University of Vigo
by Muriel Domínguez Viso. 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.
Edited by Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez
Peter Lang: 2022. 254 pp.
From its inception, Ireland has been marked by the exclusion of certain groups both from society and from official conceptualizations of national identity. Starting with the State-sanctioned confinement of women to the home as a cornerstone in the legislation of the newly-founded Irish Free State, the history of marginalisation of certain communities in Ireland runs deep. Irish Travellers, not recognised as an indigenous ethnic minority group until 2017, are still subjected to abjection and segregation, and asylum seekers are excluded from participation in Irish society and contained within the Direct Provision system. Likewise, the LGBTIQ+ community could not live freely until the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, and still face many challenges to achieve equality to this day.
Seen in this context, the publication of The Cultural Politics of In/Difference: Irish Texts and Contexts (2022) is extremely pertinent. The editors of the volume, Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez, have assembled a collection of essays that examine these dynamics of exclusion, which they label as “intersecting categories of difference” (1) and explore how they operate within Irish society and are also interrogated in literary texts and other cultural forms. As the editors posit, the subjects that embody these categories of difference disrupt the “hegemonic discourses of the Irish nation” (1) and are thus put in a vulnerable position, exposed to the “violence of political, social and cultural exclusion and oppression” (1). As a cognate operating alongside “difference”, Rosende-Pérez and Jarazo-Álvarez develop the notion of “indifference”, which they describe as “a socio-political and also affective response that implies a dual sense of appraisal”, often implying a “lack of care and absence of responsiveness” towards those who are othered as different (2).
Drawing on affect theory, particularly Sara Ahmed’s notion of “cultural politics” as a form of “world-making” (2), the book considers the role of the cultural politics of in/difference in the making of an exclusive Irish “imagined community” but also seeks to show how the texts discussed have challenged these dynamics and “activate and/or engage with strategies of dissent and resistance” (3). Criticism of unequal social structures and the in/difference shown towards the subjects classed as Other comes from diverse angles throughout this interdisciplinary book, which covers issues and disciplines as varied as necropolitics, ecofeminism, citizenship, ageing and rural masculinities, and girlhood.
In the opening chapter of the volume, Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides tackles systemic crime and social disaffection in the Quirke Series, a set of crime novels written by John Banville under the pen name Benjamin Black. Informed by Sara Ahmed’s understanding of the mobility of affects, the author explains how these novels show crime as systemic against some of the most abject citizens in Ireland, and the role that social disaffection might play in perpetuating them.
The volume continues with Loic Wright’s examination of the biopolitics of rural masculinities in Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn (1948). Wright compellingly explains how the postcolonial government of the Irish Free State sought to redefine a uniquely Irish masculinity by means of “cultural inculcation and legislative reforms” (31), intending to reinforce a strict gender binarism in which women were ideally confined to the role of homemakers and marriage and the family were enshrined as cornerstones of this new Irish society (32). According to Wright, Tarry Flynn criticises this new regime and portrays a rural Ireland where misogyny was rampant and, likewise, he demonstrates how this “unyielding paradigm of manhood” finds its way through violent means of “oppression and subjugation” (46).
In the following chapter, Asier Altuna-García de Salazar also analyses the construction of masculinities, specifically in confluence with ageing, in Anne Griffin’s novel When All Is Said (2019). Borrowing from Jacques Derrida’s notions of hauntology, the author examines the inability of the 84-year-old protagonist, Maurice, to face life now that the social expectations placed upon him – those of a hegemonic masculinity – have been fulfilled. Altuna-García de Salazar’s chapter results in a refreshing insight into a topic that has not yet been widely addressed in Irish culture – a combined assessment of ageing and masculinity – informed by a deep knowledge of scholarly literature on both fields of research. Aida Díaz Bild’s contribution also engages with notions of masculinity and its relationship with illness in Roddy Doyle’s The Guts (2013), a novel she explores as representative of the author’s distinguishing use of comedy and humour to face hardship.
The two following chapters deal with girlhood and womanhood from different perspectives. The first, authored by Aida Rosende-Pérez and Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez, looks into the innovative representation of Irish girlhood in Eilís Ní Dhuibhne’s novel The Dancers Dancing (1998) and Lisa McGee’s TV series Derry Girls (2018-2022). These narratives move away from the usual connection (in Post-Celtic Tiger literature of teenage girls) with “crisis and trauma” (Cahill, 157) to depict instead “girls’ bodies and their uninhibited motion as a crucial site of feminist insurrection” (94). By allowing their protagonists to enjoy themselves, both works provide a crucial depiction that disengages female girlhood from a hegemonic narrative that commonly associates it with feelings of shame and guilt (104), thus offering an alternative paradigm for a “joyful insurrection” that employs the affect of joy for a feminist praxis.
