Seamus Deane: Commentary


Sean Lucy
Declan Kiberd
Enda Longley
W. J. McCormack
Terry Eagleton
Damian Smyth
Julia O’Faolain
R. F. Foster
Elizabeth Doyle
Géaroid Denvir
Gerald Dawe
Carol Rumens
Prionsias Ó Drisceoil
Mary Trotter
Taura Napier
Mary Gray Davidson
Michael McAteer
Conor McCarthy
Eileen Battersby
Elmer Kennedy-Andrews
Eric Bulson
Gregory Castle
Kersti Tarien Powell
J. W. Foster

Sean Lucy, ‘A Stronger, Sadder Voice’ in Crane Bag, 1, 2 (1977), rep. Crane Bag Book (1982), pp.148-50, begins by referring to previous commentary on Gradual Wars by himself in 1972, and comments on aestheticism of first collection, comparing Rumours, the new collection: ‘the voice … is recognisably that of the same poet but it is stronger and more human. The humanity seems to be deliberately sought … distances are now threats as they divide him from his father and his own son.’ (op. cit., 148).

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Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984). Commenting on the idea that the literary revival can be seen less as ‘an explosion of verbal colour’ than a ‘dignified assertion of a people’s right to be colourless’, adds, ‘To give this thesis the extended consideration it deserves would be to risk dismantling one of the most potent myths in the history of Anglo-American criticism of Irish writing’, and points in a footnote to further comments in Deane’s pamphlet Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [No. 4], 1984; Kiberd, ftn. 16; p.20); note that Kiberd takes Deane mildly to task for his account of Synge as an outsider who merely catches on to the garments of the native culture (Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.186); and also for his characterisation of the rioters as the advanced guard of the revolution (ibid., pp.174-76).

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Edna Longley [1], ‘Poetry and Politics in Northern Ireland, in The Crane Bag, 9, 1 (1985), pp.26-40; rep. as Do., in Poetry in the Wars (Bloodaxe 1986), pp.185-210, quotes Deane, ‘The Longing for Modernity’ [editorial], in Threshold (Winter 1982): ‘An equally polemical account of modernism and its triumph in the century of almost unbroken disasters […] global war, threat of holocaust, concentration camps, wastelands, alienation, cancer, bureaucracy, mock-religious cults, crime waves, propaganda, the creation of plenty by the starvation of millions - and so on. Rationality, it apart, needs no encouragement to compete with atavism in the production of misery.’ (Ibid., p.4.). Longley remarks: ‘Polemical indeed! Did rationality or atavism, in its nationalist guise, set up the concentration camps? Rationalised atavism, perhaps. Deane’s own atavised rationalism betrays more clearly than usual the strains of reconciling Derry with Derrida.’ (p.31.)

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Edna Longley [2], The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, Introduction: Revising “Irish Literature”’, pp.10-68, espec. ‘Field Day and the Canon’, pp.22-44: ‘Deane’s criticism frequently travels in a loop whereby he first seeks to disprove “such a thing as an Irish national character or an Irish fate or an Irish destiny”, but then reverts to Nationalist language: “it is indeed true that we have in this island, over a very long time, produced a literature or a form of writing which is unique to us ” [her italics]. Deane’s other loop, or contrary gyre, is to resist the “promiscuous embrace of pluralism”, even while scorning “words like ‘tradition’, identity’ .. and their sticky swarm of relatives”. “Destiny” and “promiscuity” seem to be the horns of binary dilemma: the former make you (or Ireland a character in somebody else’s fiction; the latter may deprive you of any character at all.’ (p.25.) Further, ‘[H]ere Deane nails his colours, his authority as General Editor, and “Irish writing” to the Fianna Fáil mast - or, at least, to its Republican grain [but] does not document’s Lemass’s reforms of the late 1950s, which, in steering the Republic away from economic protectionism, betokened the end of cultural protectionism too, and laid the fuse for controversies - abort, divorce - now blazing in the political foreground.’ (p.33.) ‘Common to Friel’s drama and the critical writings of Seamus Deane is a powerful sense of Palestinian dispossession. […]. When speaking of Ireland’s literary and political traditions, Deane repeatedly uses the terms “crisis” and “discontinuity”. These conditions he generalises to cover the total past and this total island now. But his perceptions cannot be divorced from the recent history of Derry with its lost hinterland. (The other side of this coinage is the now-displaced Derry Protestant.) The same affiliation may show itself in Deane’s intellectual resistance to the ‘mystique of Irishness’ concocted by Yeats on the one hand, Corkery on the other. Perhaps his otherwise rather extreme (and contradictory) desire for ‘new writing, new politics, unblemished by Irishness, but securely Irish’ (Heroic Styles ) reflects, and aspires to redress, the exclusion of Northern Nationalists from the self-images and cultural definitions that became operational in the new state. Certainly, critics associated with Field Day approach the Irish Literary Revival both as a colonial manifestation and as a present hegemony, not a receding phase in literary history. They question the Revival’s cultural power as revisionists question the political power of 1916. Today, the Cork historian and senator John A. Murphy has a knack of annoying Northern Nationalists.’

