Joseph Th. Leerssen


Life
1955- [Joseph Theodor Leerssen; fam. & later titles, Joep]; ed. Comparative Literature and English at the University of Aachen, and Anglo-Irish Studies at UCD; post-grad. student of Anglo-Irish Literature, St Michael’s College, Halifax, Canada; grad. PhD, University of Utrecht, 1968; appt. lecturer at University of Amsterdam, 1986; elected Professor of Modern European Literature, Univ. of Amsterdam, 1991; issued of Mere Irish or Fíor Ghael (1986, rep 1996) and Remembrance and Imagination (1996);
 
his studies of 18th and 19th-c. Irish literature are so fundamental to their modern interpretation as to defying easy quotation; served as director of the Huizinga Institute at the Dutch National Research Institute for Cultural Studies, 1995-2006; supplied a foreword to the Loebers’ Guide to Irish Fiction (2006), a mark of his pre-eminence; held Erasmus Lecturership at Harvard University, 2003; awarded the prestiguous Spinoza Prize in 2008; delivered the Annual Irish Studies Lecture of the Irish Studies International Research Initiative at QUB, 2009.

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Works
Monographs
  • Komparatistik in Grossbritannien 1800-1950 [Aachener Beiträge zur Komparatistik, 7] (Bonn: Bouvier 1984), 168pp.;
  • Mere Irish & Fíor-Ghael: Studies in The Idea of Irish Nationality, its Development and Literary Expression prior to the Nineteenth Century [Utrecht Publications in General and Comparative Literature, Vol. 22] (John Benjamins Pub. Co., Amsterdam / Philadelphia, 1986), 543pp., and Do. [rep. edn.; Critical Conditions; Field Day Monographs, No. 4] (Cork UP 1996), xiii, 454pp.;
  • Remembrance and Imagination: Patterns in the Historical and Literary Representations of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century [Field Day ser.] (Cork UP 1996), x, 321pp.;
  • Nationaal denken in Europa: een cultuurhistorische schets (Amsterdam UP 1999).
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Pamphlets
  • ed. and intro., The Necessity for De-anglicising Ireland by Douglas Hyde (Leiden: Academic Press Leiden 1994), xvi, 39pp.;
  • Joseph Th. Leerssen, The Contention of the Bards (Iomarbhágh na bhfileadh) and Its Place in Irish Political and Literary History [Irish Texts Society, Subsidiary Ser., 2] (London: Irish Texts Society 1994), 72pp. [see reprint];
  • Hidden Ireland, Public Sphere (Dublin: Arlen House; distrib. Syracuse Press 2006), 48pp. [see Notes, infra].
Edited collections
  • with Raymond Corbey, ed., Alterity, Identity, Image: Selves and Others in Society and Scholarship [Amsterdam studies on Cultural Identity, 1] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991), xviii, 252pp.;
  • with A.H. van der Weel & Bart Westerweel, ed., The Literature of Politics, the Politics of Literature [Leiden IASAIL conference], Vol.1: “Forging in the smithy - National Identity and Representation in Anglo-Irish Literary History” [Costerus, n.s. 98] Amsterdam: Rodopi 1995), 249pp.
European Studies
  • with A. Boxhoorn & M. Spiering, ed., Britain in Europe [Yearbook of European Studies, 1] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), xii, 210pp.;
  • with M. Spiering, ed., National Identity: Symbol and Representation [Yearbook of European Studies, 4] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991), viii, 247pp.;
  • with M. van Montfrans, ed., , Borders and Territories [Yearbook of European Studies, 6] (Amsterdam: Rodopi [1993]), xii, 256pp.
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Articles (selected)
  • ‘On the Edge of Europe: Ireland in Seach of Oriental Roots, 150-1850’, in Comparative Criticism, 8 (1986), pp.91-112;
  • ‘Antiquarian Research: Patriotism to Nationalism’, in Talamh an Eisc: Canadian and Irish Essays, ed. Cyril J. Byrne & Margaret Harry [Irish Studies St. Mary’s Coll.] (Halifax Can.: Nimbus Publ. Co. 1986), pp.71-83;
  • ‘Ireland and the Orient’, in Oriental Prospects: Western Literature and the Lure of the East, ed. C. C. Barfoot, Theo d’. Haen (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi B.V. 1988), pp.161-74 [see extracts];
  • ‘Táin and Táin: The Mythical Past and the Anglo-Irish’, in History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Joris Duytschaever & Geert Lernout [Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser., 71] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), pp.19-45.
  • ‘On the Treatment of Irishness in Romantic Anglo-Irish fiction’, in Irish University Review, xx (1990), [cp.257].
  • ‘À la récherche d’une littérature perdue: Literary History, Irish Identity and Douglas Hyde’, in Nation building and writing literary history, ed. M. Spiering (Amsterdam, 1999), p.96;
  • ‘Law and Border (How and Where We Draw the Line)’, in The Irish Review, 24,  1 (June 1999), pp.1-8;
  • with Rolf Loeber & Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, ‘Early calls for an Irish national literature, 1820-1877’, in Writing Irishness in Nineteenth-century British Culture, ed. N. McCaw (London, 2004), pp.12-33;
  • Joep Leerssen, ‘The cultivation of culture. Towards a definition of romantic nationalism in Europe’ [Working Papers, European Studies, Amsterdam, No. 2] (Opleiding Europese Studies, University of Amsterdam 2005), cp.10.
  • ‘Last Bard or First Virtuoso?: Carolan, Conviviality and the Need for an Audience’, in Amhráin Chearbhallá / The Poems of Carolan: Reassessments, ed. Liam P. Ó Murchú [Irish Texts Society, Vol. 18] (Dublin: Irish Texts Society 2007), ix, 100pp.
  • ‘Writing Literary History: Raising Interesting Questions’, in The Irish Review, 36, 1 (Winter 2007), pp.140-45.
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Bibliographical details
L. McKenna, ed., Iomarbhágh na bhFileadh/ The Contentention of the Bards, Pt. 1, with trans. , notes, glossaries, &c., and an introduction by Joep Leerssen [Irish Texts Society, Vol. 20] (Dublin: Irish Texts Society 2004), cii [Introduction], 177pp. [first publ. by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., London 1918].