Similarly, Ekaterina Mavlikeva analyses in her chapter the representation of girls and women in the play Mainstream (2016) by Traveller writer, activist and scholar Rosaleen McDonagh. Drawing upon critical race theory, feminism and disability studies, Mavlikeva interrogates the ways in which the “intersecting categories of difference” that transverse the institutionalised Traveller characters are negotiated and challenged in the play, using pride and a celebration of difference as a source of resistance and empowerment (114). Also concerned with the politics of in/difference, the following chapter, written by Marit Meinhold, provides an original assessment of how certain formal strategies from the Greek tragedy may serve in modern Irish adaptation to reveal “underlying tensions in society” (132).
Chapters 9 and 10 both engage with issues related to abjection and inward and outward migration. In Chapter 9, Belén Martín-Lucas draws attention to the functioning of Achille Mbembe’s concept of “necropolitics” in Emma Donoghue’s short story “Counting the Days” (2012), which narrates the story of two Irish migrants who flee to Canada during the Great Famine. Martín-Lucas exposes the “symbolic processes of abjection” towards undesirable migrant bodies (148) as she analyses the mechanisms of necropolitics which instrumentalise human existence under globalised capitalism (149), establishing an insightful parallelism with current times (165). Sara Martín-Ruiz moves to present-day Ireland and the necropolitics that regulate the exclusion of inward migrants, focusing on two texts by two immigrant women authors: Marsha Mehlan’s Rosewater and Soda Bread and Melate Okorie’s short story “Shackles”. Martín-Ruiz thoughtfully remarks upon what she calls “the State dichotomy between difference and indifference” (168), with which she refers to the exclusionary practices of State reproduction. As discussed in the chapter, whilst seeking to force child births by banning abortion through the 8th Amendment (1983), the State prevents any children born in Ireland from immigrants without Irish citizenship from receiving the citizenship themselves, as stated in the 27th Amendment (2004).
In the next chapter, Pilar Villar-Argáiz also produces a socially and politically aware critical analysis of contemporary Ireland. She focuses on the poetry of two consolidated authors and a new generation of spoken words performers, who, in the midst of a regressive turn to nostalgia and nationalist tendencies, rewrite the nation and provide a horizon for a “new democratic landscape” (211). On a different note, Manuela Palacios-González and María Xesús Nogueira-Pereira draw a comparison between Galician writer Luz Pichel and Irish writer Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s poetry. Informed by ecofeminism, ecocriticism and animal studies, Palacios-González and Nogueira-Pereira examine the violent othering of women and animals expressed in their works through animal tropes and motifs that expose the anthropocentric and patriarchal grounds behind this common oppression (230).
The volume closes with an interview of author Lisa McInerney, in which she discusses her work with the scholar Hedwig Schwall. The interview explores issues that remain extremely relevant to the common theme of the volume, such as the role of literature to dismantle individualism and the importance of the inclusion of working-class women’s voices in Irish fiction.
In sum, The Cultural Politics of In/Difference invokes the theme of in/difference to unify a compilation of otherwise disparate essays, which to different extents analyse forms of exclusion within Irish society. That being said, the wide range of issues covered provide a more complete view of how various categories of difference might intersect and operate in conjunction, and the focus on marginalised authors and topics, such as ageing masculinity, is refreshing and necessary. This volume would be of much use to any reader interested in affect theory, since it seems to be a common methodology in the essays, and to anyone interested in an interdisciplinary and socially and politically aware account of different forms of exclusion within Irish society.
This publication is part of the research funded by the Project INTRUTHS 2: Articulations of Individual and Communal Vulnerabilities in Contemporary Irish Writing PID2020-114776GB-I00 MCIN/AEI.
 For more on joyful insurrection as a feminist praxis see Libe García Zarranz.
Ahmed, Sara (2004 ). The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh University Press.
Cahill, Susan (2017). “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing?: Girlhood, Trauma, and Resistance in Post-Celtic Tiger Literature.” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, vol. 28, no. 2: 153-71.
García Zarranz, Libe (2016). “Joyful Insurrection as Feminist Methodology; or the Joys of Being a Feminist Killjoy.” 452ºF, 14: 16-25.