Edna Longley [3], ‘Rewriting Ireland’, review of Joep Leerssen, Remembrance and Imagination: Patterns in the History and Literary representation of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (Cork: Cork Up 1997) [recte 1996], 321pp., and Strange Country, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal (Winter 1997/Spring 1998), pp.135ff, quotes Deane: ‘Soil is what land becomes when it is constructed as a natal sources’, but not quoting any comments more like his own; also, ‘there is, however, a tenacious commentary on Dracula, a text for modish postmodernists if ever there was one, which succeeds for once in being properly unfashionable about the novel.’ (Bullán, p.136); the review identifies Deane with Joep Leerssen - dubbed liberal and radical respectively - in its tendency to regard the national character’ as a ‘discursive construct’ only: ‘Indeed, here he and Leerssen would no doubt be entirely at one. But this is surely quite mistaken, however unfashionable it may be to say so … there is no reason to be intimidated by the bugbear of “essentialism”, let alone of racism’ (p.137); ends by calling it ‘his richest book so far’, comparing its combination of scholarship and its share of incisive textual criticism with Leerssen and Edna Longley (less of each than one or other much more of both than either).

Edna Longley [4], ‘Autobiography as History’, review of Reading in the Dark in Fortnight Review (Nov. 1996), p.34 [fullpage]; reflects on the common conflation of personal history with a narrative of Ireland in Irish autobiographers; cites phrases of this tendency, ‘radical privation’; ‘the sense of a missing feature or energy’ ‘this missing agency [for which] nothing can compensate’; ‘a utopia inverted and perverted’; ‘the local drags, in its retarding fashion, on the aspiration to transcend it’; comments that ‘despite fine passages of close observation, Deane often allow melodrama and a kind of Celtic melancholia to interbreed’; ‘this book powerfully represents the condition - and conditioning - of Catholic Derry during the years that incubated the Troubles…. Deane’s Derry world is as introverted and fatalistic as MacLaverty’s Belfast. And it is sometimes doubtful whether the author establishes a horizon beyond the narrator’s predicament - a horizon of geography or history or philosophy or expectation. Even the humour remains grim…. His “missing feature or energy” may ultimately have less to do with Derry or Ireland than with the neurosis that nourishes all creative spirits; ends by summoning comparison with fellow-pupil at St. Columbs’, Seamus Heaney, considering that in Deane ‘the local drags’ while the latter overstresses the ‘aspiration to transcend it’.

Edna Longley [5], ‘Postcolonial versus European (and post-Ukanian Frameworks for Irish Literature’, Irish Review, 25 (1999/2000), p.76.), incls. strictures: ‘In Strange Country (1997), for example, Deane equates “British colonialism in Ireland and in India” (p.2.), And rebukes Maria Edgeworth for believing that “Ireland was backward, unenlightened, poor, ill-led, even Romantic, not because it was a colonial culture, but because it was Ireland.” He terms her fiction “not an analysis but a symptom of the colonial problem the country represented.’ (Deane, pp.32-33; Longley, p.77.)

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W. J. McCormack, ‘Terence Brown and the Historians’, in The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput 1986), pp.40-47, quoting from Deane’s review of Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind (1983), in Irish Literary Supplement (Spring 1986): I find myself asking if MacDonagh is saying, this is how the facts have been (mis)represented and this is what the case really was and here is the reason for the kinds of (mis)representation we have - that being, primarily the colonial mentality which is itself the product of the Anglo-Irish relationship? Can the report of any event be coincident with the event itself? Or is there an event itself? Historians rightly fear such nominalism; if accepted, it would make them mere writers, not scientists.’ (p.39). McCormack comments, ‘Not surprisingly, Deane concludes by hailing MacDonagh [44] “the historian as artist” who has “given us all a lesson in how to read”. Deane’s apparent willingness to step aside and admire the passing display of history […] comes as an abrupt acceleration of a tacit retreat from earlier ambitions. Like some suddenly cautious Whig of old, he finds in States of Mind the occasion to declare that “somewhere along the line, interpretation has to run up against the ultimate; the labyrinth always has a centre, as well as a way in which is also a way out’ (ibid.). This linguistic crane-baggage is untypically impenetrable in Deane, and the review is brief as - lamentably - all of Deane’s writings are. Yet it is evident of the potent exchanges between the self-correcting work of the historians and the self-restricting inquiries of the critics. (pp.44-45); see further remarks in ‘having a Field Day’, especially regarding ‘Deane’s first pamphlet, where a denunciation of civilised law as self-authorising force leaves itself open to the interpretation that it virtually sanctions the bomber outside the law. (This is one of the vulnerably ambiguous positions from which Deane’s more recent wrings may be regarded as a defensive regrouping.’) (ibid. p.56).

Terry Eagleton, review of Reading in the Dark, in New Statesman (30 Aug. 1996): ‘A colonial culture is a culture of secrecy. Seamus Deane’s superb first novel is set in the Derry Bogside of the 1940s and 1950s, is all about who knows what in a place awash with rumours, hauntings, metamorphoses, and misinformation. people and things materialise and evaporate mysteriously change shape or else cocoon themselves and others in ever thicker layers of deception.’