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Criticism
Alan Harrison, review of Mere Irish & Fíor-Ghael, in Eigse, Vol. XXII (NUI 1987), pp.155-[59].

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Commentary
Andrew Hadfield, ‘Rethinking Early-Modern Colonialism: The Anomalous State of Ireland’, in Irish Studies Review, April 1999), remarks that Joseph Th. Leerssen’s ‘encyclopaedic study of Anglo-Irish representations relies on the assumption that national stereotypes have an intimate binary relationship and can be studied in pairs’ (p.13).

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Rolf & Magda Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006), cites Joep Leerssen’s Hidden Ireland (xxxx), ‘One of the paradoxes of Irish literary history is that the majority of authors who developed an interest in Ireland, Irish problems, and the Irish language did not spring out of the Catholic Irish peasantry or middle classes. Instead, as Leerssen explained, “a massive cultural transfer” took place in Ireland “between the Gaelic tradition and the urban, English-speaking, educated classes”. This constituted an as yet poorly-understood cross-cultural exchange, which was more complex than cultural changes found in “monocultural or monolingual societies”. This change in the expression of the culture in fiction was all the more remarkable because of the growth of “an educated English-speaking, city-dwelling middle class” which began to identify itself with Gaelic culture.’ (Leerssen, Hidden Iretand, 2006, pp.13-15, 23-24; Loeber, p.lx.) Loeber goes on to say that ‘[t]he complexity of cultural transfer was increased by the fact that (a) many Irish legends were in ancient Irish, which was no longer current in the countryside, and was initially studied and made available through German, French and English scholars; (b) in certain parts of the countryside and even as late as the nineteenth century, the Irish peasantry (not to mention the clergy) knew Latin and had read classical authors.’ (Idem, citing Norman Vance, Irish Literature since 1800, London 2002, p.113.)

