The Current Debate About the Irish Literary Canon: Essays Reassessing The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing

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This collection of essays examines Ireland’s literary canon in light of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing and Irish identity at the turn of the century, contextualizing its readings within the understanding that The Field Day Anthology has crystallized discussions of literary value, canonicity, political agency and Irish identity because of its agenda and the ensuing controversy surrounding its publication. Yet, while The Field Day Anthology constitutes the occasion for writing, the collection also moves beyond it to suggest new models for reading and evaluating Irish literature and identity in the new century. The essays in the collection examine the canonical status of writers such as Joyce, Yeats and Beckett; how postcolonial theory and criticism have reshaped the boundaries of Irish studies; and how women’s writing has challenged canonicity as a concept.


“ … This book examines Irish writing in the light of The Field Day project, both commenting on Field Day from a distance as well as bringing other theoretical matrices to bear on different Irish writers and on different aspects of Irish writing, and on issues of canonicity ... Structurally, the book achieves this through three broad themes. Firstly the book examines issues of canonicity with regard to the experiences of Field Day, in terms of aesthetics, ideology and theory. Then, there are specific readings of de facto canonical figures – Yeats, Joyce, O’Casey and Beckett – from new theoretical perspectives which will shed new light on them. The final section looks at new additions to the canon of Irish studies, itself an ongoing process of supplementarit. This work explores how new critical approaches to canonical and non-canonical writers might help us to re-evaluate how a writer becomes canonized as well as how these choices affect Irish identity beyond literary circles. As such, the book participates in the ongoing cultural conversation about Irishness in a time where that particular signifier is very much overstretched in terms of contested signifieds. It is a valuable addition to this debate and its success, or failure, like that of its namesake, will depend on whether it is in turn part of a supplementary process in the future ...”– (from the Preface) Professor Eugene O’Brien, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick

“The Field Day ‘project’ is unquestionably the most significant cultural phenomenon to have occurred in Ireland since the Irish literary revival of the late nineteenth century, and this book, with its serious and comprehensive analyses of many aspects of the controversial Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, is a superb contribution to our understanding of its pervasive influence on Irish letters some fifteen years after its initial publication … These twelve readable and authoritative essays fulfill the book’s aim of examining ‘how new critical approaches to canonical and non-canonical writers might help us to re-evaluate how a writer becomes canonized as well as how these choices affect Irish identity beyond literary circles.’” – Professor John Greene, University of Louisiana-Lafayette

“ ... Throughout this collection, the reader finds arguments that steer clear of the well-worn. The concerns over the Irish canon brought forth here are largely new. And even when these essays tread seemingly familiar ground, these discussions raise compelling new questions. Given the divergences of opinion included here, readers may not necessarily find all arguments to their liking and given the ground broken here, these readers may wish for continuations of some of the discussions begun in this volume; nevertheless, this collection offers challenging questions about both Field Day and the Irish canon throughout.” – Professor Jude R. Meche, Missouri Southern State University

Table of Contents

Preface by Eugene O’Brien
Field Day, Canonicity and the Politics of Reading
1. Morning Yet on Field Day? Ireland, Field Day and Postcolonialism – Eóin Flannery
2. Political Fantasies: Irish Writing and the Problems of Reading Strategies – Neil Murphy
3. Literally Loose Cannon or Loosening the Literary Canon – Rebecca Pelan

Re-Reading the Canon
4. Recharging the Canon: Towards a Literary Redefinition of Irishness – Eugene O’Brien
5. ‘An Imagined Music’: Yeats, Music and the Irish Tradition – Adrian Paterson
6. Thomas Mac Donagh as Literary Theorist: Song-Verse and Speech-Verse – Michael Booth
7. ‘If I go on long enough calling that my life I’ll end up believing it’: Samuel Beckett and Contemporary Irish Memoir – Christopher Malone

New Canonical Readings
8. The Field Day Anthology and the Impossibility of Roger Casement – James Moran
9. Integrating Women’s Writing into the Canon: Women Poets of Young Ireland - Katherine Parr
10. Any Irish in You? The Crises of Irishness in Contemporary Irish Drama – Frank Manista
11. Between the Canons: John Banville’s Reception in National and International Contexts – Ingo Berensmeyer
12. The Geography of the Body: Borders in Edna O’Brien’s Down by the River and Colum McCann’s “Sisters” – Miriam Mara

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