and into the human imaginary on the other. The novel raises complex questions about the relationship between humans and the ecosystem. I will be using Harvey’s text as a way to read the relationships between money, ecology, and human/natural values. The layering of place names and temporalities through Scorcher’s memories and his investigation of murder on the ghost estate signifies the absence of ‘wilderness’ in the Irish ecosystem and the mutual relationships between human social formations and place, or landscape. The novel interrogates fundamental questions about human habitation and place, as do French’s other novels, and also about animality. For Scorcher, as for one of the victims, animals represent the dark side of humanity and a threat to human morality and self-control. Yet the Irish were frequently stereotyped as living with their domesticated animals inside the cottage. There is a huge gulf between that image and the Cartesian/Freudian metaphysic that Scorcher invokes in which animals are the wild and dangerous impulses lurking inside us all. The paper will explore these questions in relation to the boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger so aptly represented by ghost estates.
Frances Power Cobbe on the ‘Fact’ and/or ‘Evil’ of Disease
In promoting theism, Frances Power Cobbe frequently condemned the materialist goals of science along with its advocates and practitioners, including sanitation specialists, doctors, and, in particular, vivisectionists. For such individuals, Cobbe declares, ‘The material (or, as our fathers would have called it, the carnal) fact will be uppermost in his mind, and the spiritual meaning thereof more or less out of sight [. . .]. To this class of mind, thoroughly imbued with the Scientific Spirit, Disease is the most important of facts and the greatest of evils. Sin, on the other hand, is a thing on which neither microscope nor telescope nor spectroscope, nor even stethoscope, can afford instruction’ (Scientific Spirit of the Age, 12). Science, she goes on to say, generates the ‘fostering of a callous and irreverent spirit’ (13).
The religious origin of Cobbe’s anti-materialism notwithstanding, her argument here also carries within it a more generally ethical entreaty to understand the world not ‘merely as a vast heap of Facts, piled up into an orderly pyramid of a Science, like one of Timur’s heaps of skulls’ (Scientific 18), but as an organic and inter-dependent unit. Her insistence on describing as ‘callous’ a perspective that views the world as a laboratory of specimens, vividly emphasized by imagery invoking the intolerable acts of human cruelty perpetuated by Tamerlane, calls her readers’ attention to the need for an ethical approach to the treatment of any and all entities – from cells to horses to light waves – that might draw the attention of a ‘microscope’-, scalpel- or ‘spectroscope’-wielding individuals.
Cobbe’s convoluted religious-cum-political-cum-(at times) scientific understanding of the world provides an important background to my paper, in which I will delineate her intellectual understanding of disease theory and modern sanitation practices, and the myriad and colourful metaphors that emerged out of that understanding, as relevant to her activism. In some instances, Cobbe reflects on the moral relationships between disease, sin, and evil – as in the anti-materialist passage quoted above. Another example is found in The Hopes of the Human Race, Hereafter and Here, in which she contemplates the ‘evil’ of ‘disease’ (31) and of that ‘woven into the very tissue of life on the planet’ (31) before she goes on to consider ‘what it is in Nature which the human moral sense recognizes as evil’(34). In spite of the religious moralism inherent in many of her writings, these and similar instances reveal Cobbe’s engagement with ethical questions about the relationship between humanity and the rest of ‘nature’ that are similar to those posed by even the most secular of contemporary ecocritics. At other times, as in her series of Echo leaders, she engages with disease as a physical entity and delves (if cautiously) into modern scientific attempts to understand the workings of disease on individual bodies as well as within collected groups of bodies, from social class systems to ecosystems. Here, too, Cobbe’s interests reflect ecocritical concerns.
In attempting to untangle Cobbe’s complicated engagement with disease as a figurative and a literal entity, I hope to extend ecocritical studies of Cobbe.
Mirror Images in Edna O’Brien and John McGahern
Patrick D. Murphy defines ecocriticism as a ‘critical method’ which ‘reinstates referentiality as a crucial and primary activity of literature’. In other words, the ways in which the arts represent material reality affect human behaviours towards the environment. Drawing on literary realism and on the physical theory of reflection, I investigate ‘referentiality’ and ‘self-referentiality’ in Edna O’Brien’s Night (1972) and John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun (2005). I argue that both novels, which abundantly deal with nature, display an interesting tension between being a transparent window on actuality and a questioning reflection of the same actuality. Such tension may be read either as an attempt to dismantle univocal correspondences between signifier and signified or as a chance to challenge the validity of conventional dichotomies (i.e. male/female, human beings/nature, etc.).