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Damian Smyth, ‘Totalising Imperative’, Fortnight 309, Sept. 1992 ‘The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, published last year, appears as the most arrogant and challenging example of such a neo-Romantics totalising vision to be produced in Europe. There is a fundamental absurdity to the project: in spite of the language of “discontinuity” and “rupture” displayed as fashion accessories in the critical framing, there seems to be something primordially continuous about “Ireland” and “being Irish” over a 1500-year period.’ (Quoted in Stephanie Bachorz, ‘Postcolonial Theory and Ireland: Revising Postcolonialism’, Aaron Kelly & Alan Gillis, eds., Critical Ireland: New Essays in Literature and Culture, Four Courts Press 2001, p.9.)

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Julia O’Faolain, ‘The boy who wanted to know’ (Times Literary Supplement, 27 Sept. 1996), emphasises the strangled emotional life of the family; the father who ‘would have loved to have been educated’; the clerical sadism of the period; the boys ‘running their gauntlet’ between corps of bullying authorities in ‘black uniforms’; the protagonist’s use of the bishop to loosen Sergeant Burke’s grip on him; use of ghosts and fairy-lore; a gypsy boy riding his horse bareback out of an almost lost past; a resolution that would ‘probably work better in a poem’, using the mother’s mind “haunted” by old obsessions and now the thought of her newly dead husband; ‘There are … beautifully told passages in this intelligent book. Its realism is impeccable, but our collusion with the story is interrupted a little too often by authorial nudges, inviting us to savour yet another artful effect.’ (p.22.)

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R. F. Foster, review of Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing since 1790, in The Times (24 April 1997): ‘Seamus Deane’s novel Reading in the Dark, luminous, elliptical, with an ingeniously episodic narrative introduced him to a wide readership; his new book, based on his 1996 Clarendon lectures at Oxford, epitomises the kind of work by which he was previously known. Probably the most influential Irish literary critic of his generation, he has brought a ferociously engaged attention to bear on Irish literary history: besides a series of literary-historical studies, there is the massive The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, produced under his editorship and including some of his most incisive grapplings yet with Irish literature and what makes it or makes it up. Strange Country might be seen as a continuation of this dialogue, and a commentary on the state of Irish literary-historical criticism./The subject of Irish literature in English from the late 18th century might be made for Deane’s kind of intelligence tightly knotted, dense, ingenious. It requires facing up to a tangled inheritance, where narrative inventiveness is employed to negotiate colonial and linguistic intersections and certain mannerisms and assumptions recur again and again, often in concealed forms. The themes which preoccupy Strange Country include unreality, altereity, stasis, invention and reinvention; the mechanisms include exaggeration, typification and resolution by means of collusive cliché. Others have visited this territory before (notably Declan Kiberd, David Lloyd, W. J. McCormack); Deane’s contribution is to choose unexpected exemplars and to weave his themes back and forth across the four long chapters. / He begins with Edmund Burke (on whom he has always written brilliantly), interpreting his Reflections as part of the new genre of travel writing; this constructs the image of Ireland as a Strange Country at war with modernity and in need of the imposed interpretations of ‘civil’ literature; the theme is pursued through the idea of ‘national character’ as epitomised in the work of certain Irish writers (Maria Edgeworth) and by the lives of others (the poète maudit James Clarence Mangan). The translations of James Hardiman in Irish Minstrelsy are similarly employed, as is the fiction of Bram Stoker (a writer who, like Elizabeth Bowen, has been seen more and more clearly as writing in or against an Irish tradition). Irish Gothic is broadened out from the beleaguered Protestant Big House into a distinctively Irish-Catholic tradition, though Mangan’s themes as described here (doom, criminality, dream-sequences, father-figures, isolating illness, Promethean ambitions and the refusal of conventional religious consolation) would equally apply to Mary Shelley or William Beckford.’ [Cont.]

R. F. Foster (review of Strange Country, 1997) - cont.: ‘Unexpected conjunctions are posited with great verve: Standish O’Grady is played against John Mitchel (Carlyleans both, after all) and Mangan against Tom Moore. Discussion of the idea (and ideology) of ‘national character’ clears a logical if unexpected path to Yeats, Synge and ‘Celticism’. All nearly ends in Joyce, though he too is treated to an illuminating conflation, with Flann O’Brien. “The vocation of ‘non serviam’ of Stephen Dedalus had been replaced by the obedient functionary’s job in the Civil Service. The fake nation, with its inflated rhetoric of origin and authenticity, had given way to the fake state, with its deflated rhetoric of bureaucratic dinginess. In the passage from the fantasy of one to the realism of the other, the entity called Ireland had somehow failed to appear.” / The strength of the treatment lies in its historicising bent, and the developing theme of the failure of the Union between Britain and Ireland crystallised for Deane not so much by the rise of Parnellite nationalism as by the catastrophe of the Famine. / In this he follows Parnell’s predecessor Isaac Butt, and he makes good use of Butt’s reflection that Irish matters such as land tenure would never be understood by the English as long as they used irrelevant English terms for different Irish realities. / Deane ends with a consideration of the language of historians specifically those of a soi-disant ‘revisionist’ bent in the 1960s, like T. W. Moody and F. S. L. Lyons who, he believes, in considering themselves practitioners of an ‘impartial’ art implicated themselves in the very process which they thought they were analysing. But the point is, surely, that this was a generation ago. The idea that to ‘revise’ Irish history was to be ipso facto anti-nationalist no longer seems relevant; Irish historians are building literary and cultural analysis into their work, while Irish literary critics are using historical insights to extend their discipline beyond the canonical confines prescribed in some other jurisdictions. The space between the disciplines is attracting new work which transcends the old restrictive polarities and the hoary political assumptions enshrined within them. The demanding subtleties of these lectures provide, in fact, both a case in point and an encouraging augury for the future.’ [End.]

