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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2007

E 397M • Politics of Irish Cultural Nationalism

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35040 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
MEZ 1.104

Course Description

When in 1891 the fall of Parnell left Irish constitutional nationalism in disarray, Yeats, Lady Gregory, and others set out to create a national literature that would provide evidence of Ireland's cultural autonomy, and thus of her right to legislative independence from England. The image of Ireland offered by Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Synge was predominantly rural: celebrating the peasantry of the wild, beautiful, and underpopulated West coast, they claimed its fairy and folk tales as repositories of authentic ancient Irish wisdom. The Ireland of the Revival was also heroic, evoking the mythical warriors and queens of ancient saga literature: Cuchulain, Maeve, and Dierdre.

Although Edward Said sees Yeats as a "great poet of national liberation," many contemporary Irish cultural theorists regard the myths of the Revival as neo-colonial expressions of complicity with English oppressors. Definitions of the Irish as simple, wild, charming, mystical, credulous, and irresponsible feed the sense of adult superiority felt by the colonizer, and reinforce the parent/child paradigm typical of the colonial experience. The other side of rural charm is rural poverty and exploitation. The same critics reject the heroic myths of Cuchulain which Yeats popularized and Pearse reenacted during the Easter Rising as "costume drama," history repeating itself as farce. "Revivalism," they argue, is by its very nature conservative, enslaved to the past and therefore unable to discard its failures. It can never be genuinely revolutionary. Adopting Frank Kermode's suspicion of what happens when a culture allows its fictions to "degenerate" into myth, they have designated Yeats, the arch-mythologizer, as the villain of Ireland's cultural history. They affirm instead Joyce and O'Casey's critiques of romantic nationalism, their use of Dublin rather than Connemara settings, and their creation of working-class characters rather than nobles, peasants, or beggars. The Irish tradition, it is argued, is not rural, mystical, and conservative, but urban, secular, and socialist.

In this course we shall examine both the major texts of the Irish Revival and the historical moment which produced them. In addition we shall read several contemporary texts and films that reflect the current critical debate. We shall study text and context in the light of contemporary theories of colonial discourse.


W.B. Yeats, Collected Poems; Collected Plays

Lady Gregory, Selected Plays

J.M. Synge, Collected Plays

James Joyce, Dubliners; A Portrait; selections from Ulysses

Sean O'Casey, Collected Plays

Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September

Rosamund Jacobs, The Troubled House

Frank McGuinness, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry

Sebastian Barry, It's a Long, Long Way


John Huston, The Dead

Neil Jordan, Michael Collins

Course Packet containing supplementary texts and historical and theoretical materials.


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