Through the analysis of mirror images, I will underline that both novels show two diverse kinds of reflecting surfaces, namely plane and irregular mirrors. The former represent the intention to imitate reality since only plane mirrors give a virtual image that is almost identical to the source. The latter, instead, distort the image they reflect thus proposing alternative and multifaceted realities. In fact, O’Brien’s first-person narrator and McGahern’s third-person narrator depict disturbing natural elements that change the shape of a specific reflecting surface, be it a mirror, a lake, the sky, etc. As a result, irregular surfaces defy the readers’ expectations: the image reflected is not always identical to the object. Moreover, by virtue of self-referential passages, which might be regarded as explanations of the narrative principles of the novels, both writers undermine rigid cultural structures that rule, for instance, gender issues or the differences between human beings and nature. O’Brien and McGahern do not propose ready-made assumptions about nature; rather they show that mirrors ‘are not for seeing by, mirrors are for wondering at, and wondering into’ (Night, 1).
Finally, I will also argue that the mirror images presented in Night and in That They May Face the Rising Sun are attempts to encompass a wide range of human and natural elements in the aim of rehabilitating a close and balanced relationship between the two. As McGahern’s RS shows, the main natural mirror (a lake) and the main human artefacts (a shed and the book itself) of the novel reflect simultaneously what culture tries to separate: the earth and the sky, human beings and nature (‘The lake was an enormous mirror turned to the depth of the sky, holding its lights and its colours’ RS, 186).
Agentic Power of the Sea : Riders To The Sea
Riders to the Sea is a one-act play by J. M. Synge about the life in the Aran Islands, the power of nature and death. The life based on the sea determines the fates of Irish women and men and the dependence on water surrounding the Aran islanders brings death in the play. The sea both provides life and causes death in the play, but the agency of the sea is not limited to its dualistic nature in Synge’s work. Maurya’s vision about the death of her sons- Michael and Bartley- comes from the sea so the agenctic power of the water is not restricted to its onthological presence, but also includes epistemology which is related to narrative ability of matter. In the light of these ideas, the major aim of this paper is to analyze agency of the sea in Synge’s Riders to the Sea in the context of material ecocriticism and new materialisms.
Green Greg Delanty
In this presentation I will explore the ecopoetic themes present throughout the work of Greg Delanty. Delanty is a Cork native, a graduate of UCC, who has lived in Vermont for many years. In his many collections of poetry published over a thirty year period, the natural world has occupied a central place in his work for its own sake and not as mere metaphor. At the same time, Delanty’s ecological vision is political. A central text around which my presemtation will be built will be So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis (Green Writers Press, 2013), an anthology of work featuring Delanty’s work and the work of fellow poets who explore ecological issues. In addition, I will use contemporary ecopoetic scholarship and explore connections between contemporary Irish and American ecopoets.
Defending the Local: The Role of Place in the Irish Environmental Movement
“Place is the first of all beings, since everything that exists is in a place and cannot exist without a place.”
Archytus, as cited by Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories
Place began to flourish as a concept worthy of philosophical examination in the 1960s, most prominently in the fields of anthropology, philosophy and geography. In the early literature, inquiries into the distinction been space and space took precedence. In his landmark study, for example, Tuan argues that what is initially perceived as undifferentiated ‘space’ becomes ‘place’ as it becomes more familiar to us by steady “accretion of sentiment” and experience (Tuan 1976:33) Later literature moves on from this and argues that place is not only shaped by people, but may also have normative moral force itself, shaping our epistemological framework and relationship with nature, other cultures, etc. (Preston 2000:175)
Despite this growing interest, however, there still remains an underrepresentation in academic literature in the examination of the relationship between place and ethics, specifically in the domains of environmental discourses. Conservation and sustainability rhetoric often ignore the nuances of place-based ethics, and promote universal ethical systems, promoting global visions of environmental moral norms. This homogenous vision has been labelled ecological colonialism by some critics, and has caused dissent in marginalized communities who are subject to a Western or Eurocentric vision of environmental protection (Dowie 2011:7) Further, many theorists shy away from place based ethics. Jacobs (1996:161), for example, claims that emphasizing place is a mere romanticizing, or ‘a form of imperial nostalgia, a desire for the “untouched Native.”’ Others have noted that the defense of place in ethical theory may lead to static and exclusionary modes of moral action, with Massey (1995:183:190) particularly concerned with the potentiality of ‘deeply essentialist and internalist’ modes of thought where the past ‘is seen in some sense to embody the real character of the place.’