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Elizabeth Doyle, ‘True Class Darkly’, feature-essay, with photo-port., In Magill (Jan. 1998, p.40), comparing Deane with Solzhenitsyn and more generally with the authors of samizdat literature; ‘Deane releases the community from speechlessness and offers the catharsis of articulation’; claims that the writer and the person are the same, and that the ‘membrane that usually exists between the writing and the audience is ruptured’ and that ‘we are compelled to share his experiences’; cites his ‘continued preoccupation with Burke and the French Revolution as well as Mitchel’s idea of famine as genocide; ‘Deane feels that the famine transformed Ireland into a ghost country’; ‘those in power write the histories …’; notes absence of women from Field Day, otherwise ‘another attempt to empower people and give them a voice of their own - a male voice’; quotes Anthony Roche, “Field Day was finding a way to imagine yourself, incorporating the principle of difference”’; give notice of a forthcoming Field Day documentary of 1798 scripted by Deane and involving Luke Gibbons, Stephen Rea and Kevin Whelan; cites Geraldine Meaney as one of the panel of seven women working on the fourth (women’s) volume; ‘Deane a republican in the Enlightenment sense’; claims that in availing as he did of the 1947 Education Act, Deane has ‘chosen the heroic root [?route], which is not to say that he hasn’t suffered’; ‘the power of his poems means that they become embossed like Braille on our minds’; claims (above) that Joyce made Hiberno-English possible, and that (below) Deane ‘challenges the retarded caricatures and misrepresentations of our lives and language’; we have ‘moved from deformed speech to Hiberno-English, which his poetry shows is an embroidered language, surpassing standard English in its sophistication, elegance, and ability to embrace new concepts.’

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Géaroid Denvir, ‘Decolonizing the Mind: Language and Literature in Ireland’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), pp.44-68, attacks Deane’s virtual exclusion of \Irish from his Short History of Irish Literature, quoting, ‘the emphasis had to be n the literature in the English language;, and further ‘the various forms of artificial respiration of Gaelic culture had no hope of every reviving it as such. It was well and truly dead by the end of the eighteenth century.’ (Short Hist ., pp.7-8; p.28.);Denvir comments, ‘Deane’s A Short History [… &c.] (1995 [sic err.] is not a history, short or otherwise, of Irish literature, because it is narrated solely from a linguistically Anglocentric point of view. (Denvir, p.52); further takes Thomas Kinsella for speaking of Irish as a dead language (p.52).

Gerald Dawe [with D. E. S. Maxwell and Riana Dwyer] in Irish Studies: A General Introduction, ed. Bartlett et al., Gill & Macmillan 1988, p.179): ‘Seamus Heaney … and Seamus Deane, also one of the country’s leading critics, have probed through their poetry the complex social and cultural roots of their Catholic-Irish background in the hostile environment of Northern Ireland.’ [q.p.]

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Carol Rumens, ‘Reading Deane’, interview with Seamus Deane in Fortnight (July-Aug. 1997), pp.28-29: ‘conscious of A Portrait of the Artist there in the canon … certainly anxious to steer away from that shadow … My view of the novel - which I find not shared by many people - is that it’s about a young child who never earns a name. He never achieves sufficient identity […] to deserve the name or the sense of self he’s looking for in relation to his parents’; ‘I think of the novel as having two kinds of narrative. One is the narrative the boy is demanding all the time: what really happened, what are the facts? That’s why so many moments from his education are involved. It’s the kind of narrative that is natural to a generation that, because of education, had become much more, or somewhat more, secular, but, because of the formality of that education, was liable to think facts are coincident with truth. Then, on the other hand, there was the previous generation, uneducated, who derived their stories from folklore, from legend, and these stories are very subtly coded ways of dealing with trauma and difficulty. He doesn’t recognise at first how these stories actually deal with the very thing that he was trying to pursue’ (p.29); ‘the master story is his search for one [a story]’; ‘[…] one of my brothers feels very strongly that the mother is displaced, shouldered out, in effect, by the father, but, in a way, what I was trying to say of the mother figure is that she is the one, ultimately, who takes the whole burden of knowledge upon herself’; ‘I don’t think of the critical and creative as opposites. One way of coming into self-possession, of overcoming any kind of oppression, colonial or otherwise, is to take charge of interpretation yourself, not to allow yourself to be interpreted by others. This novel is a kind of parable of that attempt (and a painfully abortive attempt) on the part of a young kid. And that’s what I do in my other work too (and that might be painfully abortive!) Nevertheless, I think of the effort as one of the few ways available to me - maybe the only way available to me - of knowing, of possessing experience. It’s one of the ways of overcoming the sense of being dispossessed - to come into possession through interpretation, through understanding … and so I think of everything I’ve written including the novel, and the poems, and the scholarly-critical stuff, and the editing and everything else, as participating in that action. I’m not claiming there’s some wonderful underlying coherence between them all, but they’re similar acts. So I don’t think of critical or scholarly action as somehow radically different from the creative act. It would be foolish to deny there are differences - of course there are - but humanly the sense of bringing something into possession of which you’ve lost possession, or which has been taken from you in some way (not always by someone else, sometimes by yourself) - that’s what writing is really about. Not a therapy, not an act of redemption but an act of possession, an act of understanding. And I think the finest form of understanding is the kind that brings something into the sort of focus that possession means, the kind of clarity with which you say “Oh, that! That I recognise” or “that I re-recognise” or “that I know”. And even when you say “I know”, there are two words there, not just the verb. The verb textually gives definition to the pronoun as well. The “I” gets some kind of back-formation from the verb.’ (p.30; End.)

