Number 5

Irish Studies and English Studies. Two essays by Shaun Richards and Eve Patten, edited by Norman Vance

Publication date: October 2006

This pamphlet reviews the controversial recent past, present and future of Irish Studies in relation to English Studies, the rise of 'theory', 'Cultural Studies' and 'interdisciplinarity'. The first contributor, Shaun Richards, teaches at an English university while the second, Eve Patten, teaches at an Irish university, so they bring different perspectives to the topic. Eve Patten shows how Ireland's literature encountered different treatment in England and in Ireland. As Shaun Richards points out, the development of Irish Literary Studies can be seen as a microcosm of the development of English studies more generally, but only up to a point.

Perhaps because teachers are still struggling to catch up, because such new perspectives are still being assessed institutionally and any claimed consensus is likely to produce scepticism and noisy dissent in Belfast, Derry, Dublin or Cork, not to mention Canberra, Columbia (New York) or South Bend (Indiana), there has until now been little attempt to put it all together and to confront the full political and social significance of doing Irish Studies in Britain or indeed elsewhere outside Ireland. The cultural materialists and sociologists of literature in the academy have long made us familiar with argument about the significance of politics, economics and class not just as a factor in literary production in the traditional British version English Literature but in the processes of reading and studying it and in the institutions responsible for teaching it. The contexts of Irish cultural polemic and the institutional processing of Ireland’s English Literature are beginning to attract the attention of Ph.D. students and younger scholars such as Conor McCarthy, author of Modernisation, Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin, 2000). But even though culture and dissidence are Ireland’s most durable exports we are still waiting for a fully comprehensive Irish version of Chris Baldick’s Social Mission of English Studies 1848-1932 (1983) or Alan Sinfield’s Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading (1992). This is the more surprising when we recall that one of the first modern surveys of Irish writing in English was written in 1916 for the pioneering Cambridge History of English Literature by the Irish (but London-based) Inspector of Schools and man of letters A.P. Graves. Rather more dramatically, among the men the English shot in the same year were the teacher-poet Padraig Pearse and a poet who was also a university teacher of English, Thomas MacDonagh, Lecturer at University College Dublin, author of the pioneering study Literature in Ireland (1916). An interesting if unnerving development of the subversive potential of MacDonagh’s writing and teaching can be found in the extreme positions developed by the contemporary critic David Lloyd who has attempted to privilege the politicised writing of embattled republican internees at the expense of the politer letters represented by the poetry of Seamus Heaney or Michael Longley.

The different perspectives offered by the essays which follow can be seen as an attempt to reconsider the conceptual basis, the mission, and perhaps even the unsettling menace, of Irish Studies in relation to contemporary English Studies and higher education in these islands, now.

Norman Vance, Introduction, p. 4

ISBN 0 900232 24 2 28pp


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