The issue of place is of primary interest in the Irish environmental movement, which is often characterized by its localism and its envelopment in place. Garavan writes that the Irish environmental movement is perceived predominantly as ‘place-based,’ with this association often leading to negative connotations, affiliations with nationalist organizations, and accusations of NIMBYism, etc. (Garavan 2008:844) This paper encourages a defense and re-examination of the role of place in environmental discourse. From the vantage point of an Irish perspective, the paper firstly questions the distinction between space and place. It examines what it means for a movement to be “place-based,” and how the dichotomous framework of place and space and the related binary between local and global can be harmful when used in an essentialist manner. Secondly, drawing on the recent work of Christopher Preston, it analyses the connection between place and ethics. Analyzing both historical and contemporary analyses of this relationship, it argues that place has moral force and that the unique epistemological diversity afforded from a place based discourse can encourage diversity, heterogeneity, and provide a well needed expansion of the epistemological terrain of mainstream environmental discourse.
‘In the Woods, We Return to Reason and Faith’: AE, John Moriarty, and a Theosophical Ireland
In this paper, I am going to explore the ‘divine wisdom’ drawn from the natural world of Ireland through an understanding of the works of AE (George Russell) and John Moriarty, and in the process examine the strands of esotericism that run strongly through both works. AE, arguably the most important figure from the Irish Literary Renaissance, was above all a theosophist, and the ‘divine wisdom’ drawn from this esoteric philosophy sought to understand the mysteries of the universe and humanity through a direct observation and connection to the natural world. AE and the theosophers understood the Divine/Human/Nature trinity, or the ‘intradivine,’ as the synthesis of the intellectual and imaginative processes of the mind that merge through a direct connection to nature. AE was able to explore this intradivine state through his poetry, essays, and paintings. I will be drawing from all three in my paper.
Though AE’s influence on the other writers of the Literary Renaissance was profound (especially Yeats), I am going to make a stronger connection to the writing of John Moriarty and establish that Moriarty’s writings are essentially a ‘re-birth,’ in the twenty-first century, of AE’s philosophy through an examination of Dreamtime and Invoking Ireland, two works that seek to, like the writers of the Irish Renaissance, return to a Celtic past ground firmly and spiritually in nature. For both AE and Moriarty, it is a past firmly at odds with a present Ireland that has disconnected from this grounding in the natural world. This schism, like all separations from the natural world in other cultures, is indeed the starting point for the concerns of ecocriticism.
For Moriarty, the mythological peoples of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and The Fomorians personify the problems of separation from the spiritual connection to nature in Ireland. The Tuatha Dé Dannan were a highly enlightened people who ‘spent their time acquiring visionary insights and foresights and hindsights, acquiring the occult knowledge and the occult art of the wizard, the druid, the witch, these, together with all the magical arts, until, masters in everything concerning them, they had no equals in the world’ (Invoking Ireland 25). It was their ‘particular delight to be of one mind with the wind and rain’… ‘you could walk through the land and not know they were in it.’ By contrast, the Fomorians are out to exploit nature rather than be a part of it. They had features ‘hanging like seaweed when the tide is out, their tongues the colour and shape of cormorant tongues, the clamour of the ocean their talk’. Their arrival in Ireland saw ‘forests cut down, rivers rerouted, towers everywhere, it was soon clear it must come to a fight’ (28).
For ecocritical purposes, this contrast of world-views between the Tuatha Dé Dannan and The Fomorians is profound, albeit mythological. Moreover, it connects directly to the concerns illustrated by AE, and indeed, by all of the writers involved in the Irish Literary Renaissance, who expressed these concerns and their desire to return to a Celtic past and a veneration to nature over a century ago. Both authors, set one-hundred years apart, express the concerns that are front and centre for Irish ecocriticism today.
Wong Yeang Chui
Poetizing Conquest: Explicating the Natural Environment from Colonial Conquest in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene and A View of the Present State of Ireland
In Culture and Imperialism (1993), Edward Said famously noted that it is hard to ‘connect [Edmund Spenser’s] bloodthirsty plans for Ireland, where he imagined a British army virtually exterminating the native inhabitants, with his poetic achievement or with the history of British rule over Ireland’ (7). Spenser’s so-called bloodthirstiness is bound up with his only political treatise, A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596). Spenser’s endorsement of the extirpation of Irish natives has been described by some modern scholars as ‘genocide’. The attempt to reconcile Spenser’s A View and the pastoral motifs in his poems has long been a topic of interest among literary scholars and historians. There has been no satisfactory explanation to this subject, possibly because in studying Spenser’s works within the Irish context, critics have centred their discussions on colonial policies and plantations planning. A more productive approach in understanding the seemingly stark contrast between the writer’s political and poetic inclinations would be to examine the way in which he addresses the natural landscape and resources of Ireland in A View and Books VI and VII of the Faerie Queene (The Book of Courtesy and the Mutabilitie Cantos) (1598).