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Prionsias Ó Drisceoil, ‘Frustrations of a Free State’, review of Strange Country, in Irish Times, 31 May 1997: quotes Deane’s argument that Burke’s French Revolution is a ‘foundational text’ that ‘allows or had allowed for a reading of a national literature in such a manner that even chronologically prior texts can be annexed by it into a narrative …’; Burke’s anti-theoretical valorisation of tradition in the face of the Revolution in France led to universal human and family feelings being constructed as synonymous with the British national character. But this … did not embrace Ireland; Deane holds that Burke’s detestation of the Irish Parliament stemmed from its denial of full citizenship to the Catholics, ‘there treating a traditional society in such a way as to threaten the endurance and validity of the idea of civil society that Britain, more than any other European country, exemplified’; further quotes, ‘soil is what land becomes when it is constructed as a natal source’; the Irish national project is a characterisation of land and language as moving from possession to dispossession [to] repossession; notions of national character sought to express these meanings and … became, in fact, the Celt, an anachronistic anti-modernism adhering to the Burkean nation rather than to moderate and the state; as land faded from the forefront of politics both it and speech came to form an intermesh of obscurities - Celtic and Gothic twilights, folklore and occultism - which bestowed mysteriousness on soil ad speech and emphasised Irish exceptionalism as opposed to British modernity; reviewer finds that O’Faolain’s 1944 essay ‘The Gaelic Cult’ is refracted in line with Deane’s general argument and away from O’Faolain’s stated case; Deane calls O’Faolain one of those revisionists who refuse to countenance the idea that a community might ‘actually surrender economic well-being for something less boring …’ (Deane); Deane accuses the revisionists of endorsing the state monopoly on violence and vindicated the colonialism from which their rhetoric derives; reviewer considers that a frustration at the Republic’s embrace of its economic interests while the Northern Catholics chose something less boring is manifest.

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Mary Trotter, ‘“Double Crossing” Irish Borders: The Field Day Day Production of Tom Kilroy’s Double Cross ’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), p.31-43: quotes Deane: ‘Field Day’s interpretation of culture is not predicated on the notion that there is some universal quality or essence that culture alone can successfully pursue and capture. That is itself a political ideal that has played a crucial role in Irish experience. One of Field Day’s particular aims has been to expose the history and function of that idea and to characterise its disfiguring effects.’ (Intro., Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, ed. Seamus Deane, Minnesota Press 1990, p.7; cited in p.33); Trotter remarks, ‘in other words, the textual production strategies of many Field Day plays break up notions of a unified Irish culture, political history, national identity, or even theatre practice. [idem.]

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Taura Napier, ‘The Mosaic “I”: Mary Colum and Modern Irish Autobiography’, in Irish University Review, 28, 1 (Spring/Summer 1998), pp.37-55, quoting: ‘Events such as the Easter Rising, the Civil War, the Northern crisis, are read […] as bright moments of liberation that have within them the darker moments of oppression, radical revelations of the ceaseless discovery and loss of identity and freedom, which is one of the obsessive marks of cultures that have been compelled to inquire into the legitimacy of their own existence by the presence of another culture that is forever foreign and forever intimate.’ (Introduction to ‘Autobiography and Memoirs’, 1890-1988 [sect.], In The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 1991, Vol. 3, p.380; Napier, p.43); Napier glosses this: ‘The Other as a narrative device has also been discussed by Seamus Deane, who identifies the Other as a force rather than person, and postulates that Irish autobiographers overcome this force to achieve self-expression. But when he defines the Other/force as “embodied in a person”, Deane does not indicate an individual personality so much as an extension of the force that the (male) Irish autobiographer must fight against and surmount, so that he emerges triumphant and inviolate with his self-expression intact. The situation of otherness arises, according to Deane, not from the Irish autobiographer’s dispossession within his own culture, but from the imposition of an outside, colonial force’, and further comments, ‘This is not the case with Irishwomen.’ (ibid.)

