Studies of the transition to post-colonialism

Roy Johnston reviews Ireland and Postcolonial Theory, Clare Carroll & Patricia King (eds), University of Notre Dame Press, hbk

THIS BOOK is a collection of essays on the theme, with an afterword by Edward Said, the Palestinian guru of the domain who is based in Columbia University, New York (CUNY). It is ground-breaking, in that it provides a serious academic source for comparative study of the Irish colonial to post-colonial transition in the global context, as an alternative to the European.

In the latter context some historians have tended to overlook the colonial aspect of the Irish experience.

Clare Carroll (New York City University) in her introduction invokes Declan Kiberd, who in his Inventing Ireland was influenced by Said and by Franz Fanon, whose damning analysis of the Algerian situation was published in 1961.

Joe Cleary (NUI Maynooth) attacks the cultural dominance of the 'modernisation' concept, which he identifies with European imperialism, contrasting the post-colonial approach which suggests that

"...Irish nationalism cna only be understood contextually as the complex outcome of local interactions with an agressively expanding imperialist world economy..".

David Lloyd comes up with a pungent definition of colonialism, in the aftermath of which he identifies Ireland as "...a bourgeois post-colony... a conduit of neo-colonial capital..". He offers some comparisons between Ireland, India, Ghana and Algeria, amd some insights into the development of the industrial proletariat in the north- east predicated on the colonial social relations.

Clare Carroll in her specialist essay goes deeply into the mediaeval background, starting with Gerald of Wales, and offering comparison with native American history. Luke Gibbons (University of Notre Dame) offers a critique of Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, contrasting the emergent inclusive philosophy of the United Irishmen, as exemplified in the practice of Lord Edward Fitzgerald in his dealings with the Iroquois at Detroit in 1789.

Kevin Whelan, who directs the Notre Dame outstation in Dublin, offers an analysis of 'modernism' in literary terms, distinguishing a 'right' modernism associated with Eliot, Pound and Lewis, and a 'left' modernism with Beckett, Joyce and Brecht. He delves with some subtlety into the influence of the Famine.

Seamus Deane, also at Notre Dame, analyses the post-Famine language switch, including the posthumous influence of O'Connell, referencing Friel's Translations, and with some Algerian comparisons. We also get direct Indian input from Amitav Ghosh (expatriate in Columbia University), relating to the 1857 'mutiny' and the second world war, when the Indian National Army sided with the Japanese.

A paper by Joseph Lennon (Manhattan College) on Irish orientalism brings out the complexities of the subject, ranging from the fantasies of Vallencey in the early RIA, through Mahaffey and his Primitive Civilizations to the Yeats-Tagore connection.

Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia University) rediscovers the poet James Cousins, whose work at Irish literary revival-time is in many anthologies, but who vanished from the scene after 1915, when he went to India under the influence of Annie Besant. There he stayed, becoming an educational reformer, promoting the scientific study of geography, after falling out with Besant over his support of 1916.

Edward Said in his afterword decidedly gives the Irish post-colonial project his blessing, invoking Friel, Fanon, the post-Yugoslavia crisis, Palestine-Israel and South Africa. His inclusive model for post-Israel politics welcomes the emergent Israeli critical historical scholarship.

This compilation is indeed a positive input, from mostly US-based scholarship, to the historical understanding of the evolution of Irish culture, resulting from the work of active Irish Studies centres. The missing element, if I may repeat in print what I suggested to Kevin Whelan when the Notre Dame outstation was set up, is the culture of technical competence: science and technology.

There was a tiny nod in that direction in the mention of geography in the Cousins context; this is of course the queen of the systems sciences. There is also an echo in Friel's Translations, which is rooted in the Ordnance Survey. There is a mine of 'colonial to post- colonial transition' stuff waiting to be worked over, in the proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy. Post-colonial discourse is its natural home. May it prosper.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-05-22 17:25:54.
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