Spenser’s approach towards the Irish natives in A View is cruel and brutal, but his perceptions of the noble savage in the Faerie Queene, which can be read as an allegorical representation not unlike the ‘primitive’ Irish natives, is one far more flattering than the civilized courtier. In the Book of Courtesy, Spenser’s attitude towards the episode in which the Salvage Man rescues Calepine and Serena from Turpine further complicates the idea of the natural and intrinsic goodness of the savage man, whose values are shaped by nature and who recognizes what he must do without being taught to do it. The relationship between the noble savage and nature, and Calidore’s desire to be closer to nature (and away from court) calls Spenser’s ideas of the natural environment on native inhabitants into question. In fact, the Mutabilitie Cantos demonstrate the writer’s ambivalence of imperial expansion, highlighting the ‘civilized’ man’s desire to impose authority over nature (and that which is natural) alongside an uneasy attempt to confront man’s inevitable ‘fall’ from nature. In examining Spenser’s representations of nature in these works, my paper seeks to provide an alternative to Spenser’s colonial preoccupations beyond discussions of policy-making and colonial planning in Ireland, and focuses instead on the larger rhetorical mode that underscores the anxieties of imperial expansion. I suggest that A View and the last two books of the Faerie Queene do not contradict each other; they both explore and acknowledge the complexities of man’s ambivalence towards his power over nature and the limitations that accompany that power.
Imren Yelmis and Atreya Banerjee
Constructed ‘Otherness’ of Nature and its Inhabitants: (Re-)Reading Murphy’s Famine and Sircar’s Bhoma in Terms of Ecological Imperialism
In White Western European discourse, nature and the ones living close to the soil have generally been associated with being ‘savage, wild, primitive and backward’, while urbanity has been associated with ‘civilisation, advancement, superiority and culture.’ Nature, considered in relation to ecological imperialism, is regarded as ‘the Other,’ when it is thought by the ‘civilized’ human beings as a site of hegemonic control. Unless one ‘heal[s] the nature/culture split […] ending the war on the Other’ (Plumwood), however, both nature and human life have a bleak future. In the light of the said argument, this paper aims to comparatively analyse Tom Murphy’s Irish play, Famine and Badal Sircar’s Bangla play, Bhoma regarding nature’s exploitation as an instrument for power-relationship and greed, under the name of so-called ‘civilisation’ and ‘advancement’. Although Famine and Bhoma have totally different settings, culturally, temporally and spatially, both plays deal with the constructed Otherness of nature and the ones identified with it. Both question the greed, selfishness of the privileged city-dwellers, who ignore the poor agrarian societies’ needs. In this sense, both plays reflect the clash between nature and city, and are reflective of the universality of the sins committed against nature and the ones living close to it. This clash is presented by the split between the rural way of life of the Irish and the urban way of life of the British in Famine. The demonic urban is represented by the symbolic government building from which the British rule and consume rural Ireland and the Irish themselves as part of their colonial practices. The clash between nature and city in Bhoma is reflected by the conflict between the indigenous workers of the Sunderbansand the urban people of Bengal. In both the plays, due to their superiority complex and unending greed, the rich urbanites ignore the very fact that they harm not only nature but also its inhabitants, greatly. In Famine, the English landlords ignore the potato blight which caused the Great Famine, which resulted in mass deaths and emigration, with the hope of recovering from the effects of this ecological disaster. The landlords’ ignorance, in the end, upset the ecological balance of Ireland. Similarly, in Bhoma, the privileged urbanites are presented as if they are devouring the rural parts of Bengal, again under the name of civilisation. They are insensitive to the starvation and other life-threats that they cause to the indigenous people in these areas, and to the devastating effects that they bring upon nature, upon ‘Bhoma,’ who is a synecdoche for the indigenous folk, the villages and jungles. The recurring sentence, ‘The blood of man is cold,’ is reflective of the fact that there is no love or empathy for ‘“the Other’ Both the chosen plays authenticate that greed and the strong desire for power and control over the land and over the so-called ‘uncivilised,’ as a result, bring domination, oppression, suppression and destruction upon nature and all its ‘children’.