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Mary Gray Davidson, ‘Ireland’s Ghost’, interview on Common Ground [radio station supported by Stanley Foundation, Iowa] (9 June 1998) interview with Seamus Deane, on “Common Ground” [radio [programme], gives Deane on Reading in the Dark : ‘[…] The initial haunting, the shadow on the stairs, that the reader meets on the first page—one of the things that the boy recognises of course, when it’s altogether too late, is that he has become the shadow. He is the one who’s darkening his mother’s life. And he has become the threat to the family, to the peace in the family. And this is meant to be as bitterly ironic as he feels it to be. The second thing I’d say about him, and that relation, is that this young boy’s representative in another way. He’s representative of that generation of the Catholic minority which gained access to free education for the first time in the late 1940s, as a consequence of British Socialist legislation in the aftermath of the Second War. / But also what the young, what I emphasize here, because I tell really two kinds of stories throughout that novel; one is if you like a secular detective, investigative story, and the other is a story that is dominated by folk tale and ghost story and hauntings and such like. And I weave these together partly to demonstrate that the old kind of story that of course is coming to him from the earlier generation - —Grandfather, Aunt Katie, people like that - that that’s a story which is even more sophisticated, in fact a good deal more sophisticated, than the kind of story he’s trying to produce. It’s a story - the ghost stories and such, haunting stories—are ways of dealing with trauma. But they’re ways of dealing with trauma by bringing the trauma away from an individual back into a communal embrace. But the young boy doesn’t recognise that these are heavily coded stories. / Because he is being educated - he’s learning Latin and French and Greek and such at school - ecause he’s being educated he has a certain dismissiveness towards, even derision for, those older stories. But in fact they’re telling him, they’re telling him his history. He just hasn’t, at this moment he doesn’t have the ears to hear. Precisely because he’s been educated. […S]o he stands at the confluence if you like of two, or at least at the transitional point between two versions of Northern Irish society, especially on the minority side. The society that was formally speaking, uneducated but was in terms of cultural habits given to that vision of existence in which life is a mystery, and he on the other hand belongs to the educated, to the new educated generation which has been one of the driving forces behind the need for reform in Northern Ireland, but for him life is not mysterious but problematic. And therefore is of course capable of a solution. So, and on one, at one level the older people live in eternity and he lives in time. And in between them this mist connecting them is history. You know. And he’s trying to, he doesn’t quite recognise this until it’s too late.’ (Full text ast Common Ground Archive [online].)

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Michael McAteer discusses Seamus Deane’s chapter-essay ‘Boredom and Apocalypse’ in Strange Country (1997; pb. 1998) in ‘Yeats’[s] Endgame : Postcolonialism and Modernism’, in Aaron Kelly & Alan Gillis, eds., Critical Ireland: New Essays in Literature and Culture (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001), pp.160-65: ‘Deane hypothesises that Irish history was too disturbed up to and into the nineteenth century to allow for a “Whig interpretation” (scientific, rationalist, teleological) of history, resulting in the exoticisation of the country as strange in English writing after the famine, an exoticisation taken up by Irish nationalism and made into a virtue, a basis for separation rather than integration. As one consequence of this, he sights the tourist perspective on Ireland as unreal, an imaginative fantasy. For Deane, this is productive of boredom, in that the Irish themselves become “endlessely entrapped between representing [Ireland] as a quaint other to imperial normality, or as a radical otherness for which no canonical system of representation is sufficient” (Strange Country, p.156). But boredom also carries the more mundane sense for Deane, of the repetitive nature of experience systematised and rationalised through modern bureaucracy. For Deane, Yeats is apocalyptic, the dialectical antithesis of boredom - if Yeats is boring, it is in terms of endless entrapment in the eccentric circularity of occultism. […] This is all very well, though it is significant here that the best Irish writer on boredom (some might claim the most boring Irish writer) Samuel Beckett, commands only one paragraph in Deane’s essay […] Leaving this aside, something happens in Deane’s essay when he gets on to historical revisionism - the dialectics get dumped. For Deane, because revisionism is updated “Whig interpretation”, 1916 can never really be understood. As apocalypse, it remains recalcitrant to the boredom of administrative rationality. However, to valorise it as such, to embrace its counter-modernising impulse, is not simply to be seduced by its aura of authenticity, of Dionysian spontaneity breaking through the mask of Apollo. It is to efface its structural interdependence with the systematic rationalisation of identity it defines itself against. Such a move is Heideggerian and a question for postcolonialism is why Deane makes it at the end of a strongly dialectical essay. Might it be another Endgame ?’

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Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), ‘Introduction’, quotes Deane: ‘Empiricists make good liberals; that is to say, all good liberals are empiricists, but not all empiricists are good liberals’ (Deane, ‘Wherever Green is Read’, in Ciaran Brady, ed., Interpreting Irish History, IAP 1994, p.238), and remarks: ‘Deane reckons that the goal of liberalism in the Republic is to improve the existing economic-political system to the point that individuals would no longer feel the need for recourse to such troubling and supposedly atavistic “ideologies” as nationalism or Roman Catholicism. When Deane tells us that the “buzz-word” for Irish liberalism is “pluralism”, and that its ideal is to organise the society of the Republic to the point that ideologies are replaced by individual “lifestyles”, chosen out of a “free market” characterised by the tolerance [26] of indifference, he is not simply enunciating a reactionary or traditional view. Rather, he is expressing irritation at the poverty of modernity as it has been conceived in mainstream bourgeois intellectual discourse in the Republic. If it seems that Deane is conflating economic with cultural modernity, then it must be admitted that such may be the case but only because that is the character of the intellectual terrain as he comes to it, where an economic modernisation driven by transnational capital finds its intellectual analogue in modernisation theory. […] Modernisation was understood in a manner, as Desmond Bell (1988) writes, separated from the discourse of critical modernism, in the social, cultural or political sense.’ (McCarthy, pp.26-27.) McCarthy later writes of ‘what Seamus Deane has called our “long colonial concussion”, being the crisis of Ireland’s post-1922 political ideologies, state unionism and state nationalism.’ (Deane, Heroic Styles: The Idea of a Tradition, Field Day Co. 1986, p.58.)

