Michael O'Sullivan reviews Enemies of Empire: new perspectives on imperialism, literature and historiography, Eoin Flannery and Angus Mitchell (eds), Four Courts Press, ISBN 978-1-84682-002-1,€58.50/£55 hbk
ENEMIES OF Empire opens with the acknowledgement that Orientalism, Edward Said's magisterial critique of imperial cultural hegemony published in 1978 is, "widely accepted as the foundational text of what has become known as postcolonial studies in contemporary disciplinary parlance".
Post-colonial studies is now a burgeoning and vibrant interdisciplinary academic industry and Said's classic text, itself inspired by Foucault's ground-breaking brand of methodology, was indeed instrumental in supplying the necessary referential framework and critical fodder to inspire its proponents.
A generation of radical literary and cultural theorists have since appeared in its wake, eager to diagnose, expose and confront the stinking and ubiquitous legacies of empires and imperialisms.
Critiques of colonialism are of course nothing new, but this eclectic and thought-provoking collection of essays does more than pick over the ragged and ghastly remnants of imperialism. The contributions are diverse and multi-disciplined, encompassing sociological studies, literary criticism and nationalist politics, and constructive links are made with earlier cultural and theoretical scholarship.
Unsurprisingly, Ireland's imperialist past with her myriad forms of relationships with the coloniser provides an abundance of material for post-colonial diagnosis.
Here, Joseph Lennon examines hunger striking by suffragettes, Irish republicans and others as a tactical and highly effective form of civil resistance. The heroic, tragic destinies of two consummate anti-imperialists Childers and Casement, both of whose work and writings so decisively undermined Britain's claims to govern Ireland, are skilfully summarised by Angus Mitchell and Brian Murphy.
Caoilfhionn Ni Bheachain continues the theme with a revealing chapter on the anti-imperialism of Irish republicans in the 1920's and 30's. In 'Fraudesia' Stephen Donovan examines the monstrous exploits in southern Africa of that capitalist spearhead of imperialism the British South Africa Company, and Talinn Griror contributes an interesting piece on the political and historical relevance of public art and monuments in the Soviet Union.
A group of articles explore the cultural politics of literature and language. On Hiberno-English as a repressive literary medium Roisin Ni Ghairbhi tellingly criticises Synge's Playboy as conservative, bourgeois and essentially anti nationalist. The theme is continued by Eugene O'Brien in a penetrating essay on Joyce and the importance of speech as a characteristic of national identity.
An appraisal of post-colonial theory itself and its relationships with other disciplines, most notably Feminism, concludes the collection. Enemies of Empire is essential reading for all involved in the anti-imperialist discourse, though Said's is still the best introduction to the subject.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Michael O'Sullivan