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Quotations
Mere Irish & Fíor-Ghael: Studies in The Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior to the Nineteenth Century (Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins 1986): ‘[...] Thus, in the social and economic ruin of Northern Ireland, thew enmities of past generations continue even today, as if preserved in amber; their memories help to perpetuate them and to create fresh bitterness, whose memories may in turn, it is to be feared, burden future generations. / It would be illusory to think that what I have written in the preceding pages will change all that: and yet the desire to change all that is what lies behind much of their content. Perhaps the greatest lie that is perpetrated on both sides - in this and other nationally-defined conflicts, iks the contention that the categories, the terms of conflict, the “nations” involved, are timeless, extra-historical entities. If I have spent much laborious argument I in tracing the historical roots of these ideas, it was, ultimately, with a view to disrupting the imperviousness and perpetual self-reenactment through which they have preserved immunity against historical change for so long.’ (p.455; end.)

Acknowledgement: RICORSO makes extensive use of quotations, summaries, interpretations and bio-bibliographical information supplied in Mere Irish & Fíor-Ghael [.... 7c.] (1986) - in many ways the inspiration of the website in its learned scope and wealth of materials which, in the digital age, the editor of the website could only hope to record under conventional biographical categories.

Creative impulse?: ‘The past is something that the poetic subject looks back upon and mines for the ore that he or she can appropriate and assimilate and turn into some sort of creative impulse.’ (Quoted in Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, in Ireland of the Welcomes, ed. Derek Mahon, Sept. 1996, p.27.)

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Ireland and the Orient’, in Oriental Prospects: Western Literature and the Lure of the East, ed. C. C. Barfoot, Theo d’Haen (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi B.V. 1988), pp.161-74: ‘It was not until the late 1960s that the growing intellectual bankruptcy world-wide of nationalism began to hit Ireland. Even so, nationalism finds stalwarth defenders amongst the Irish intelligentsia. In the historical profession, especially, a debate has been raging over the past years in which scholars have crossed swords over the degree in which the Irish past ought or ought not to be read in a predominantly national context, that is in the light of the Irish struggle against English oppression. / Irish Studies, then, had ony since a comparatively recent date been apprehended of the intellectual and moral defects of a pationalist parti-pris in scholarly research; and I am sometimes led to suspect that many critics have adopted the post-colonial, anti-hegemonistic critical discourse a la Said merely to be able to take the moral high ground, as it were, and to point the old-fashioned accusing anti-British finger in more acceptable phraseology.’ (p.163.)

Ireland and the Orient’ (1988) - further: ‘Even Mangan himself subscribes to this Irish-Orientalism parallelism - though he does so, as [David] Lloyd demonstrates [in Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism, 1987), not from a superciliously anglocentric point of view, but from the standpoint of the marginalized. In some rare instances the sens eof shared hegemonistic oppression linking Ireland to the oriental colonies becomes explicit, for example, in Mangan’s invective against John Bull who is apostrophized through an oriental persona as the Khafir Dzjaun Bool Djenkinson. In most other cases a parallel remains implicit. Mangan’s Siberia is a poem of icy death-in-life, comparable to the icy hallucinations of Coleridge in the “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” or “Kubla Khan”; but Mangan’s “Siberia” is more, it is a place of political exile and oppression, and and in that respect Mangan’s orientalism differs from Coleridge’s reveries. Again, it is a telling fact that Mangan, who translated much poetry from the Gaelic, chose to phrase an Irish-Oriental parallelism: the Gaelic word for “head” is ceann; Mangan uses this (solecism though it be) in the sense “head of a family or tribe” and [168] thus can come to spell the Gaelic ceann as Khan. What is more, Mangan, a centry and a half before [Edward] Said, already denounced the fashionable sort of British couleur locale [in Orientalism, 1978], and argued the irreducibility of oriental culture to European exoticism. Thus, in his review of Edward William Lane’s translation of Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, he calls that version:

the most quackish jackassicality of latter days. Mr Lane is a good writer and a shrewd observer, but he cannot - no man can - Europeanize Orientalism. One might as well think of introducing Harlequin’s costume into the Court of Chancery.