Conor McCarthy (Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, 2000): ‘Intellectual Politics: Edna Longley and Seamus Deane’ [Ibid., Chap. 4: pp.197-228], McCarthy writes: ‘Deane’s biography, as a Roman Catholic nationalist born in the Unionist statelet of Northern Ireland, who manages to haul himself up to the peak of Irish academia, is in many ways the opposite of [Edna] Longley’s, and he has characterised it in this manner himself. (Deane, 1992, p.28).’ ‘In [his] first Field Day] pamphlet, Deane suggests that the apparatus set up by the British state in the nineteenth century of poor houses, national primary schools, a national police force, the Ordnance Survey amounts to the creation of a grid of Foucauldian [213] “power-knowledge”, that permitted both a modernisation of Irish society and the creation of the necessary but refractory “other”, over against which British identity could be constructed. What Donoghue failed to notice [in his Afterword to the Field Day pamphlets] is Deane’s application of Foucault in the colonial setting.’ (p.214.) ‘Deane has pursued a critical project of questioning the idea of modernisation in Ireland and in Irish literary culture […] a critique of modernity insofar as it recognises modernity in Ireland as having always [been] compromised by its colonial source, which has meant that it has not been a modernity of which the Irish have been the agents, or a narrative of which the Irish have been the subjects, except in the form of the final conservation modernisation represented by nineteenth-century nationalism. What makes this writing powerful, both as a form of cultural history but also as an intervention into the contemporary public sphere, is the Saidian manner of bringing it to bear on the present, and specifically the Northern present. The Field Day pamphleteers, of which Deane is clearly the chief, have the audacity to bring the Northern crisis into a kind of collision [215] with the cosy assumptions of a Republic more interested in its own embourgeoisement . The problem is also that this enunciative location of the Field Day discourse allows Southern liberals to dismiss it, as Edna Longley has done the Anthology, as a “Derry metanarrative”.’ (Longley, The Living Stream, Bloodaxe 1994, p.39; here pp.215-16.) ‘Deane […] has a sense of cultural tradition as a terrain that is vulnerable to the embalming gestures of institutional and specifically metropolitan history. He is interested in what is lost in the production of “past-centred” history […] Deane has meditated at length, in these essays, on the relationship between history-as-text and history-as-experience, and in an Ireland where “history” is associated with either Northern violence or the allegedly repressive and backward period that came between Independence and the Lemass/Whitaker initiative, this is a position that has won him many enemies.’ (p.219.)

Conor McCarthy (Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, 2000): ‘Deane is sympathetic to anti-humanist strains in critical thought […] because he came to maturity in the era of the high institutional tide of Western humanism. His background put him outside the comfortable stabilities of 1960s modernisation in Ireland, North and South, and predisposes him to look at its legacy askance. His alienation in the Northern Ireland of the 1950s and 2960s has been matched by his sense of intellectual dislocation in the Republic in the 1970s and 1980s. Hence his sympathy to strains of thought critical of modernity; be they Marxist or postructuralist.[sic sentence.’ (p.221.) ‘Deane’s writing is, roughly, the intellectual analogue of John Banville’s historiographical metafiction.’ (p.221.) ‘But it is precisely this contradictory relationship to nationalism that makes Deane’s writing unsettling and power. It is also this that makes his under-theorisation of his own institutional location, and its relationship to his hermeneutic and intellectual practice all the more disappointing […] it is disappoint to see little evidence of his own role in displacing that [Anglo-Irish] tradition.’ (p.222.) ‘[W]hile Deane sees culture as a realm of exclusion and force, and [Edna] Longley sees it as a realm of transcendence and reconciliation, they both see it as primarily textual, making little allowance for a broader, anthropological sense of “culture”, or for culture as an element of a mass consumer society. To this extent they conform to [Liam] O’Dowd’s thesis […’; p.224.)

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Eileen Battersby, ‘Stalked by an agenda’, review of The Field Day Anthology [vols. IV& V], in in The Irish Times [Weekend] (5 Oct. 2002): ‘ […] Seamus Deane is an academic, writer and critic of international stature. The sheer quality of his prose and the energy of his pronouncements, as well as the colour of his political beliefs battling to give fair voice to the unionist tradition while undercutting the complexities of nationalism and unionism, were always going to ensure the first anthology, which clearly politicises writing, would be ideologically tense and exciting. It was. A decade later - much mauled, battle weary and maligned, it remains exciting, comprehensive and coherent. / Time has also proved it was, and is, far better than its opponents conceded. Having re-read the first anthology and read all of the two succeeding volumes, my honest response, without having intended to compare two very different projects, is that the three volumes published in 1991, are immensely superior. The two new volumes lack that very necessary cohesive, central editor presence, which Deane provided. [&c.’; see full text, infra.]

Catriona Crowe: ‘Testimony to the Flowering’, in The Dublin Review [n.s.; ed. Brendan Barrington] (Spring 2003): ‘[...] Nuala O’Faolain in an interview with Seamus Deane on the RTÉ television programme Booklines. A myth has grown up around this interview which now has very wide currency: that Nuala O’Faolain asked Deane how he had managed to leave out so many women, and that he replied “I forgot”. / In fact, Deane, immediately the subject was raised, blamed himself for his omissions and took full responsibility for them: “To my astonishment and dismay, I have found that I myself have been subject to the same kind of critique to which I have subjected colonialism ... I find that I exemplify some of the faults and erasures which I analyze and characterize in the earlier period.”’ (Available online; accessed 07.11.2011.)

