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Sebastian Barry Donatella Badin AISCLI Summer School 18 Sept 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Sebastian Barry Donatella Badin AISCLI Summer School 18 Sept 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sebastian Barry Donatella Badin AISCLI Summer School 18 Sept 2014

2 History and national myth in Irish lit. “Irish writers need to critically interrogate the hidden wounds of the nation’s past before they can move on and engage with the present” (Piatek 158). Desmond Taynor in “Fictionalizing Ireland“ “individual experience and perception” are devalued in much recent Irish fiction.” Critics expect that fiction should deal with “the state of the nation” to the exclusion of more personal matters. (125).

3 Barry: “against the grain.” Politically incorrect. Sui generis commemoration of great events of the past: repercussions of the dramatic events of the past on common lives. Favours “the pariahs and underdogs and untouchables of Irish society” as his heroes (Bruce Stewart 42). Against cultural ostracisms and the suppression from collective memory of those who were not in the mainstream For these reasons, he is “a writer who has been more than once aspersed for failing to participate whole-heartedly in the Irish nationalist project”( Bruce Stewart 50). In other words a revisionist.

4 6. Key moments of Irish decolonisation – Decolonisation as a revolutionary practice (see Fanon) – After Great Famine, Nineteenth cent. “Irish Problem”, Fenianism, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, terrorist attacks (Phoenix Park murders) – Home Rule campaign (1885- WWI) (Home Rule postponed till after the wa)r. – Irish volunteers participation in WWI – Dublin lock-out –. Pivotal moment: 1916 Easter Rising: Patrick Pearse,James Connolly, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera. Executions without trial of most leaders. – 1919 Sinn Fein (nationalist party) refuses British Home Rule proposla. Proclaims own Parliament in Dublin (Dail) Unilateral declaration of Independence. – 1920: GB proclaims two Irish governments: Dublin and Belfast – Anglo-Irish War ( ) : IRA fight against any form of the British government in Ireland. England sends support for Royal Irish Constabulary: Auxiliary Division (the ‘Auxis’) and the ‘Black and Tans’ – 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty – Split in IRA between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty factions. Civil War ( ) (free-staters vs Irregulars) – Pro-treaty party wins: Declaration Irish Free State – Free State - 6 counties) :. – 1937 Referendum :Formal peroclamation of independent Republic of Ireland (Eire)

5 5. Sebastian Barry Born in Dublin (1955) Mother, actress Joan O’Hara. His topic: The sagas of two fictional families, the Dunnes from Dublin and the Mc Nulties from Sligo, loosely inspired by his own family stories (Dunnes: maternal family)

6 5. Sebastian Barry’s Works Playwright: – Boss Grady's Boys (1988) – Prayers of Sherkin (1990) – The Steward of Christendom ( 1995) (about great-grandfather chief supreintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police) – Hinterland (2002) – Andersen’s English ( 2010 ).Novelist Historical novels of sorts fully set in the past – A Long Long Way (2005) – The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998) Presence of the past in contemporary Ireland – Annie Dunne (2002), – The Secret Scripture (2008) (Roseanne Clere). – On Canaan’s Side(2011)( Lily Bere)

7 “Innocents” The only fault that weighs on his protagonists’ shoulders is that of being an uncritical part of the old establishment trying to do the right thing in a spirit of humanism rather than in the pursuit of an ideology or religious belief. Dr. Grene: “The world is not full of betrayers, it is full of people with decent motives and a full desire to do right by those who know them and love them. This is a little-known truth, but I think it is a truth nonetheless. Empirically, from all the years of my work, I would attest to that. I know it is a miraculous conclusion, but there it is. We like to make strangers of everyone. We are not wolves, but lambs astonished in the margins of the fields by sunlight and summer” (Scripture 186).

8 7. Revisonism in Ireland “Over the last three decades in Ireland, a vigorous, and at times vicious, historiographical debate has proceeded alongside the Northern Troubles.[…] The pressure on the past to explain and justify the present intensified the historiographical debate” (Kevin Whelan) F.S.L. Lyons, wrote: ‘The theories of revolution, the theories of nationality, the theories of history which have brought Ireland to its present pass cry out for re- examination.’ Lliberation from nationalist mythology” “Cleansing the historical record of its mythological clutter” cutting down to size nationalist heroes and movements. (Nancy Curtin). “A mental war of liberation from servitude to the myth of nationalist history” T. W. (Moody). “Revisionists” (say anti-revisionists) “are thoroughly committed to what is essentially a political project, the destruction of Irish nationalism and the neutralising of any critical attitude to British rule in Ireland. Desmond Fennell’s definition of revisionism: ‘A retelling of Irish history which seeks to show that British rule of Ireland was not, as we have believed, a bad thing, but a mixture of necessity, good intentions and bungling; and that Irish resistance to it was not, as we have believed, a good thing, but a mixture of wrong-headed idealism and unnecessary, often cruel violence.’

9 History, “the propaganda of the victor” “One ‘fictions’ history on the basis of a political reality that makes it true,” says Foucault (Power/Knowledge 193) Historical narratives centralize the self and peripheralize the other in accordance with the ideology ruling at the time the official history of a country is crystallized.

10 9. Is Barry a Revisionist? Yes! Decland Kiberd attacks him and “that herd of independent minds which believes that it is a holy and wholesome thing to dismantle the narrative of nationalism” (review of Annie Dunne, in The Irish Times (18 May 2002) [Weekend], p.10). Terry Eagleton, although admiring his works, sees them as an example of an Ireland "desperate to bury its revolutionary history”.

