Post-Agreement Irish Literature (A lecture by Dr. Heidemann-Malreddy)

Dr. Birte Heidemann-Malreddy is a post-doctoral researcher at the Bremen University. Her lecture introduces the audience to post-agreement Northern-Irish literature which represents Northern Ireland’s anxiety and confinement fears in post-agreement Northern Ireland and “forges a new literary paradigm” (Heidemann-Malreddy: 2016). Her lecture maps the generic parameters of what she terms Post-Agreement Literature, which she describes as a literature by young Northern Irish authors, which came about during the Troubles, between 1960 and 1980, in contrast to the commonly used term ‘contemporary Northern Irish literature’.

First, she introduces the poem A spider by Colette Bryce, which she feels is representative of a new generation of Northern Irish writers, which detail the feeling of being stuck in a place and time, difficult to escape.

She then goes on to introduce the audience to the background of the texts in question, by outlining a piece of text which was published in the Irish Times, one day after the Good Friday-Agreement, written by Seamus Heaney, Heidemann-Malreddy considers this the document which officially introduces the new era of literary expression which she focuses on in her lecture. She further distinguishes the writers she focusses on in her studies from others, which can all be considered contemporary writers who have grown up during the Troubles and come of age during the time of the Peace Process. The writers she focusses on are those who approach the violence of the time in a new light, not utilizing it as the dominant theme of their writing. Instead of depicting the violence explicitly, the writers she focusses on use metaphor and symbolism and other stylistic devices to transfer the reader to a level of retrospect, which conveys the past of the country, with a special focus on the signing of the agreement as symbolic for the violence thereafter. She mentions two coordinates, one being the suppressed history of conflict and the second being focussed on a future, which has already been agreed upon. Those are the parameters she bases her categorizations on.

She then investigates the language used in the actual text and design of the Good-Friday Agreement which she terms ‘flashy’ and likening the it to a “user-manual” (Heidemann-Malreddy: 2016) of political change, outlining also the opposing linguistic message, which presupposes obligation while alluding to consent. She further explains the importance of recognizing the relationship between Ireland and Britain as that of “claustrophobic intensity”, as coined by Colin Graham (Deconstructing Ireland, 93). This description makes the state of “limbo” (Heidemann-Malreddy: 2016) in which Ireland finds itself after the agreement, clear and helps in further detailing the literature of the time, in which “liminality is limiting rather than liberating”, which she terms “negative liminality” (Heidemann-Malreddy: 2016).

She exemplifies this by introducing several post-agreement fictional novels: Number Five (2003) by Glenn Paterson, The Ultras (2004) by Eoin McNamee, and The Truth Commissioner (2008) by David Park, which all detail the described feeling of being trapped in a state of anxiety.  She describes the two most recent works of fiction to exist on the plane of “negative liminality”, which express a pessimistic view. All three texts connect characters from the past to the present, which is representative of the idea that post-agreement literature tends to cling to the past.

Regarding post-agreement poetry, she then introduces a poem by Leontia Flynn, titled Berlin, which documents a trip between Belfast and Berlin and describes similarities and differences between Germany’s Berlin Wall and Belfast’s Peace Walls, separating the religious denominations of the community, which represent the divisions which must be overcome to look towards a better future of unity. Moreover, she outlines the significance of Alan Gillis’ poem Progress, which challenges the agreement more than any other, which is achieved by means of reconstruction of a bombing which took place in fictional pre-agreement Belfast, and montages images which go through the poem in reverse.

Post-agreement drama is then briefly outlined by means of examples: This Other City by Daragh Carville, and Pumpgirl by Abbie Spallen, both utilize the device of “syntactic suspension” (Heidemann-Malreddy: 2016), which includes frequent full stops, dashes, and punctuation breaks, which serve to critique the political state of affairs by means of leaving out information.

In brief, Post-Agreement Northern Irish literature uses different, implicit techniques to portray the emotional state of a country which finds itself in a state of political and cultural frozenness due to its past and predetermined future.


About AnekaB

Literature, Philosophy, Culture
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