University of Huelva, Spain
by Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 68 (2014). Special Issue “Other Irelands: Revisited, Reinvented, Rewritten”
Juan Ignacio Oliva, guest editor.
La Laguna: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de La Laguna.
The many changes that Ireland has experienced in the multilayered forms of its cultural order constantly trigger works and studies that tackle the process by which the island is facing its past, negotiating its present and constructing its future. Among the broad spectrum of disciplines in the humanities, scholarly projects continue to emerge in an attempt to explore how the normative artifacts that constrained definitions of Irishness can be significantly dismantled, also revealing the many prospects of the deconstruction of those traditional tenets. Volume 68 of Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses contributes to such mission in a compelling and enriching way, as it gathers together a number of essays on the broad topic of “Other Irelands: Revisited, Reinvented, Rewritten”. Indeed, the guiding principle of the collection seems to be the divergence from accepted views and limiting categories that Irish cultural products have put forward throughout history. As the guest editor, Juan Ignacio Oliva, remarks in the introduction, “(M)other Ireland is viewed here as a country of heterodoxy and a rich mosaic for diaspora, reversion, remodeling, and why not, canonical dissent” (9). The volume contains articles by fourteen specialists on Irish studies from Spanish universities and other European institutions, and it spans a number of centuries, disciplines and literary genres. At first sight, such varied approaches to the core theme may seem overwhelming; yet, as the reading advances, it is quite evident that not only have the pieces been correctly arranged, but also they fit together perfectly, with intersecting contents that make real sense. Besides, one of the most significant marks of the collection rests in the fact that it offers updated views on the key issue of rearticulating Ireland, a project that is always welcome, mostly in the Spanish context in which it is published. In fact, several articles address the connection between the two countries, and the varied cultural exchanges that are brought with it.
In the article that inaugurates “Other Irelands”, Leif Søndergaard describes details of some travel accounts about St Brendan’s voyages collected in several medieval manuscripts. He claims that, unlike common belief, the saint travelled from Ireland towards the west, not only for the obvious geographical location of the island but also considering his description of his final destination as a “fake Paradise”. Similarly, Enrique Galván provides an interesting insight into the appropriation of the mythical insularity portrayed in St Brendan’s travels for the articulation of Canary Islands nationalism, indicating that the Irish saint’s views helped to project counter images of national identity. The Ireland-Spain interface is also the concern of Ute Mittermaier’s work, which concentrates on the autobiographical novel Balcony of Europe by Aidan Higgins. As suggested in the article, submerged in the Irish author’s descriptions of Spanish life in the 1970s are an alienation from his native country and the identification Spain as “anOther Ireland”. Then, Margaret Brehony offers an uncommon vision of Ireland as she explores how the Irish migrant community that worked in Cuba on a railroad construction in the early decades of the nineteenth century made a significant contribution to the labour relations and the workers’ protests against military rule in the Spanish colony at that time. Also focused on nineteenth-century events is Marta Ramon’s article, where she analyses the tangibility of the new Ireland defended by James Fintan Lalor in the 1840s, that would be quite at odds, she contends, with Benedict Anderson’s theory of “imagined communities”. In the following work, the exploration of nationalist identity continues, with Alfred Markey’s analysis of the figure of Sean O’Faolain. Markey provides a non-canonical perspective of the anticolonial positions of the Irish writer, as evidenced in his autobiography Vive Moi. In the same vein, Juan F. Elices offers a refreshing vision of Ireland by means of his analysis of Peter Dickinson’s The Green Gene, a text that employs dystopian tropes to challenge the bases of the racial stereotyping that, in imperialist ideology, identified Ireland as “the Other”.
Turning to more contemporary re-visions of Ireland, the next two articles address the heterodoxy of Irish identity from the perspective of the performative and visual arts. In the case of Jochen Achilles, his work examines the modes of liminal subjectivity that can be found in Martin MacDonagh’s play The Cripple of Inishmaan and, briefly touches upon Marie Jones’s Stones in His Pockets. For Achilles, both texts contain an existential dimension that reveals the multiple possibilities of the negotiation between Irish realities and their representation. A similar point is made by Rosa González, whose article gives a detailed overview of the traditional Irish clichés that have permeated recent films set on the island, in an attempt to criticise their essentialist basis and denounce the intercultural encounters that they have thwarted.
The last five articles in the volume examine the notion of an alternative Ireland as represented in poetic and narrative texts. Katharina Walter delves into the revisionist projects that contemporary Irish women poets like Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Rita Ann Higgins and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill have been engaged in when contesting the maternal allegories of Irish nationalism in their poetry. Then, with Pilar Villar and Burcu Gülüm’s article the reading shifts to a more recent picture of Ireland and also to the analysis of short fiction. The authors explore two stories by Roddy Doyle where, they argue, the multicultural reality of present-day Ireland and the many tensions that it entails are depicted in an unorthodox manner, that is, from the usually conflicting viewpoints of the local Irish and the incoming migrants. In the next article, Marisol Morales approaches the notion of revision in light of Colm Tóibín’s articulation of a non-traditional iconography of the Irish female emigrant in his novel Brooklyn. In Morales’s sharp judgement, the text demystifies the codes of diasporic subjectivity that impinged on Irish women who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s, highlighting instead their possibilities of reinvention and their fulfillment of a hybrid identity. Afterwards, Juan Ignacio Oliva’s article, focused on Jamie O’Neill’s novels Disturbance, Kilbrack and At Swim, Two Boys, studies the intersections of nationalism, independence and masculinity that O’Neill, in line with writers like Oscar Wilde, renders in his texts. For Oliva, the political emancipation of the country and the sexual liberation of the male protagonists overlap, demonstrating that a non-conforming and heroic reading of Irish history is possible. And finally, Asier Altuna plays with the symbolical phrase “Mother Ireland” to demonstrate that in her two collections of short stories – Antartica and Walking the Blue Fields – Claire Keegan revisits many of the elements of the canonical Irish female imagery that were assessed by Edna O’Brien in her famous memoir Mother Ireland. In Altuna’s view, the nostalgic discourse that O’Brien used to claim for a rearticulation of femininity in Ireland is challenged by Keegan as she proposes a more centralized affirmation of female identity that would turn the island into “(M)other Ireland”.
Taken together, the articles in the 68th issue of Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses contribute significantly to the multifocal debates about how Ireland and Irishness have been represented in literary productions, historical accounts and cultural manifestations. To a large extent, authors succeed in offering thought-provoking explorations of the nonconforming character of such representations. The volume constitutes a plural perspective of a fascinating subject that is thoroughly assessed in most of the articles, which in turn, are extremely readable, solid and provide remarkable discussions. Thus, collectively and individually, the critical pieces that are gathered in “Other Irelands” shed new light on the alternative imaginary that surfaced over the course of Irish history, and it is more than likely that, given their academic quality and critical grip, they will usher in further discussions on this engaging topic within the field of Irish studies, both nationally and internationally.