Brilliant papers this evening from Jenny Daly and Julie LeBlanc. Thanks to everyone for coming along.
‘The Comfort of Victimhood’: Jonathan Franzen’s Lament for America’s White Men
Jonathan Franzen concludes his famous 1996 Harper’s essay, ‘Perchance to Dream’ by observing that ‘…if multiculturalism succeeds in making us a nation of independently empowered tribes, each tribe will be deprived of the comfort of victimhood and be forced to confront human limitation for what it is: a fixture of life’ (54). Throughout the essay he refers to correspondence he conducted with David Foster Wallace in which they discussed the predicament the middle-class American man found himself in, apparently lacking in a unifying tribe that would allow them to articulate an identity that somehow fit with the alienation they felt.
The alienated, misunderstood white male is a fixture in Franzen’s two most celebrated novels, The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010). This paper seeks to interrogate the validity of this pose, particularly in relation to how Franzen depicts American family life, and how this connects with a culture that he sees as increasingly invasive and superficial. How accurate is Franzen’s depiction of life for America’s middle class white men, especially when read in the light of his own position in the literary world?
Julie Le Blanc
‘The stories find me’: An excavation of myth in Alan Garner’s Weirdstone Trilogy
Fantasy has traditionally drawn on mythology for its characters, settings and plots. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings launched the adult fantasy genre, using Old Norse and Old English myths to build his own mythology. In children’s literature, where fantasy flourished long before it became acceptable for adults, Alan Garner’s first two novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963), achieved fame and praise for similar reasons. Garner’s expansion of a local Cheshire legend to include figures from Norse, Irish, English, and Welsh mythology has drawn child readers for the last half century, no less so than when in 2012 Garner released Boneland, a book for those childreaders now grown, which completed the trilogy.
Garner has argued that he subconsciously taps into a preexisting mythological system. ‘Place comes first, and the rest is exposed, as if in an archaeological dig,’ he claimed in a 2015 interview. This attitude implies two things: first, that his work is only the voice of a greater, more complete story and, second, since each ethnic or national mythology is connected in this undercurrent source, Garner is entitled to draw from any culture’s stories. This raises questions, however, about the importance of the cultural context of myths, and what this means for the informed reader when approaching Garner’s texts. Removing a narrative or character from their cultural environment necessarily raises issues of cultural appropriation, as well as of gender and politics when that character is the Irish goddess, the Morrígain. This paper will examine Garner’s mythopoesis through his interpretation of the Morrígain throughout the Weirdstone trilogy, discussing the implications of appropriation and the effects of the adaptation and transformation of myths in children’s literature.
We’ve got two awesome posters, thanks to Emily Bourke, for each of our postgraduate speakers on Tuesday.
Jenny Daly will be discussing Jonathan Franzen (love him or hate him) and the American white male.
Julie LeBlanc will be talking about myth in Alan Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy.
See you all there!
We’ll be in the Trinity Long Room Hub again on Tuesday 13th at 5pm for another two postgraduate papers. Hope to see you there!
Minecraft and Statecraft
On the 28th of July past, Stormont Minister for Enterprise Arlene Foster announced the launch of a map of the north of Ireland in an unusual setting: namely a playable, editable ‘level’ for the sandbox video game Minecraft. Players of the game could ‘now build a virtual world… after a map of the region was incorporated’ as a downloadable terrain (Irish News, 28/07/15). As Foster herself said, it was ‘important to recognise that this is about more than just playing a game’. The map was released as part of an initiative to distribute an educational version of the game to every Secondary school in the six counties. This exemplifies K.E. Boulding’s contention that the image of the nation is ‘constantly drilled into the minds of both young and old, both through formal teaching in schools and through constant repetition in newspapers, advertisements, cartoons and so on’.
This episode also bears more than a passing resemblance to the proliferation of images of the statelet in the 1920s, when the Orange State was explicitly concerned with reinforcing its territorial claim amidst the ongoing threat of the Boundary Commission. Its seemingly innocuous latter-day appearance in Minecraft might be seen as a logical consequence of this strategy, since the map appeared in settings as diverse as Empire Exhibitions, British school-textbooks, tourist guides, cigarette packaging and indeed novels written in and about ‘the province’ during this era. The propagation of an imagined state topography therefore forms a crucial context for the spatial narratives of the northern novel in the post-partition era. If geography, as Franco Moretti describes it, is ‘an active force, that pervades the literary field and shapes it in depth’, then this paper seeks to explain its active service within literary and cultural representations of the state in the 1920s
Caitlín Nic Íomhair
‘Unwept, unsepulchred’: the ‘cillín’ or unconsecrated burial ground in modern Gaelic writing
The concept of Limbo, a marginal place where the unbaptised dead are sent to spend eternity in neither pleasure nor pain, has haunted Irish language literature. The consequent ban on burying stillborn children on consecrated ground meant that funerary rites, from wakes to headstones, were routinely withheld from them, while mothers were instructed not to pray for their dead children. Instead, the unbaptised were often buried in unmarked graves in designated marginal spaces called ‘cillíní’.
After briefly arguing for the importance of traditional Gaelic burial rites, and especially the keen (oral elegy) as a female vernacular art, this paper will examine the ambivalent and sometimes subversive Gaelic literary response to this particular area of church teaching. Drawing on elegiac poems and short stories by Irish language writers Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Derry O’Sullivan, Dairena Ní Chinnéide and Biddy Jenkinson, I will argue that this edict against a rich tradition of funerary rites, Christian and other, constituted a ‘bridge too far’ for a generally religiously observant community. I will highlight how each text reflects, in its own way, an incomplete grief and an intense pressure on mourners to choose, like Antigone before them, between opposing moral duties to authority and their dead.