Lloyd rightly places Mangan’s orientalism in a context that is party German - for example, Goethe’s West-ostlicher Divan - and partly peculiar to Ireland. In both of these aspects, then, Mangan does not quite fit the type of colonial “hegemonistic” orientalism as analysed by Said. Mangan’s odd “oversettings”, not translations proper, but paraphrases and adaptations from various exotic languages, range from Gaelic to optic, German to Arabic, and clearly cannot be subsumed within an English-language tradition from Beckford’s Vathek to Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát.
  Yet at the same time there is a danger of overstating the uniqueness of Anglo-Irish orientalism, or of explaining it from Ireland’s political subjugation. There is no reliable basis on which to say that Mangans topos of “the fall of Oriental empires” (in poems like “The Time of the Barmecides” or “Gone in the Wind”) is distinct from sikilar musings in English romantic poetry - for instance, Shelley’s “Ozymandias” or The Revolt of Islam.
 There is a tendency in nineteeth-century Anglo-Irish literature which I have called auto-exoticist: by that I mean a habit, in Anglo-Irish authors, of looking at their own country in terms of its strangeness, its foreignness. I have explained the habit from an ingranined tendency to write about Ireland for an English readership, to whom the country had to be mediated, explained, introduced. [Ftn. ref. to Remembrance & Imagination, pp.33-38.] What makes Ierland exotic is its being different from England; and under that heading its non-English uncouthness can be described with vocabulary borrowed from the opposite end of the Empire, where equally strange and unknown lands lay. That is part of the self-orientalization of Ireland as we see it in Magnan, who with equal [169] exoticist gusto can turn to thirteenth-century Gaelic Ireland or to Siberia or to the Middle East. The curious result is that Mangan’s nationalism (for it is as a nationalist that he devled into his country’s antiquity and evoked it in his poems and “oversettings”) becomes almost indistinguishable from his exoticism. [Goes on to cite Samuel Ferguson’s ‘cycle of prose fiction .. set a the time of the Elizabethan wars’ and ‘entitled, interestingly, The Hibernian Nights’ Entertainment, thus evoking for a scrupulously historical Irish story the aura of fantastic adventure and exoticism implied in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments as they had shortly earlier been translated by Lane.’ (pp.168-70; available at Google Books - online; accessed 16.02.2015.) ]

[ Ftn.: Leerssen adds: “The strategem of using the nomenclature of “exotic tales” for an Irish colletion was prefigured a century before in Mrs Butler’s Irish Tales, and in a venture contemplated briefly by Charles O’Conor and Robert Digby.’ Cf. Mere Irish and Fíor-Ghael, 2nd. edn., Cork, 1996, pp.324-25.)


Ireland and the Orient’ (1988) - conclusion: ‘The ambiguous case of Ireland, both part of Europe and prt of a denigragted colonial periphery, hugely complicates this straightforward binariness [of Brecht’s concluding lines in Threepenny Opera - Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln, und die andern sind im Licht / Und man siehet die im Lichte - die im Dunkeln seiht man nicht [Because some are in the dark, and the others are in the light / And the one who sees it is in the light - while the one in the dark sees it not]. Ireland is subjected to hegemonistic representation, but also has access to it. English exocticism did not silence the Irish voice as it silenced the native voices from the colonies; conversely, when Ireland uses the language of exoticism, it does so in less ethnocentric ways than in England. With Irish authors, it is not just a matter of watching or being watched, seeing or being seen: Ireland is in the Twilight between First and Third World, between the ones in the dark and the ones in the light. Ireland watches now it is watched by England; Ireland watches itself watching the Orient.’ (p.173; end.)

