Irish modernist imaginaries

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© Joe Cleary 2014. Depending on whether its local or cosmopolitan features are emphasized, Irish modernism may appear as an instance of an anti-imperial and postcolonial national literary renaissance or as a harbinger of contemporary world literature. In what follows, I explore how Irish modernism emerged out of a network of global cultural relations, some many centuries old, others that developed shortly before or even contemporaneously with the Irish literary Revival. The long evolution of these networks of exchange was a haphazard, uncoordinated affair involving different and sometimes antagonistic political, religious, cultural, and economic institutions and forces. I suggest that the contemporary emergence of a "world literature," in which Irish modernism has played an important role, has a long history that predates the rise of late capitalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (although capitalism and global networks of commercial exchange played important roles as well). By highlighting the non-teleological and aleatory process by which a complex network of global relations slowly evolved and that provided the matrix out of which Irish modernism emerged, I aim to complicate our understanding of the latter. Irish modernism is no single simple thing, but, rather, a loose set of diverse literary phenomena with tangled, unstable, and sometimes conflicting relations with world literature and global culture. Each Irish modernist negotiated the relationship between a national and a transnational imaginary in a different manner and combined the local and cosmopolitan in novel ways. Each idiosyncratic synthesis offered its author a distinctive array of cultural dividends and liabilities. The sheer profusion of modernist experimentation challenges our customary tendency to categorize Irish modernists as either centripetally nationalist (Yeats and the Revivalists) or centrifugally European and cosmopolitan (Joyce and Beckett).

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Moses, MV

Published Date

  • January 1, 2014

Book Title

  • The Cambridge Companion to Irish Modernism

Start / End Page

  • 206 - 220

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107031418

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/CCO9781139381697.019

Citation Source

  • Scopus