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Elmer Kennedy-Andrews (De-)constructing the North: Fiction and Northern Ireland since 1969 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2003), on Reading in the Dark : ‘Situated in the midst of the hegemonic struggle between competing discourses, and surrounded by a culture of lies and treachery in his own community, the boy strives to achieve knowledgte and understanding, an independent voice. His bid for selfhood challenges the colonial ethos of secrecy, repression, acquiescence, and dumbness - the “maimed condition” personified by his mother.’ (p.181). ‘There is a rupture that has to be healed between the lived and the learned, myth and history, traditionalism and revisionism. The re-mythologising of the child re-inserts him within the communal codes while his participation in the rationalist drive of modernity gives him critical distance from a mystifying false consciousness.’ (p.220) ‘The mother is, in her grief, taking the shock, the trauma of a history into herself, but can find no escape from it.’ (Idem; both quoted in Maureen-Anne Kane, UG Diss., UUC 2006.)

Eric Bulson, Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, Cambridge UP 2006), quotes: ‘The relationship between literature and politics, [117] “was not mediated through a movement, a party, a combination or a sect. For him the act of writing became the act of rebellion, rebellion was the act of writing.”’ (Q. source; here p.117). Bulson writes: ‘For Deane, Joyce was not at home in Ireland, but he was precisely his geographical and psychic distance that enabled him to create a critique of it.’ ( Idem.)

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Gregory Castle, Modernism and the Celtic Revival (Cambridge UP 2001): ‘Seamus Deane raises a question pertinent to both Revivalism and anthropological modernism in so far as both seek to invent or “write” Ireland: how was Joyce to “create as literature something which would otherwise have no existence and yet was believed to exist already? The idea of Ireland [173] still uncreated, awaiting its realisation.” (Celtic Revivals, Wake Forest UP 1987, p.99-100.) Finding in Joyce a desire to realise the idea of Ireland provides a powerful incentive for regarding him as a Revivalist, Deane goes so far as to argue that he was the one who most kept faith with the idea of reviving Irish culture: “whereas Yeats did indeed give up, to some extent, ‘the deliberate creation of a kind of Holy City in the imagination” and replace it with images of enduring heroism and no-so-durable authority, Joyce remained faithful to the original conception of the Revival. His Dublin became the Holy City of which Yeats had despaired.” (Ibid., pp.96.) / The important point here, as Deane and others have noted, is that Joyce refused the mystic essentialism that underwrote Yeats’s Revivalist aesthetics.’ (Castle, pp.173-74.)

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Kersti Tarien Powell, Irish Fiction: An Introduction (London: A & C Black [Continuum] 2004), 217pp.: ‘As the Banim brothers wrote in the “Introduction” to The Boyne Water (1826): “We, here in Ireland, ought to be anxious to ascertain our position accurately, if for no other reason than that we may give ourselves a common country. At present, the Irish, as a people, have no country, while the children of every other soil boast a proud identity with their native land” (Banim xiii). This passages indicates the authors' awareness of having to create a national identity and represent a nation as a political entity within the novel. It also emphasizes that the “common country” was a self-generated concept and that the Irish did not need to emulate a foreign (English) model. The question that still fascinates critics and students alike is whether the realist novel, prevalent at the time, was the suitable model to accommodate the “unknown” tales of peculiar Irish manners and how Irish authors adapted and adopted that format in order to fit within its framework their aesthetic and political ambitions. Perhaps herein lies the answer to the question of why the Irish traditoin seems particularly rich in attempts to experiment with the novel form. As Seamus Deane argued in his essay “Heroic Styles: the Tradition of an Idea” (1983), there are two dominant ways of reading (Irish) history and literature (Deane, 45-58). One is “romantic” and, according to Deane, this is the mode of reading that takes pleasure in the notion that “Ireland is a culture enriched by the ambiguity of its relatioship with an anachronistic and a modernized present.” The other, denying this ambiguity and seeking to escape from it, locates itself in a “pluralism of the present.” He distinguishes between “hot” and “cold” rhetorics, the first being that of the spiritual heroics of Yeats and the second that of the exile, alienation, and dislocation of Joyce. Writing in the early 1980s, Deane took this division in rhetorics to be an equivalent of the crisis in the North, arguing that the modern Irish condition was a crisis of language. (Powell, p.152.)’

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J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford UP 2008), notes that, where Deane quotes Yeats’s account of the Ireland of the nineteenth-century as ‘a humorists’s Arcadia’ in his preface to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), Deane adds his own opinion that Anglo-Irish fiction offered ‘a winsome view of the Irish as an entertaining people rather than a people horribly mutilated and demoralised by English misrule’ (Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature, Hutchinson 1979; Foster, op. cit., p.2 & note [p.20]). Foster's remarks come in the context of his initial commentary on the tendency of Irish critical orthodoxy to impose a notion of a ‘ruptured or interrupted tradition in the Irish novel that perhaps too conveniently reflected the policital and constitutional ruptures of the time.’ (p.1.)

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