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Irish fiction: Foreword to Guide to Irish Fiction 1650-1900, by Rolf & Magda Loeber (Four Courts Pres 2006): ‘[…] The two underlying assumptions on which literary history rests have lost credit: the self-justified importance and separate status of something like a canon based on artistic merit/importance, as well as the author as the premier organizing focus of literary praxis and of the analysis of literary praxis. This shift has affected literary criticism more than literary history, however. True, countercanonical revisionism has made its voice heard: for example, in the rise of feminist-inspired historiography or postcolonial studies (preceded by the earlier attention for “Commonwealth Literature”); and there has been an increasing awareness that “literature” is not easily cordoned off from other media genres, or from orality and manuscript cultures. Still, when it comes to the writing of literary history, all these critical innovations present themselves as revisions rather than revolutions, as additions and correctives to the established historiography rather than as fundamental overhauls. But there is also a truly revolutionary, fundamental change in perspective emerging, one which will present the most thorough overhaul of how we deal with the diachronicity of literature. That challenge comes from the field of book history; and although Rolf and Magda Loeber are not card-carrying book historians, their magnus opus presents one of the most impressive examples to date of what literary history must reckon with in the future.’ (p.xvi.)

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Hidden Ireland, Public Sphere (2006): ‘How did the political climate of “ancien régime” Ireland, with its colonial-style landlord system, its Penal Laws, and its total cultural segregation, give way to the mounting nationalist groundswell of the nineteenth century? This pioneering study attempts to sidestep ingrained and outworn debates and argues that Irish developments around 1800 can be fruitfully studied in the light of historical models elaborated for Continental Europe.’ (See Syracuse Univ. Press website, online; accessed 23.03.2010.)

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Notes
Imaginaire: Leerssen ascribes his ‘imagological’ approach - tracing dichronic rather than synchronic aspects of national identity (that is, ‘traditions and historical recognitions and appropriations rather than appurtenances and current attitudes) - to the school of Hugo Dyserinck, viz., Komparatistiche Imagologie jenseits von Werkimmanenz and Wektranszendenz, Synthesis 9 (1892), pp.27-40, and other authors writing in the same journal. This throws up the concept of the ‘imaginaire in literature’. (‘Táin after Táin: The Mythical Past and the Anglo-Irish’, in History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Joris Duytschaever & Geert Lernout [Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser. Vol. 71], Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988, pp.19-45.)

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Royal Irish Academy lecture on Cultural Nationalism (October 2010) - Invitation

Joep Leerssen will give a Royal Irish Academy lecture on Cultural Nationalism in the Canada Room, Lanyon Building, Queen’s University Belfast at  4pm on  12 October 2010.
  Professor Leerssen received the NWO/Spinoza Prize 2008 for his innovative contributions to imagology, Irish studies and research into cultural nationalism. His recent books include: National Thought in Europe: A Cultural History (2006) and Imagology (2007)
  Leerssen has an impressive list of publications to his name about national stereotypes and the relationship between literature, historical awareness and nationalism. His writings often trigger innovations in the disciplines in which they intervene. He is at the forefront of scientific developments: although initially his monographs often meet with objections, they subsequently become authoritative in their field.
  Leerssen has played an important role in three disciplines. In the area of Irish studies, which studies Irish cultural history on the basis of Ireland’s various cultural traditions and languages, his books are considered to be seminal. Furthermore, Leerssen has unified two paradigms in the study of 19th-century cultural nationalism: one that considers the nation to be a latently present metaphysical entity and the other that views it as a product of political manipulation. In doing this he has highlighted cultural expressions as a central and guiding aspect of political nationalism, rather than as merely a by-product. Finally he has consolidated the field of imagology, the study of the formation of images, national awareness and stereotypes, by drawing together the many initiatives in this area from across the world.

Admission is free but places must be booked at www.ria.ie  - ALL ARE WELCOME.

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