Decolonial Ireland: Reconsidering the Pasts and Presents of Empire, Displacement, and Resistance in Irish Literature, Film, and Theory
This seminar will draw upon a range of decolonial and postcolonial thought to consider the unusual and often underestimated case of Ireland’s complex relationships with empire, anti-imperialism, and the contemporary crises around global migration, displacement, and borders.
The course aims to offer new ways to understand and theorize empire, displacement, borders, and cultures of resistance that can illuminate and productively nuance explorations of related issues in very different places and contexts. To facilitate those comparative reflections, we will be exploring ways that theoretical frameworks treating these constellations of issues in other spaces and contexts may or may not apply to Irish texts and situations. As part of that work, we will be reflecting on and complicating ideas of race, indigeneity, and nationalism in specific historical contexts. We will likewise consider how leading postcolonial and decolonial critics and theorists have engaged with Irish cultural and political history and how Irish-focused critics have contributed to scholarly discourses primarily originating or focused elsewhere such as the work of the Subaltern Studies Collective and considerations of borders, settler-colonialism, territorial occupation, migration, and citizenship.
At the same time, the seminar will introduce participants to a dynamic selection of writers, filmmakers, and thinkers contributing to Ireland’s remarkably rich and ruptured cultural history. We will be focusing particularly on texts and films centered around three moments: 1) Ireland’s revolutionary period of the early twentieth century and the establishment of partition in the wake of the Irish War of Independence; 2) the guerilla warfare of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century; and 3) the rapid shift of Ireland in the early twenty first century from a country of mass emigration to a contested site for the settlement of displaced people from across the globe and for the re-imagining of Europe and the legacies of imperialism in a post-Brexit moment.
Considering the ways that Ireland served as what David Lloyd has called a “laboratory” for developing the techniques of imperial domination and management, we will explore the discourse of empire by examining files of the British Colonial Office from the 1910s and ‘20s documenting the development of police and military tactics and the management of government censorship and bans on political and “subversive” activities. We will consider how that shaped the early twentieth-century Irish mediascape by exploring periodical culture and the development of an early Irish cinema. Reading that material alongside the work of writers like W.B. Yeats, Elizabeth Bowen, James Joyce, Liam O’Flaherty, Kate O’Brien, Augusta Gregory, and Rosamond Jacob, we will consider how the development of a distinctive Irish national literature was interwoven with and commenting upon the incomplete success of Ireland’s anti-imperial revolution and the establishment of partition between the Irish Free State and the Northern Ireland statelet.
Our exploration of the Northern Irish “Troubles” stretching roughly from the late 1960s to the late 1990s will examine the development of an increasingly bloody guerilla warfare challenging partition and a settler-colonialist infrastructure alongside the elaboration of a state security apparatus that incorporated mass internment, surveillance, espionage, and violent repression. Putting our earlier exploration of the Colonial Office archive and imperial management techniques in conversation with the situation in late twentieth-century Ireland, we will also consider the ways that censorship rules on both sides of the border shape the media portrayals of “the Troubles” and look at a range of literary and cinematic responses from writers such as Seamus Heaney, Ciarán Carson, Christina Reid, Brian Friel, and Anne Devlin and filmmakers such as Pat Murphy, Jim Sheridan, Steve McQueen, and Leila Doolin.
Reflecting on twenty-first-century Ireland, we will examine the rapid rise and fall of the “Celtic Tiger” economy that fueled Ireland’s shift from mass emigration to a country of significant immigration and a remarkably rapid racial and cultural diversification. We will consider how Ireland’s history as a site of emigration and imperialism shapes the contours and contradictions of its response to the contemporary crisis of mass displacement and migration. We will also explore how the Irish language (Gaeilge) intersects with and complicates Irish understandings of indigeneity, inclusion, and migration. Looking at writers, filmmakers, thinkers and artistic companies such as Nicky Gogan, Roddy Doyle, Ursula Rani Sarma, Pat Collins, Ronit Lentin, Risteard Ó Domhnaill, and Moonfish Theatre, we will explore contemporary Ireland’s continuities and reimaginings in the contexts of empire, the EU, and global migration flows.