By Glenda Norquay, Gerry Smyth
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Additional info for Across The Margins: Cultural Identity and Change in the Atlantic Archipelago
Giving ‘Ireland’ a meaning which fills out the term comfortably is seemingly the underwriting principle of Irish criticism’s existence, with the aesthetic, the cultural, the generic and the ‘minor’ all given a presence within critical writing on Ireland by their contribution as slivers of ‘Ireland’ which are temporarily imagined as hived off from the undisruptable, unseeable whole. Each book and article on Joyce or on the Whiteboys, each individual account of Irish memoir, each reclamation of Irishness from the diaspora, then risks becoming subsumed in the perpetually deferred but always desired, Casaubon-like quest for the settling of ‘the Irish question’, a question which both begs a definition and a definitive answer; and that question transcends the politics of Unionism or nationalism, the force of Norquay_03_Ch2 36 22/3/02, 9:46 am 37 Speaking of Ireland revisionist historiography, the regional and the local, and indeed the course of historical change itself, being always sure of its position as the raison d’être of what is spoken about ‘Ireland’ and never in fear of alteration by these pronouncements.
Which shadows, in potentia, all pronouncements on the post-colonial subject and, by analogy, all acts of speaking of Ireland too. Spivak’s question and its possible declensions essentially deny that an academic voice can be elevated to a point of enlightenment above the shadows of history and, since Spivak’s essay, post-colonial theory has had a shorthand way in which to express its awareness of the potentially crippling vacuity at its centre. Yet Irish criticism, post-colonial or otherwise, along with post-colonial criticism more generally, has gone on despite itself, with a Sisyphan doggedness, and continues to find a way of speaking ‘of’ Ireland.
In a critique of Fredric Jameson’s account of Ulysses, Thomas Hofheinz lambastes Jameson’s continual positioning of the collective as primary over the individual (the ‘theoretical compulsion to subsume individual human lives within ideal collectivities’ (1995: 15)10). While Jameson’s position is somewhat caricatured as a result, the point is well made: Jameson’s assertion that the cocoa-making [in ‘Ithaca’] is ‘inauthentic’ because the kettle is mass-produced and somehow not an organic part of its user’s ‘destiny’ depends upon a bizarre assumption that such domestically familiar objects are not meaningful to those individuals who cherish them.