11 9. Is Barry a Revisionist? No! “Barry’s reclamation of minority figures in the Irish historical landscape […] could be described perhaps more accurately in [a post-Catholic liberal view of the world] than as a revisionist historical undertaking” (Mahony 98) Barry has chosen to scrutinise the less travelled byways of history and “to give a voice to their buffeted, battered but nonetheless enduring victims.” (Guardian) Sean O’Hagan in The Observer, “Barry writes against the absolute certainties of Irish history” (O’Hagan 2008) Fintan O’ Toole that he “challenges the classic narrative” and provides “a very useful corrective to monolithic ideals that have existed in Ireland” (The Guardian 2008). Commemorating those “people in the past who are not spoken about because the truth about them cannot be admitted to […] A silence grew up around them. So we have a censored past, censored individuals, and a country whose history is erased.” (Fintan O’Toole, The Guardian)

12 8. Barry on his practice “There were people in the past who are not spoken about because the truth about them cannot be admitted to […] A silence grew up around them. So we have a censored past, censored individuals, and a country whose history is erased.” Interview: "the way we think about ourselves in Ireland means there is no longer a necessity for those secrets. We can now marvel at them. It's as if the signal has been given that we can drop the purely nationalistic, DeValera history.” “[In our society] a game is played with our history and our society, of cops and robbers, goodies and baddies. But there is no such thing.” (S. Barry Preface Plays I).

13 Barry’s “localized narratives” “It’s as if these hidden people sometimes demand that their stories are told,” Barry to Nicholas Wroe (The Guardian 11 October 2008). They, too, “reflect the fractures and losses of Irish experience” ( Roy Foster 183).

14 Barry’s idea of history. Barry’s “localized" narratives, are akin to the work of historians. School of Annales the Italian school of “microhistory” – (Quaderni storici, founded by Carlo Ginsburg and Giovanni Levi (L’eredità immateriale, – Ginsburg Il formaggio e i vermi, 1976 Jean-François Lyotard’s theorizing about his 'petits récits', little narratives about isolated individuals − the only tenable way to contrast the great constructs of history, the master narratives (The Postmodern Condition (xxv). Foucault: Writing historically about the people forgotten by history, ( Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), Discipline and Punish (1975) and The History of Sexuality (3 Vols ).)

15 Posmodernism in Barry Central tenets of postmodernism: the synchronicity of past and present the concept of the fictionality of history: Foucault “I am well aware that I have never written anything but fictions. I do not mean to say, however, that truth is therefore absent. It seems to me that the possibility exists for fiction to function in truth.” (Foucault, Knowledge/Power 193).

16 History is discourse, fiction. Fictionality and the unreliability of history and its lack of objectivity due both to ideological bias and to the multiplicity of versions that converge in it. “History, as far as I can see, is not the arrangement of what happens but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth.” (Barry Scripture 56) History a fictive reality as literature, being essentially “discourse.” Unreliability: elderly narrators. A "multiplicity of standpoints”: structure of Scripture A narrative “concerned more with the individual than with the event” – Nietzsche – Hayden White

17 The Presence of the Past Roseanne Cleare: “I am old enough to know that time passing is just a trick, a convenience. Everything is always there, still unfolding, still happening. The past, the present, and the future, in the nogging eternally, like brushes, combs and ribbons in a handbag” (Barry, Scripture 210). Lily Bere: “there is nothing called long-ago after all. When things are summoned up, it is all present time, pure and simple” (Barry, Canaan 217)

18 Metahistory Barry espouses the postmodernist belief that history can be neither objective nor truly scientific but that it pertains rather to the realm of imaginative narration. “ Memory […] if it is neglected becomes like a box room or a lumber room in an old house, the contents jumbled about, maybe not only from neglect but also from too much haphazard searching in them, and things to boot thrown in that don’t belong there. […] It makes me a little dizzy to contemplate the possibility that everything I remember may not be – may not be real. There was so much turmoil at that time that – that what? I took refuge in other impossible histories, in dreams, in fantasies? I don’t know” (Barry, Scripture ) National history, like Roseanne story, is conposed of many different and conflicting versions.“There is no one writable ‘truth’ about history and experience, only a series of versions: it always comes to us ‘stencillized’”(Tanner 172). “History, as far as I can see, is not the arrangement of what happens,” writes Barry, “but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth.” Fallible narrators (failing memory or bad faith )

19 Unreliability When I first was told this story as a child […] I misunderstood and thought my father had done something heroic. I added in my imagination a white horse, upon which he rode with ceremonial sword drawn. I saw him rush forward like in a proper cavalry charge. I gasped at his chivalry and courage. It was only years later I understood that he had advanced on foot, and that three of the working men had been killed (Barry, Canaan 6).

20 Conclusion In the eyes of a foreign reader, not as touchy as the Irish regarding their national myths, the significance of Barry’s novels lies not in what is revealed and what is disregarded about the past, nor about his sympathies, but in the sense of history that emerges from them and in the healing power of the rhetoric of memory especially in dealing with national traumas and their influences on personal lives.

21 A different sort commemoration “To remember sometimes is a great sorrow, but when the remembering has been done, there comes afterwards a very curious peacefulness. Because you have planted your flag on the summit of the sorrow. You have climbed it” (Barry, Canaan 217)


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